On blind dates with axe-murdering Internet weirdos.

You hate travelling. You may have mentioned this before. You cope with this by overplanning. Which usually makes things far more complicated than they need to be, adding to the stress levels. Your husband B has very little truck with this and keeps dragging you off on impromptu little journeys.

Thing is, he’s been doing this for so long that he has you almost convinced. So there you were for months, havering about whether to go to the Manchester meet, and inventing increasingly complicated childcare cum travel arrangements, but really thinking that it would be highly unlikely that you would be going anywhere near your old alma mater.

The Manchester meet, you hear people asking? What’s that?

Regular readers will remember that you have almost stopped blogging due to working on first saving and now running a website called h2g2.com, a user-generated Guide to life, the universe and everything, originally set up by (among others) Douglas Adams, the writer of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now although the point of having Internet weirdo friends is in part that you never see each other in Real Life, there has long been a tradition of ignoring this completely when it comes to this website, and this particular gathering was to be the first after the relaunch of the site since it left the BBC. Everybody, well, no, lots of people would be there. People were flying in from the USA, Sweden and the Continent even. And there you were, with the week off work, a mere five hours away.

Plus, you haven’t seen Manchester, a city you have fond memories of going to University in, for years.

So when the Saturday dawned lovely, you thought sod this for a game of tennis, laid a couple of changes of clothes, some bottles and nappies, many cardigans and coats, lots of plastic spoons, some squeaky toys, a blanket or two, a baby’s sleeping bag, some baby food, some rice cakes, your wrap, the spare pushchair and the charger for your iPhone gently in the boot, and slung the baby in the back seat and away you went.

About Oxford, you remembered just how far Manchester actually is from the cradle of civilisation.

About Birmingham, it started raining. Heavily. You crawled along the motorway at 30mph for a bit and then stopped for lunch.

On returning to the car, the Comet screamed all the way to the outskirts of Manchester.

However, from then on things started to pick up. You found the Museum of Science and Industry, which was where some of the gang were spending the afternoon, without fuss. It smells great. All hot coal and hot steam and hot iron. You found Pastey, the organiser and technical lead for the redevelopment of the site, with even less fuss. Pastey found you an umbrella, a number of other researchers, and the pub, so you could go off and meet still more people and feed your daughter.*

h2g2 meets are a curious thing. Ben, who is head of Operations, says they are like a big family wedding. And they are, excepting that the family are actually pleased to see each other rather than merely resigned and tend not to do embarrassing dancing. Oh and that researchers say ‘so who are you?’ and call each other by odd names when they find out, often excitedly. They do drink a lot though. And there are speeches. And some people wear hats, much to the Comet’s delight. Especially, Tim Stevenson, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide: Lost Transmissions skits for h2g2’s newspaper, the Post. It was a great hat after all. Although personally you were more taken with one of the Arts Editor’s Mala’s tights. And why not? Your daughter also favours stripes.

Anyway, it was fun. Of course, going anywhere with a baby means that you always have half your brain occupied with that, and that’s all you have to say about coming second from bottom in the quiz. Of course, it also meant that you couldn’t have more than a sip of one of the specially designed gargleblasters that Pastey had persuaded the evening venue to sell. Given that sip made you cough energetically for a few minutes this was possibly a good thing. You imagine that drinking a whole glass was quite an experience. In fact, you defy anyone to ever better that recipe. The stripes! The profusion of flavours! The olive floating exactly half way up the glass! How cool is that?

It was also wonderful to see so many people there, especially the people who had travelled so far, like Community Editor, Witty Moniker and Head of Communications, Happy Nerd, both Americans. The Star likes Happy Nerd. Not enough to be held, but she was indiscriminately refusing to budge from your arms so that’s nothing. But Happy Nerd has been singing her back to sleep at 3am for months and months and months now via the wonders of Skype, so it was nice to get the rendition in person.

You like Milla, who is in charge of Testing. She taught you how to send the Star to sleep by stroking her nose, which also works on lobsters, apparently.

A number of researchers were also there. It was also good to meet BrownFurby, who has been entertaining you lately with 42 themed photos for the upcoming Podcast, Towelcast42 . You were able to put faces to names of people you’ve been chatting to for years, and the shrieks of delight may have been a bit off putting. ‘I know who you are!’ you exclaimed delightedly when you met Icotan for example, and then were too embarrassed to add what you meant which was: ‘You’re the guy who starts such interesting Ask h2g2 threads!’ Still, he took it well.

You always find it mildly amusing that at the meets you end up chatting to people who online you have only ever had minimal contact with. It’s such a big site that it is easy to ignore large sections of it and so you welcome anything that gets you out of your h2g2 niche. So since you have returned, you’ve been rifling through cartoonist Spimcoot’s back catalogues and very rewarding that has proved, especially as he is currently working on turning his Eustace series into a book.

And of course there were your old friends. The aforementioned Ben, for example, and her husband Z who started off the whole crazy plan of getting the BBC to give us the site and actually succeeded in pulling it off (he’s like that) should really should not live at the other end of the country to you in your opinion but at least you could meet them half way this time**.

But new comrades in arms were out in force too! Robbie Stamp, co-founder of the original site and co-owner of the new one made the journey, as did Brian and Aly Larholm, whose servers are hosting h2g2.com as you speak, and it amazes you that this is only the second and third times respectively you have met in person.

Last but not least (apart from all the people you haven’t mentioned because they know who they are but you appreciate that readers of the blog don’t, although they can if they would just mosey on over to h2g2 and join in), seeing fellow Guide Editor Lanzababy again was delightful given how much time you spend online together these days, even if she did jinx your car. Of course, you were in the middle of giving her an impromptu tour of the entirety of Manchester city centre’s one way system (never trust someone who hasn’t set foot in a city for 15 years when they blithely turn off the sat nav), but nevertheless to condemn you to parking problems by prompting you to say, blithely, ‘Oh I never get parking tickets’ was a bit mean. Still you have exorcised her by symbolically banning her from the car, and this seems to have done the trick. Shame about the £40 you now owe Banbury town council though. But a very nice Mancunian man came whizzing across Manchester very quickly when you phoned him to say you were locked in the carpark after the meet because you had lost your ticket and were in danger of not being able to make the hotel room your had eventually booked on the strength that you had driven past it on your way into the city earlier.

Which was very comfortable, quiet, en-suite and the cot even had a very jaunty set of clown bedclothes, which didn’t quite come close to the safari theme you endured last time you went to a B&B but was quite cheerful. And with a cooked breakfast thrown in, which was nice for the Comet who savaged toast all over their lovely carpet and mugged at all the other guests quite as if she hadn’t ladled enough charm over all the researchers she could find the night before.

So chalk up another point to your husband’s theory of travel. And for Manchester, Mancunians and for h2g2ers, all well worth the effort. And for the weather, which delivered the sort of nostalgic drenching you were expecting.

And especially to Pastey, for organising it.

*You kept the umbrella. Sorry about that, Pastey.

**Also waves at Phil and Titania. Long term online friends, fellow participants in the ten year conversation at the Atelier and readers of this blog. Hugs all round!


3 thoughts on “On blind dates with axe-murdering Internet weirdos.

  1. Amy P says:

    I’ll make it one of these years!

    Of course, what with quite-probable-house-purchase, it’ll be even later, but we shouldn’t be grandmothers yet when it happens…

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