Thursday, 18 June 2015

Dimension Jump XVIII

  1. Go to Dimension Jump (already have my tickets - booyah!)
I remember the exact moment I discovered Red Dwarf. I was in the comedy section of my favourite second-hand book shop at Glenelg. The store smelt like musty pages, and I saw the cover: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers. Hannah mentioned something about this Red Dwarf thing, I thought to myself, maybe I'll grab it. I flipped to the opening paragraph.

Describe, using diagrams where appropriate, the exact circumstances leading to your death.

This is funny, I thought.

Saunders had been dead for almost two weeks now and, so far, he hadn't enjoyed a minute of it.

I turned in a couple of pages, saw the phrase "crashed with astonishing force into his testicles" and decided I needed to purchase the book.

Turns out, Hannah had never said such a thing. It must have been fate, or a little angel demon sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear, but it was the beginning (or The End?) of a beautiful love affair with the Dwarf.

Ever since I watched 12 hours a day on VHS tape (that was a thing that happened), ever since I collected as many books as I could get my hands on, including spin offs, scripts, biographies and other books by the actors and other collectables, ever since I watched the Smeg Ups and Smeg Outs, I was hooked. Line and sinker. My friends around me grew obsessed with Harry Potter. I resolutely refused to be sucked into this Hairy Pothead business and instead heralded the joys that was the Dwarf. I showed my family. They thought I was strange. I wanted to join the Fan Club but being in Australia, it didn't seem a good investment. I discovered Dimension Jump and resolved to attend - one day, I would make it to Dimension Jump, the Red Dwarf convention.

***

Fast forward 14 years.

There I was, standing in the Main hall of the Crowne Plaza Nottingham, waiting my turn to pick up my registration pack. Big, gooberish smile plastered across my face. I had checked into my room a little while earlier (they had filed me under Elsner, of course, and the misspelling caused a moments panic on my behalf) and instantly threw all of my belongings absolutely every where they could possibly be.

Ahead of me in the line were two gentlemen, and I listened carefully to what they were being told. Next up: me. 

Science Officer, 82.

Apologies for it being backwards, but
we are in Bulgaria, after all.

I was passed my icentification pass for the weekend and my envelope containing programme, tickets and other important information. I worked my way across the table, and distributed my cash. 

"Can I please have a photo with Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn?" I asked.
A puzzled look was returned to me. "You get them all on each day," was the reply.

It took me longer than I care to admit to realise what was being said, but when I finally understood I exclaimed "Oh wow! I'm saving money!". Basically, I thought it was going to be £15 per photo per person, but in actuality you received a photo with all of the actors on that day, therefore, only 2 photos instead of the 3 I thought I was going for. Hooray! I apologised for my stupidity and moved on.

After purchasing some raffle tickets, I noticed the men who had been in front of me in the line. Rather than just stand idly by a table by myself, I approached them (I'm pretty sure they thought I was crazy) with my Hi! I'm Sasha! handshake and so they were stuck with me for the whole convention.

When did you first hear about Red Dwarf?
Who is your favourite character?
What is your favourite episode?
What is your favourite series?
Have you been to a Dimension Jump before?

A barrage of questions followed and we decided to get a beverage in the local pub. Little did I know that this Friday afternoon was the last time I was to breathe fresh air or feel natural light for the next 3 days.

That evening, Dimension Jump was to get underway. Stephen, Tom and I found a table and sat with some other Dwarfers we had just met. Looking around the room, my excitement began to build. There were approximately 300 crazy Dwarfonians in the room and the atmosphere was becoming electric.

10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
Incoming Transmission. 

A cheer erupted as the opening sequence played on the big screens around the room, and everyone sang along. 

It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere
I'm all alone, more or less
Let me fly far away from here
Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun sun…

And thus the night began. There was a welcome from the Dimension Jump crew, all volunteers, who run this event bi-yearly for the pure love of it. Our host for the evening was Dave Benson Phillips and first off the rank was a Quiz run by the one and only Mac McDonald, Captain Hollister.

