Last weekend, our good friends Jamie and Theresa travelled up from Southend-On-Sea to come and stay at our home here in The People's Republic Of The West Midlands. (If you read my blog regularly, you'll know Jamie, as he's the only one who leaves me any comments!)
It was Jamie's birthday on the Saturday (and might I say, he doesn't look bad for fifty! Only kidding, Jamie!), and after he opened his cards and presents, and still feeling the effects of the alcohol and Moroccan cuisine from the night before, Jamie and I headed out to the National Exhibition Centre for the Memorabilia show. His other half decided her time would be better spent mooching around Brum's shops, whilst my other half was at the theatre watching His Dark Materials with my eldest daughter.
We went to the NEC by train from the lovely, awe-inspiring New St. station, mostly because it's probably the quickest way of getting there, as it's only one stop, and the fact that parking at the NEC would cost at least eight quid. The problem with going to the NEC by train is that after you get off at Birmingham International, you think you're nearly there, but you're not. You're in a building that says it's the NEC, but it's a bloody long walk to the exhibition halls. You go up escalators, down escalators, down endless corridors, along several moving walkways until, about a week later (okay, I'm exaggerating slightly) you get to the exhibition halls. But that's not the end. The Memorabilia show was in hall 12, we were outside hall one, so we walk for another three days (I exaggerate again) until we get to our destination. If we weren't sure if it was the right place, the shitloads of blokes dressed up as stormtroopers and a couple of Jedi outside confirmed that this was indeed the Memorabilia show.
After being allowed to jump the queue because we were paying for our tickets with cash (Ten quid! Each! Bloody Nora!) we went into what was frankly a massive room stuffed to the gills with all sorts of cool stuff. One of the first things we saw was a toy stall, selling lots of stuff similar to the things I had as a kid for shocking amounts of money. All of it was still boxed, and you weren't allowed to pick any of it up. I might've mentioned before that I collect models of the Batmobile (I know, it's a sickness, but they make the windowsill in my sketching room look a lot cooler) and I saw a Batmobile I'd quite like. It was from the 70s, made by the Mego company for their 7" action figures of Batman and Robin (not included) to sit in. We asked how much it was, because none of the items had prices on them. Probably because a little sticky price tag might damage the precious packaging. Anyway, the stallholder gets out a little folder that had all the prices in it, looks it up and then tells us that the batmobile would cost me £195. That was about £190 over my limit, so we thanked him and moved along.
We also saw, from the side looking in, Robert Vaughn doing a Q&A session, and he's a lot smaller than I thought he would be. Quite old, too. It's amazing, though, how he's kept his hair colour even though he's well into his seventies. More on him later.
One of the things that bugs me about this kind of event (comics conventions included), and it's only a recent phenomena, is the amount of cosplayers that turn up. I hate cosplayers. I know they're essentially harmless and they're only having a bit of fun but they do my head in. I reckon they give the rest of us nerds a bad name. People look at them and think 'what a bunch of sad bastards', and think all of us geeks are like that. There was a group of about ten teenage boys all dressed up as Doctor Who. All of them were the David Tennant Doctor, except for one who must have read the email incorrectly and turned up as William Hartnell. A fat, Asian, William Hartnell. Still, at least he was the only one who stood out. I saw all those young lads, with their brown full length coats, brown suits, Converse trainers and their hair all spiked up and I was reminded of the crowd scene from Life Of Brian; "Yes, we're ALL individual!"
There were also quite a few very young teenage girls dressed in not much, including one girl of about fifteen wearing a revealing corset, and this kind of thing brings out the dad in me. I say things like 'I bet her dad doesn't know she's wearing that' and 'there's no way any of my kids are going out looking like that!' even though I know, deep down, that if my girls did want to go out like that, there's not really that much I could do to stop them. There is such a thing as freedom of expression in this country, despite all of my objections!
