Alan Flyng

Alan Flyng

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Darkside Con, Bochum-Werne, Germany, 4 - 6 November 2011

I am very privileged to be invited again to spend three days with the wonderful mix that is Dark Side Con - a show/convention for fans by fans, that covers all aspects of fandom in one intimate show!

The guests this time include Pam Rose (Leesub Serln - The Weird Girl from the Cantina in ANH and Alpha Base technician in Space 1999), Peter Roy, who played a variety of characters in ANH and ROTJ, as well as being '006' in Thunderball and many more films beside. We have also Trevor Butterfield, who played a Stormtrooper and Imperial Officer, Rankor Keeper and the Rebel Officer- Lieutenant Blount in Star Wars. Like me, he left screen appearances for a new career behind the camera after 1982. In his case, it was to work in Special Effects and his talents have been evidenced by his work not only in Star Wars, but Alien, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter films. In addition, there is a list of celebrities known more to German audiences as writers, musicians, anime enthusiasts and all sorts.................Oh! And me....! LOL :)

So here we are! Safely arrived in Germany and already reeling from the wonderful hospitality and friendly reception offered freely by Markus Tschentschel, Rolf Prippenow and Alex, who met us from the airport. Heavy traffic and diversions made a half-hour journey into two hours, but we had an hour still to relax and settled again into the comfortable family Hotel Specht (Woodpecker), where I had stayed the last two visits.
Das Hotel Specht, Bochum-Werne, Dortmund.

We assembled in the bar (you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! LOL) and were taken out to a very nice Greek/fusion restaurant called ‘Arli’. I had eaten there before with Derek Lyons and knew how charming and extrovert the owner is, but my fellow guests had still to find this out, as he warned us it was useless to look at the menu as he had some old fish he had to get rid of and that would be his surprise for us – needless to say, even the production of three beautifully fresh and uncooked fish on a platter left us all reaching for the a la carte menu! Clever man that restaurateur! :)  The meal was, of course, delicious and our friend returned with ouzo for all! As I was genteely sipping a gin and tonic, I managed to escape and Pam was very happy with her white wine. But everyone else enjoyed the treat and we were finally sated and out of there!

Whilst waiting for the cars to be fetched from the underground car park, Pam and I staggered gently (cough, cough!!!) across the road, drawn by a shop window display, pictured below!

H.M. The Queen flanked by Kate and Posh Spice!!!

So, onwards into the first day, starting with the pick up at 2 pm. Very civilized! As I look out of my hotel window this morning, I can see the Christmas decorations starting to go up in the market square! Seems Christmas comes earlier and earlier these days…

... so we arrived at 2 pm to find the opening ceremony for the show was scheduled for 7 pm, giving us plenty of time to meet and mingle. So many people I had met in previous years – it was like a family reunion and all made Pam, Peter and Trevor most welcome. Trevor even found four of his action figures, which are on re-issue and grabbed them eagerly. Pam, once again, found her figure a rarity and as she had only brought two with her from England, I could imagine they would be snapped up immediately on the morrow!

The opening ceremony was compered again by Freddy Bee, the gifted young German comedian, and more or less everyone was called to the stage at some point and introduced – a great idea as it’s always nice to put faces to names and we were about to share the convention for the next few days. Once again it is important to note that this convention is a true fan-led meeting embracing all sci-fi interests. There were as many dressed for Star Gate, as Star Trek, and many, many more! And that is another thing, those not in costume are the exceptions and this show is modelled around role-play, skits, plays and fan films with presentations by authors, costumiers and the Rebel Legion, this year. Downstairs in the smaller function rooms there were banks of laptops with gamers, anime and manga fans. Software builders are also taken care of with their own rooms. On arrival back at the hotel, we sat down to a delicious meal and retired to bed, quite exhausted!
Gingerbread hearts.

The Outdoor Market which set up in the middle of the night!
Anyone fancy rollmop sandwiches and smoked eels?

The next day, having met for breakfast and the others having walked around the outdoor market in the town square, we awaited pick up for the first full day of the convention proper at 10.45 am. It proved to be a relatively busy one all round. No sooner had we arrived than we were drawn into a ‘breakfast with the guests’, which started slowly but eventually became a cacophony of sound as we were all talking non-stop around the table! From there we went to set up our photographs and ephemera and were immediately busy with a constant stream of visitors and exhibitors wanting signings. I met some old friends again and we had a great time catching up. I was especially pleased to see the lovely Inge Meiercord with her son, Marcel, whom I had met the first time I went to Germany for this convention, when we hit it off straight away! Lovely, lovely lady!!!

