Mooncon: Britain’s Best Science Fiction convention (Part 2: Bars)

In the first part of this two part series I took a look at my favourite British convention’s, erm… conventions about venue, programme running and the dealer hall accessibility. This time we finish off where all con’s finish off:  the bar!

The heart of any convention is the bar and–much like a time lord–Mooncon has two:  a main bar where you’re rarely short of a seat and a cosy spill-over bar that people tend to discover by the second night of the convention. The two-bar convention has always struck me as the right balance; one is inevitably a squeeze.

There’s an unspoken dynamism to two bars. One can avoid an inevitable drop in social atmosphere in one by moseying on to the second. Indeed, moving between the bars is a social event in itself; you’ll never know who you’ll bump into in the corridor.

A convention barroom should never be too big. One hotel often used for conventions has a vast, open plan barroom that takes up most of the hotel’s ground floor. On first sight I presumed this would make for some incredible networking, a sort of Serengeti of fandom where anyone you might wish to talk to was clearly visible on your personal horizon. But what seemed a blessing soon revealed itself a curse. People simply did not mix unless directly invited to and the social cliques became like constellations of distant stars. Sure, you could see them well enough but the vast spaces of carpet between you and any one of them were daunting to cross.

No, better a bar you have to squeeze into than one where you end up drifting around like a banshee on a moor. I should add both Mooncon’s bars, quite naturally, come with a large range of real ales and ciders. The quality of the tea and coffee is, I’m told, beyond reproach.

Mooncon has an incredible disco. Trust me, it’s like the Studio 54 of sci-fi shindigs. It occurs on a Saturday night, as any sensible convention disco should do, and never takes itself too seriously. Cutting edge music (and I’ll probably lose all my street cred here) has no place nor context at a disco on the second night of a skiffy con. The Time Warp and Dancing Queen are wheeled out like veterans at the cenotaph and the floor always goes wild. There is no such thing as bad dancing.

(Monday night often has karaoke. It’s a morale booster for those who haven’t gone back home)

Last but not least among Mooncon’s finer qualities is the convention’s treatment of the hotel staff. From the committee down to the average convention member everyone makes an effort to never snarl or make a loud situation with the people serving them.

That may seem no great task but I tell you I’ve rarely been to a science fiction convention where some member hasn’t treated an underpaid, overworked hotelier like something less than human. I once saw an SF notable genuinely shriek at a South Indian waiter who’d had the nerve to bring her the wrong meal. At another convention a tit in a kilt slammed his insufficiently flavoured burger on a bar top and tried to get staff fired. I am both a nerd and a hotel worker but when I see the two in conflict my sympathies instantly fall with the latter.

One can make the argument that such behaviour- when it occurs- is due to the occasional sf fan’s alleged lack of social or emotional intelligence and, while there may or may not be truth in this, I suspect a larger reason is that SFF heads don’t tend to have jobs in the service industry. They lean toward IT and office work and this there can be lack of empathy for the man in a uniform asking them to move so that he can bring his cleaning trolley through.

I’m happy to report that some time back in the nineties the Mooncon committee recognised this cultural flaw in their flock and took pains to lessen it, going so far as to issue a public statement. Mooncon’s current code of conduct plainly states harassment toward hotel staff is taken as seriously as harassment toward members. I admire Mooncon for these stances and wish other conventions would be similarly as vocal.

But now it is time to reveal something the average British con-goer will have sussed from the outset:  there is no such convention as Mooncon. Indeed, some will no doubt be aware ‘MoonCon’ is a homage to (ie theft of) George Orwell’s piece The Moon Under Water, in which Orwell conjures the eponymous pub so as to list all his favourite aspects of public houses.

(My essay has turned out to be three times the size of his, which either says something about Orwell’s masterly concision of words or the complexity of what makes a good science fiction convention)

Mooncon, then, is an ideal. More to the point it’s my ideal, which will be different to yours I’m certain, perhaps violently so. I’ve been to many conventions that have almost reached the height of a Mooncon (and I thank the people who gave their precious time to run them for that) while one or two have been, well, less so.

But some nights at a con, when the programme is enthralling, the disco incendiary and the bars full of openheartedness and good humour… its then I’m attending Mooncon. You might be too. Blink and you might miss it. But you were there.


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