Here I realised just how little I know about Red Dwarf. I've seen the episodes through, countless times. Start to finish. I quote along with each episode, I know what's going to happen next. I have all the books, all the additional tapes, the commentaries - you name it. But amongst these Red Dwarf fans - I had never seen the show before. They knew minute details that had never - and would never - lodge into my brain. 

Our team, The Mind Rotters, came third (although we are pretty sure it was rigged ;) ). There was a rush to the admissions table as now that the Quiz was finished, tickets were on sale for the intimate tea and coffee sessions with the characters. You could only choose one day, Saturday or Sunday, and I wasn't sure who to pick. The  lady behind me in the line was quite panicky that the tickets would run out to Saturday's session before she got to the front, but I peeked around and assured here there was a little pile left for each day. I got to the front of the line. 
"I don't know which day to choose, what would you suggest? I'm leaning towards Saturday"
"I think that's a good choice!" 
Little did I know how good a choice that was going to be!

Now it was time for karaoke. Not in a blue fit was I going to get up on stage (although as the night progressed it was threatened many a time). I made numerous trips to the bar, and stopped to chat to anyone who would listen. One such would be Dan, who would also be stuck with me for the remainder of the convention. There were some amazing singers and dancers among the RD crew, as they got up on stage and belted out tune after tune (there were also a few typical-karaoke-not-Britains-Got-Talent style singers too, which was fun!) and we whiled away the evening until the early hours talking rubbish, singing and dancing. Soon, Dave Benson Phillips announced the last song (to be sung by the awesome Richard), and we all jumped on the dance floor before dispersing to our various rooms and hotels.

I had decided to treat myself by staying in the hotel the convention was being held at. This meant 5* Crowne Plaza style, and so that evening I rehydrated (so that I wouldn't be hungover on the morrow!), collapsed on my fluffy white bed and channel surfed until I fell asleep.

***
Day 2: Rimmer, Capt Hollister, Holly and Warden Knot.

I awoke with a bit of a headache but feeling excited and nervous for the day ahead. I gathered my things together - my ticket for the photoshoot, my ticket for the intimate tea and coffee session and my ticket for autographs and made my way down to breakfast. Dan joined me with the delicious full English buffet breakfast and I drank almost an entire pot of coffee to myself. I was getting shaky; it was a combination of caffeine and adrenaline because first off this morning was to be the photo session.

I didn't know what to expect. 
"Have your poses ready so that we can go through everyone quickly," the organisers announced. 
Poses? What? I turned to anyone who would listen. "Are you posing? What are you going to do? I'm probably just going to stand there and look stupid!" We were supposed to line up according to our "rank" (I was 82, Science Officer), and 1-50 were meant to be first, but I (and a few others) feigned deafness and joined the queue where we were standing. In the line, I got to know Becca and Rachel, the ladies behind me the previous night waiting for tickets to the intimate session with the actors. All of our hands were shaking. There had been tears already at the prospect of meeting Chris Barrie, and we nervously discussed what we were going to do when we made it into the room. What do we say? How do we pose?

It was over in a flash (quite literally). At the front of the line, I thrust all the things I was holding towards one of the crew members and excitedly said "Hi everyone! Lovely to meet you. I don't know what I need to do!" and as they bustled me in close, I said "I've come a long way for this!". Chris Barrie responded, "From where?", leaning in towards me. 

"Australia!" 

And FLASH. I was herded out of the room, big smile on my face and a noticeable shake in my hands.

I made my way towards Becca and Rachel, both also visably shaken. 
"Fuck!" Becca said as I approached. "Fuck! All I was able to say to him was Fuck!"



****

The caffeine combined with the adrenalin saw me shaking for quite some time. Still high on the rush, Dan and I found a seat close to the front for the Q&A session. 