Later in the day, Pam and I conducted a Q & A in the main auditorium, which was at times lively and I was asked to sing something, so I gave the poor audience a shortened rendition of Hallelujah, a capella. The questions ranged from how did we start to what were some of the strangest things that happened during our careers. It was fun going back to the beginning and a marked change from talking of only Star Wars. The day became quieter towards 6 pm, though we were obliged to be there until 9. So, we packed up and joined the throng and enjoyed a performance on stage by my friend 'Der Klingolaus' - the  Klingon Santa Claus - and then we were all roped into judging the costume competition, in all categories. We had a lot of fun with that, as the costumes were some of them quite spectacular and some were…less so :).

Der Klingolaus with Pam and a Shaman!
The costume competition competitors.

In any event, the time slipped away in pleasant company and we finally returned to the hotel for another fine meal. I must say that the Hotel Specht does serve some incredibly good meals! Our compliments to Christoph and his wife!!!!

Sunday we arrived the same time as the day before and Trevor and I immediately set to on a Q & A session,which was fun! Peter and Pam followed on and had a very cosy chat going when I peered in! Expecting this day to be slower, I was amazed how many people arrived. I met a lovely group of guys and a girl from Paris and had the chance to brush up on my French, a nice Swedish couple, my old friend Ettore Holle from the Netherlands and lots more Germans! :). My brain was fairly frazzled by the end of the day as we came to attend the closing ceremony. Freddy was great and made the mistake of being caught out and being obliged to sing – now on Facebook with his permission. He also had to tell the audience that the film they had seen of Pam’s life contained the Country & Western singer Pam Rose, from the States, and not our Pam at all. A huge laugh was gained at his expense for that confession!!!

I love the look of disbelief as Pam tells Freddy that that wasn't her singing!!! LOL

Markus made a very gracious speech of thanks to all concerned and we each replied with our really heartfelt thanks for the amazing hospitality and wonderfully friendly reception and care afforded us. Oh, how we wish more conventions were like this! I have been exceptionally lucky to have been befriended by such nice people and look forward to another trip in the future! Back to the hotel and time for a quick drink before the packed streets outside had their procession and ceremony in honour of St. Martin.

Crowds assembling for the Heiliger Martin's parade and play.
Pam checks out a friendly wolverine! Beauty and the Beast!)
So, we are back in 'Dear Ol' Bighty' again and already missing our friends!!! Thank you all at Daedalus and especially Markus, Rolf, Ralf, Susanne, Alex and Joerg, for making this a thoroughly enjoyable and friendly event - as always!!!!

Here is the link to the closing song of the convention, when Freddy Bee was put on the spot to sing it again, alone!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Star Wars Weekend II, City 2, Taastrup, Denmark. 22 & 23 October 2011.

Of all the places I have been privileged to visit, Copenhagen is right at the top! I have been so fortunate to make so many good and true friends there, that the prospect of another visit gives me another goal to look forward to!
Here you see only half the space!

Michael Nielsen and Per Valgreen have moved their event up a notch this Autumn with the move into the City 2 Center outside Copenhagen, affording them ten times the space that the previous venue offered. Also, they had decided to have a larger group of signers for the public including John Coppinger, Simon J. Williamson, Anthony Forrest, Chris Muncke, Alan Harris and myself.

The view in front of our tables.

Our arrival at Kaastrup airport was heralded by a flurry of wheelchairs squeaking, as the geriatric actors emerged from customs to the welcoming smiles of Per and Michael. What a sight we must have been! A convention of 'Ironside' enthusiasts!!! LOL.  We went straight to the venue to set out our stalls in preparation for the Saturday opening. The size of the venue was a surprise, even though Michael had previously posted views of the empty space on Facebook. But there were many dealers, merchants and costuming groups with table displays which made the whole space make sense when people came to visit.

The view to the other end.
Michael and Per had also brought elements from their private collections to make an impressive display of memorabilia in the front display window for all passersby to see and attract them in. As we have come to expect of their superb planning, the show was already covered by having been open to something like 1,500 children during the week and their modest entrance price paid for the entire event! So, the Saturday and Sunday openings with us present signing was icing on the cake and is an example of how such events ought to be conducted.

The exterior window display housing a combination of items from Michael and Per's private collections of artifacts.
 That evening, we went as a group to eat together in the center, where many of us ordered Plankebøf.– steak served on a wooden platter surrounded by piped mash potatoe and a sauce of choice. Absolutely delicious and totally Danish!!!!

Plankebøf. Num num!!!

Arriving at the hotel, we had all been checked-in in advance by Michael and were able to relax and have a coffee and chat before going straight to bed. Next morning, we had a delicious and comprehensive choice of breakfast dishes to choose from and were all on top form when picked up to be taken back to the venue. It was immediately apparent that all the hard work by these two enterprising and lovely people was going to pay off, as a constant stream of visitors passed through the doors. And I was doubly gratified to be greeted by so many friends from previous visits, including the newly rejuvenated Kenn Henriksson, who had already undergone the same surgical intervention I am awaiting, and has lost an impressive 100 lbs!!! Congratulations to Kenn - can’t wait!!!