Also, it's very stupid going to these things dressing up as the thing you love. If you're dressed up as Anakin Skywalker, a Star Wars memorabilia dealer knows he can charge you a bit more because he know's you're a Star Wars nut and you'll pay it. I bet all the dealers with Doctor Who stuff rubbed their hands with glee the moment they saw the ten Tennants approaching them. Only under tens and the Fathers 4 Justice and those people who are paid to walk around these conventions dressed up are allowed to wear superhero or sci-fi costumes (I might make allowances for people press-ganged into going to a fancy dress party. I'm not a big fan of those, either!) the rest of you should stop. Really. Especially the ones that make their own costume out of bits of egg boxes and Lego. Honestly, it's like Paris Fashion Week for the blind and stupid.
The amount of stuff available here was amazing. If spare cash and spare space wasn't a problem I would've come home with shitloads of geeky stuff. Honestly, if you're a nerd like me, you would have had a field day looking at this cool stuff. There was some crappy junk as well, but it was mostly cool. Less cool, however, was the 'celebrities' charging you at least fifteen pounds for an autograph. Some of them are people the non-nerd has heard of (Stephanie Beacham, Robert Vaughn, Richard Briers-who was a bit of a weird choice, I can't really see loads of obsessed cosplaying fans turning up dressed in tweed and kilts asking him to sign their VHS copies of Monarch of The Glen, can you?) but a lot of them were 'third alien on the left' types from Star Wars and I don't think having the autograph from the guy who was 'Yak-Face' is worth fifteen quid, frankly. I'm not really sure whether these are actually who they say they are, anyway, considering that these people spent their moment of fame under shitloads of prosthetics. He could be lying and pretending he was Yak-Face, for all I know, just to get his hands on fifteen quid from a Star Wars freak who really should be old enough to know better.
Don't get me wrong, there were people there I would have liked to get autographs from. There were a few Bond alumni there, for example. There was Richard Kiel, the man mountain who played Jaws, who is absolutely fucking huge- he's probably wider across the shoulders than I am tall. It was sad to see his mobility scooter, though. I also would've liked Guy Hamilton's signature, as he directed Goldfinger, the quintessential 007 movie. (Interesting fact about Guy Hamilton: In the movie The Third Man, that famous shot where you see Harry Lime's shadow running away, that shadow actually belongs to Hamilton- who was Carol Reed's assistant director, because Orson Welles didn't bother showing up for filming that day, because he was a notorious pain in the arse and probably because the only running Welles ever did was away from the salad counter.) The thing is, if you ever happened to bump into these people in the pub, they'd probably give you an autograph for free (although it's unlikely Jaws ever drinks in Moseley, there are a few Yak-faces, though.) and that's the main reason I refuse to pay for it. The other main reason is I don't have that many spare fifteen quids at the moment! I was going to get George Lazenby to sign my picture (see last post) but he wasn't there, so stuff the lot of them.
Saying that, one of us did pay for an autograph, and it wasn't me. Jamie saw the bloke who plays PC Stamp from The Bill walk past us, and had a brainstorm. His dad is a big fan of the show, apparently, so Jamie thought it would be nice if he could get PC Stamp (don't know his real name, and I can't be arsed to Google it, either) to talk to his dad on the phone. Which he did, fair play to him, but the trouble is, he might be a well-known face on British TV, but he doesn't really have a distinctive voice like, for instance, Sean Connery, John Hurt or Michael Caine does. Jamie's dad didn't have a clue who it was that had phoned him up so the first five minutes of that phone call were really awkward. I don't know what was said on the other end, but I can imagine it was along the lines of 'Who the fuck is this?'
Anyway, when Jamie's dad realised who it was, the conversation went a bit more smoothly, but at one point, PC Stamp said to Jamie's dad something along the lines of 'Well, your son is going to buy you a nice signed photo for you' and from that moment on, Jamie felt obliged to buy a signed photo of a bloke from The Bill for fifteen pounds. He didn't really mind, it was a nice gift for his old man, after all, but I think Jamie, being a rabid Star Wars fan, would rather have spent that money on Yak-Face's autograph. I think I upset PC Stamp though, he asked if I'd got everything I'd came for, if I was enjoying it, the usual smalltalk, then for some reason, he sort of accused me of being a cosplayer. Probably on the basis that I was wearing a Silver Surfer T-shirt. Not only did he accuse me of being one of the things I hate most in the world, he suggested that I probably dress up as a superhero when I'm having sex with my girlfriend. I know he was only trying to be blokey and have a joke, but fucking hell, that's a bit much isn't it? I replied by asking him whether they let him keep his uniform (for sexual purposes) when he left The Bill.