Up first, Mac and The Shend. We the audience asked questions and they responded, hilariously. Mac was Capt Hollister, captain of the mining ship Red Dwarf. The Shend had been in one episode during season 8 but was still given a starring role at DJ.


Questions ranged from what is your favourite episode to if you could host Top Gear, would you? Mac hulked out at one stage, ripping off his shirt and just general hilarity ensued. 

The clock struck a few minutes to twelve. A hush befell the room. Alex, one of the major DJ organisers took to the stage. 

"We have a special announcement," he began. "Some of you may have already guessed but we have a very special guest on his way. Are we ready? No were not! I'll just waffle for 5 minutes.'

We egged him into singing a song while we waited, and we all joined in for arousing rendition of Tongue Tied before who should walk through the door... but the man himself. 
The god of the Red Dwarf universe. 

Mr Doug Naylor. 

Red Dwarf was the brainchild of two minds; Rob Grant and Doug Naylor in the early 80's. The early tv series and first two books are attributed to the joint entity that is Grant Naylor. Differences eventuated and Doug Naylor continued on from series 7.

And here he was. Quiet. Mysterious. His outward persona not matched to his writing, he was guarded and clipped. 

What could his announcement be? A decade ago there was talk of a movie, or maybe a new series was in the pipeline?

"I know you're expecting me to announce a new series," he began, "but I'm not. "
The room hushed. 
"I'm announcing TWO new series. "
A pregnant pause as this information sunk in before the crowd went wild. 

Two new series, 11 and 12. To be filmed back to back so the actors could all be together. The main 4 actors: locked in. Series 11 to air in 2016 and 12 for 2017. We had to wait until 12pm because there was an embargo on the news; Craig Charles was announcing he was quitting Coronation Street for Red Dwarf at 12.10pm. We got the news first! (10 minutes earlier). Corrie backed Craig Charles into a corner and made him choose, on the basis his fans would get confused if he was in both. How stupid are his fans? 

The audience went crazy. I turned to Dan saying "How do I get tickets?!"

Also announced was a Red Dwarf travelling tour, the details of which are still a bit hazy but I believe it will be akin to a sketch show of favourite and new scenes from the Dwarf.


High from the announcement, Chris Barrie joined The Man on the stage to begin the next round of Q&A. A barrage of questions and teasing details followed, such as "what is going to be happening in the next two seasons?" 
Doug paused, and let slip that possible episodes could include Everybody becoming a Mechanoid and a Cat-oriented episode. 

"Do you have a favourite episode?" a fan enquired of Doug. 
"No."
Eruption of laughter. "Oh the brevity," Chris Barrie said, "if that had been me we would have been in bullshit city by now."

The Q&A ended with Chris and Doug realising the audience knew more about the series than they did.
"What I will do," Doug said, "is set an exam. "

"Fail and - " Chris and Doug looked at each other and together said, "you'll be recast!"

***
Lunch was distinctly Red Dwarf themed. On the menu was, of course, curry, as well as other items from burgers to pizzas, all accompanied with where they had been referenced in the show. Naturally I chose the curry. It was spicy and delicious.


That afternoon was to be the intimate tea and coffee with the actors. Nervously, I sat at a table with Dan, Becca and Rachel, and a few others, holding my coffee and biscuits. There were two spare seats at our table, ready for 2 guests. The other tables had 2 and 1 spare seats respectively. 

"There are five seats," we whispered nervously to each other, "do you think Doug will be joining us?" 

The doors opened, and in came Doug to a large round of applause, followed by The Shend, Mac McDonald, Chris and Hattie. Round of applause, and excited whispering that we had indeed chosen the best day.

First up, Mac and Hattie sat at our table with the two extra chairs. We didn't know what to say. "Hi!" we all said nervously. A quick round table and it turned out that there were two Aussies in the room (and the only two Aussies at the event). Both Mac and Hattie had spent some time in Australia, and I felt a bit chuffed to have actually asked a question. About 15 awkward minutes later, it was time for the guests to change seats.