During the course of the first day, a well guarded secret became public – Alan Harris was finally to be inducted as an Honorary Member of the 501st! This was very much overdue and truly deserved, as Alan is undoubtedly one of the most popular veterans of Star Wars, having played many characters, but is chiefly known for his portrayal of Bossk – The Bounty Hunter. Magnus Mueller – The Orange Charity Gunner and member of the German Garrison - had nominated Alan and the perspex plaque was engraved and ready for presentation. The rest of us are already Honorary Members and so it was with huge pleasure that we all piled in to support Alan as he received his award. I may be wrong, but I believe this is the largest number of Honorary Members present in any Danish venue together. It was wonderful also to have some members of the Nordic Garrison in attendance to welcome the new member to the fold.

The assembled cast of ne'er-do-wells and some of the excellent costumiers present too.
 In addition, My friend Rune Thestrup, also of the Nordic Garrison and founder of the Danish V -group, honored me with the presentation of a certificate. I am supportive of all and any costuming groups – canon and non-canon – who dedicate themselves to furthering the costuming community and charitable works. So, their attendance was also cheering to see, as they had supported the show earlier in the year at the old venue along with other groups.

The excellent members of the V costume group commanded by my friend Rune Thestrup.

Another, much anticipated visitor was Mieszko Kenic, who traveled down from Stockholm especially to meet his Facebook friends, and whom I had already met at the SciFi Bokhandel in Gammla Stad, Stockholm, in June.  Mieszko is an avid autograph collector and was in seventh heaven to have the assembly willing to sign photos and figures for him. Mieszko tends to record every moment of his encounters and post them , so you will no doubt see his Mpegs on YouTube! :)
Avid Star Wars fan, Mieszko Kenic from Stockholm.

But, to be honest, the biggest buzz I get is meeting the next generation. The kids all start out the same way – whispering in their parent’s ear or hiding behind them peering at me. But after a couple of minutes their natural exuberance takes over and they are in full flood! Kids are great! That is why I like smaller shows in general – the chance to chat, answer questions, share experiences and get to know my fellow fan. Corny, but there you are! J Roll on my next visit!
At the end of the second highly enjoyable day. We all look forward to the next chance to meet the fans from Denmark again!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Star Wars Fan Days 8 & 9 October, Irving Conference Center


After an impossibly early start Friday morning to get to Heathrow at an early hour, a 10 hour flight to Dallas and then a **** hour bar crawl in the excellent company of Zach Taylor McGinnis and friends, I was finally there - bright-eyed (well, slightly red actually, LOL) and bushy-tailed, at my table in the Irving Conference Center. I had been placed between Dicky Beer on my left and Jon Berg on my right. We were ranged along a long back wall of the center with exhibitors in row after row of trader alleys in front of us. I have actually jumped ahead, so let's get back to Friday, the travel day...

Actually, Friday was a hoot! Zach took me home to meet the significant other in his life - his Star Wars collection, or at least a very small part of it! Boy, is he a serious collector!!! Truly amazing things! Then out for a Tex-Mex meal, which I could unfortunately not get past more than a couple of mouthfuls, as it was so sweet and rich! I know, I look like I eat horses whole, but I honestly do not eat that much - it's the way I am built (some say like a brick s**t house - fair comment!). And then off to visit a couple of bars. That was fun!!! I loved the cowboy bar with the two-step dance floor heaving with all types of dancers and in all sorts of styles! And above all else, fantastically friendly and funny people. Who says Americans don't get irony? Come to Dallas!!!

Under the afternoon sun, just short of 92 F.

Zach, in yellow, with two friends and me at the cowboy bar.
Everyone was really lovely and I was quite taken with the two-step dancing to be seen on the dance floor! Some of those guys can dance!!! I was equally taken by the cheerleaders dispensing favours and lending their friendly selves to being photographed with me! Not a sight you see that often in London! LOL
It's a hard life but someone has to do it! :D

Next day, after waking early, I poured out of bed and into the shower, convinced the heat of the previous day had dispersed. Silly me! I forgot I left the air con on - how British! :). I was awfuly glad I had remembered to pack some Yorkshire Tea!!! The temperature was again in the top 80's outside and as I stepped out and took a deep breath I realised there were spots of rain. But no time to enjoy, as it was time to go to the Irving Conference Center - the venue for this year's event - and get set up. Our lovely drivers took us in hand and pointed us to the badge desk and there, ranged to it's right lay the Official Pix prints for the show, all laid out. Having received my badge and been shown my table position on a floor plan, I hauled myself and case into the hall. Row after row after row of traders, merchandisers and exhibitors lay between me and my table, but I found it straight away and met my first of four helpers, who were to take monies and generally look after me over the two days. I was treated with such friendliness and courtesy that I have to say I am extremely impressed with the hospitable nature of all I encountered! Certainly I was at ease in no time. Once I had arranged the table the way I liked and positioned my solar-powered Queen Elizabeth in the centre with her Stormtrooper helmet on her fist and waving at the visitors, I felt ready for all-comers.