"I haven't left, actually, but thanks for paying attention."
And that was the end of that conversation. Next to him was the German guy from Raiders Of The Lost Ark (another favourite movie of mine, but surely it's a favourite movie of everyone's.)whose face melted at the end, and I wanted to ask him about his appearance in the Ferrero Rocher 'Ambassador, you are spoiling us' advert, but I didn't have the courage so we went away and watched some wrestling instead.
Well, I say wrestling. It was a bit like wrestling. There was a ring, a referee and wrestlers, but it was all a bit, well, rubbish. For some reason, the wrestlers kept trying to get the crowd to clap along, but they didn't seem to realise that us Brummies don't really do audience participation. We have the attitude of 'I paid ten quid of my hard-earned cash to get in here, and you want me
to do your job for you? You entertain me! I don't ask you to come to my factory and polish my power press, do I?'
So there wasn't much clapping. Anyone who did clap along were either children, idiots or interlopers from beyond the Black Country. It was a bit like like wrestling used to be when I was a nipper- you know, World Of Sport and Kendo Nagasaki and Johnny Two Rivers and fat blokes with a woman's bathing costume on worn back to front, before we got slick, polished American wrestling shows imported to show us how it could be done if we could be bothered to put the effort in. To be fair, they were going for the American style of wrestling, the 'good guy' wrestlers had washboard stomachs and muscles (something the World Of Sport bunch couldn't be arsed with, they just bounced off ropes and belly-barged into someone with their beer guts) but the 'bad guy' was a bit weedy-looking and the actual bouts were unconvincing. I know wrestling is fixed, but you don't make it obvious. They were stamping on the floor when they 'punched' someone, for God's sake! I wanted one of them to slash his face with a razor, Mickey Rourke-style, that'd be cool, and it would really freak out all the five year olds watching. To be fair to them, though, they did throw themselves around with gusto, and their backs looked all red and sore, so it must hurt, and it's something I'd never do (probably because the sight of me running around in swimming trunks and bright green knee-high boots would turn the Memorabilia Show into the Projectile Vomit-Con 2009) so, my hat goes off to them. If I ever wore one. Which I don't.
At the end of the show, Jamie went up to one of the guys who organises the show and congratulated him on how good it was (Despite all my moaning above, I did have a good time. Moaning's just what I do.) and on the table in front of him was a load of large glossy prints of various people sitting next to Robert Vaughn. They apparently had a scheme where you pay to have your picture taken with the former Man from U.N.C.L.E. and you pick it up at the end, like you do when you get off a rollercoaster at Alton Towers. The weird thing was that the ex-Napoleon Solo (another intersting fact- Ian Fleming came up with that name. Also, my dad was such a big fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that I was nearly given the name Napoleon Trimble. I'm glad he saw sense) had exactly the same facial expression in all of them. They might as well have taken one picture of him and photoshopped him next to all of those other people.
(Actually, I read in the Birmingham Mail the other day, that the next series of Hustle is being filmed up here in Brum, and that Robert Vaughn is looking for an apartment in this very city. Hopefully I'll bump into him and get an autograph and save myself twenty quid!)
And so, after about three hours of looking at cool stuff, and after trying and failing to get our picture taken with a bloke dressed as Iron Man, Jamie and I headed on the long, long walk back to the train station with our freshly-bought junk weighing us down. I got a few books and a few more batmobiles (one of which Jamie bought for me, bless him) and we'd had a good time. I'd definitely go again. It's a good laugh.
Oh, and the guy who plays PC Stamp's name is Graham Cole, apparently.