Next up, Doug and The Shend. Unfortunately for The Shend, he was mostly ignored while Doug was grilled. We leaned in closer and talked in excited undertones in case someone heard. We found out a little more about how the stage show would work, and would they perhaps take it internationally? What were some other little teasers you could give us about the upcoming seasons?

15 crowded minutes later, the chairs scraped back and it was time to switch again, this time to Chris Barrie. I looked at the girls to see how they were holding up. Chris sat at our table with a flourish and the next 15 minutes saw us huddled even closer as Chris divulged in gossip and chatted about his love of cars.

The intimate session was now over, and so we all posed for a photograph. Next up: autographs.

***
As I was a Science Officer at #82, it meant that today, I would be one of the first lining up for autographs. Tomorrow, however, the order would be reversed. At the last minute, I bought myself a Dimension Jump XVIII poster with a white background so that everyone could sign that.

"If everyone can please form a queue", one of the organisers called, "Doug has agreed to do autographs but only one per person and no photographs." There was an immediate shuffle to the left - I was already standing right near the front of where the queue was to form and so I stayed still while everyone crowded around behind me. I approached the front of the line and thrust my poster towards Doug.

"Thank you very much," I mumbled, and noticing those before me had gone in for the handshake, I asked "May I have a quick handshake?" to which he gladly obliged.

It was now time to join the queue for today's actors. After about an hour, I was in the room, snaking my way around from Mac McDonald, to The Shend, through Hattie (who was bottlenecking proceedings because she liked to have a chat with everyone) before onto Chris. I noticed those ahead of me were asking for photos. We all know I'm a fan of the turn-and-pose, the selfie, and each actor obliged.

When it came time to chat with Chris Barrie, words failed me. We chatted a little about visas and travel, before my brain stopped sending sensible words to my mouth and I had to stop talking. Selfie, Mr Barrie? so that I could get out of there, hands shaking.

This probably all sounds so silly to those who don't know the show, and that I am expending an awful amount of energy to write about something the majority of you will actually think is pretty stupid. My travel adventures: most can relate. But Red Dwarf? A Red Dwarf convention? I'm still a little flabbergasted by how affected I was, but I think it was the result of wanting something for so long, and finally being there and able to experience it.

After the autographs we made our way downstairs again for the costume competition. All day, we had been discussing what we would come as for the next Dimension Jump. Stephen, Tom, Dan and I - we've decided to all go together as different incarnations of the same character - likely to be Rimmer. There are a few female Rimmers, so I'll have to somehow make sure I'm at the next DJ so I can fulfil my promise!

The costumes were simply fabulous. Many were to be expected (and well done) - lots of Listers, lots of Rimmers. There were many that were downright clever or funny, and then there were those where hours and weeks and months of effort went into them. In the end, the Joy squid won - a small child in a giant squid costume for sheer awww factor. Parenting done right!

After the costume party came the auction, where Chris, Hattie and The Shend put on their best auctioneer voices, with all proceeds going to charity, and the bidding began. This part was mind boggling to me. Pieces that were worth an incredible amount went for next-to-pittance, and items that had little value were getting pushed up to £150 or more. It was manic. And many people didn't seem to understand the point of an auction and were driving their own bidding higher. Oh well! All for a good cause.

"Now," Chris Barrie announced, "time for the pop and roll part of the evening when we announce the discotheque. I'll strut my funky stuff and do some dad dancing."

Dave Benson Phillips took to the DJ box and started the music playing. The dancefloor was relatively quiet for some time. Dan and I continued to get drunk. I believe jager bombs were a thing that happened. Suddenly, Hattie and Chris jumped onto the d-floor and the party got started. There was some impeccable dad-dancing, a lot of strutting and just before the end, a Cat and a Robot happened to arrive and join in the revelry. 

It was time for bed (for some of us!) before another big day on the morrow.

Remind me again whose idea it was to have jagerbombs?
I would never suggest such a thing.