The day kicked off with the VIP passes and I started with a queue. Although there was a major American Football game on that day; the Texas State Fair over that weekend and an important baseball game on as well, the turnout was good. I introduced myself to all and sundry, who made me feel very welcome and the best of all happened! Lots of my Facebook friends came along to say hi and chat. I was in my element and was grinning from ear to ear when Ben Stevens came over to introduce himself and say hi.

Picture courtesy of Walter Phenix Crowley Jr.

I know he looks like a younger version of me, but this is Bill Horn - one of the many Facebook friends with whom I have been corresponding for ages - at our first face to face meeting. What a nice guy!
As the day progressed, so the time difference started to catch up with me. But along came Zach from the day before and, like a whirling dervish, he was off into the melee capturing signatures on his wants-list and buzzing back and forth with tireless energy. It fair knackered me watching him go!!! Amongst those who came to say hi and to trade badges was Mr. Steve Sansweet. He started by saying my name and went to introduce himself, but I butted in and said there was no need for the famous Mr Sansweet to introduce himself! You know, he is such a genuinely nice guy! He blushed, shook my hand and then went through everything on my table like the true fan of Star Wars that he is. It was only as he was leaving that I summoned up the nerve to ask if I might have a photo with him! :)

Mr. Steve Sansweet and me.

I wish I could show you loads and loads of photos I took, but I had no time - truthfully! Day one was pretty intense, though not too much, and I managed to just see costumers pass by and the occasional Facebook friend would surprise me. One of those I had looked forward to meeting was a young lady names Christy. She and I had been correspondents for a few years and I found her a genuine and sweet person on Facebook. During that day, she came back whenever she could and we caught up as though we had been old friends in the neighbourhood all that time. So nice to know that some people are just what they seem!!!

Christy and me (Photo courtesy of Christy)

Another great surprise was the appearance of the talented Mr Joe Mignano - otherwise known better to other Star Wars fans as Darth Bruticus of The Dark Empire! He was in the company of another Facebook friend, Ashley M. Kalfas and Derek Brown, who had come to say hello to their Honorary Member and to present me with the first printed trading cards of the organisation! I was so surprised and delighted! What a lovely present to be surprised with! Joe made sure that the whole thing was photographed for the website and a sound record for the Podcast, which can be heard here.

Joe, Ashley, Derek and me - proud members of The Dark Empire/

Amongst the many humorous costumes I spotted was a very funny Death Star officer - wearing a cap on his head and a Death Star as a costume. But the one that had me laughing uncontrollably was the unforgettable Chef Vader below...

That first evening, Zach had made a booking for a group of us to go eat together. Veronica Segura, Dickey Beer, Peter and Angie Mayhew and a few of Zach's friends went to a lovely restaurant where I finally sampled the most delicious steak I think I have eaten since South Africa! Conversation revolved around memories of filming, as one would expect, but also covered conventions, representation and all sorts... We had a thoroughly good evening together and must, once again, thank Zach for his time and generosity.

Day two, on breakfast TV, I caught sight of the intensity of the rain storm of the previous day and quickly caught some of the report on camera from the HD TV in my room. They say Texans do everything large - well the rain seemed to just prove it! The convention that day kicked off slowly and was a quieter affair, but it gave everyone a chance to chat and meet more costumers from the 501st, Rebel Legion, Dark Empire, Mandalorians and just sheer wacky fantasy costumed individuals.

I ended up signing the sent-in items and pre-orders in the company of George Takei and Billy Dee Williams - a welcome respite from the floor of the convention, as we were all involved with having items thrown in front of us and had to do no more than use the right colour pens and remember our names! LOL

Billy Dee Williams and me.

I must truly say this has had to be one of the most enjoyable cons I have attended. I just honestly wish I had had a day more there to acclimatise myself, as in the event, I had to leave at close of play and travel straight to the airport for the red-eye home to England. I arrived Monday morning at Heathrow at 11 a.m with another hour's drive home from the airport car park.

I don't know if I will be invited again - I hope so, if only to meet all those great people again, who made me feel at my ease from minute one! Thanks y'all! :)))