***
Day 3: The Cat, Kryten and Hudzen 

I certainly woke up with a headache, and I'm pretty sure there were a few others feeling less than pleasant this morning. I made my way down to breakfast, looked around but couldn't see Dan anywhere.

Today's programme of events followed similar to yesterdays, except far more subdued. After breakfast, we gathered for our photo with today's actors: Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn and Gordon Kennedy. A few people infront of me were increasingly worried about the five way spray as their hangovers became progressively worse. Once in, I knew what to do this time.

"Morning everyone! How are you?" and I huddled in close, Danny threw his arm around my waist and FLASH, it was the next persons turn.

Let's not even talk about how tired I look. Hell, my eye has an mind
of its own.


Turns out there were a few places remaining for the intimate coffee session with today's actors, and the tickets were now being offered to those who had already been to Saturday's. I figured, when am I going to get a chance to come again, realistically? and so I snapped up one of the few remaining tickets. A wild Dan suddenly appeared, and he too grabbed a ticket for the session.

First up: Another round of auctions, this time hosted by Danny and Bobby and again, strangely over-and-under priced at the wrong times. This was then followed by the Q&A session with Danny and Bobby, with Gordon and Hattie joining the stage afterwards. As I said, everyone and everything was a little under the weather today, even the actors. Danny took to sitting at the back of the stage playing on his phone, and Bobby set up a Periscope session, live-streaming the Q&A to the wide world of Twitter.

At one point, we convinced them to give Craig Charles a call - it went to voice mail, and so we all shouted and cheered - that would be a way to wake up, wouldn't it? To listen to your voicemail and have hundreds of people cheering for you!

All too soon it was over and time for lunch, followed by the next round of intimate coffee and tea sessions. Our table continually got distracted, so it wasn't the most productive, sadly, and the actors didn't get an awful lot of a chance to answer the questions. I was a little disappointed, but Robert was particularly engaging and I enjoyed a bit of Australian banter with him (his wife being Aussie).

Autographs this afternoon were, admittedly, a trial. The reason for this was threefold: 1) My hangover was getting progressively worse, in that I felt painfully tired. 2) I was now at the end of the line, being #82 and so had to wait a while and 3) Robert was bottlenecking things ever so slightly (which I made full use of when it came my turn!)

I reached the front of the first line, and received my autograph from Gordon, before moving swiftly onto Danny. He didn't have a lot to say (I think he just wanted to be in bed too, he'd been up all night watching the boxing match) but he did agree do a selfie with me. I then joined Robert's line, which reminded me of the old Nokia game Snake. We wormed our way around the outside of the room and zigzagged through the middle, slowly progressing forward.

Once I made it to the front of his line, I said, "How are you? You must be flagging a little by now..." to which he laughed, and agreed that he was getting a tad tired. I didn't stay to talk too long, in the end, but made sure I snapped my selfie - and that was that.

Back downstairs for the closing ceremony and to conclude yet another Dimension Jump, the 18th, if you can believe! I was staying another night at the hotel, and so I bid adieu to the new friends I had made, promising to see them again, promising I would somehow make it to another Dimension Jump and promising to watch Season X (because I..ashamedly..hadn't seen it). I retired to my room, tired but incredibly content.

***
And thus concluded one of the best weekends of my life. I stayed in Nottingham and caught up with an old high school friend, which was incredible as we hadn't seen each other for at least a decade (how old have we become?!) and yet it seemed like everything and nothing had changed.

Thank you to The Official Red Dwarf Fan Club for putting on a spectacular event. Thank you to the actors (and creator!) who attended - I was a shaking, adrenaline-and-caffeine-fueled mess most of the time. Thank you to the wonderful people I met, who were a thousand times the fan I will ever be, who taught me more about the show than I knew possible and with whom I bonded over something I have been obsessing about for the last 14 years - somewhere I felt right at home.


Here's to making it to another Dimension Jump one day.

xx