Saturday, 18 August 2018

Out of the Ashes Reunion: April 2018

LTJG Holly Bowler

The idea for a reunion of First Contact Day folk sprung at the FCD 2.0 after-party in 2017 when it finally hit us that there was not going to be an FCD around the normal April 2018 date, and we wondered how on Earth could we let that pass without a gathering! We needed momentum to help keep the FCD vibe alive, we wanted to keep the sci-fi family together as well as honour what FCD stands for and the people who made it what it has become. And from that moment the spark of the OOTA Reunion was lit.
From May 2017 onwards the telephone and Facebook conversations started, the number of organisers grew and the event began to take shape. A team was formed and there were responsibilities! Mine varied from sending out invites, keeping track of invitees and payments, planning decorations and so on. I made a 35m long Star Trek bunting like, you know, any crazy person might do! We had meetings online and in person deciding on venue, music, and activities … this event planning malarkey is hard work! As the big day approached we were so excited and also anxious as there were so many things to remember, but we had faith in each other and our talents and abilities and that could only bring success.
Friday morning arrived and several of the team met to roam around Telford Town Shopping Centre looking for party items—squeaky noisy toys were high on the agenda. It was so good to be together again. The donuts were calling so we ended up at Krispy Kreme for coffee and some of the sweet stuff and ran into some of the early attendees, our friends. Then we were back to the hotel for greeting other newcomers. As evening approached more arrived and quite a large group was congregating in the hotel lounge. There were loads of hugs and excitement was in the air. Centaur members there included Colin, Mandy, Aaron, Tony, Emily, Erika and Matt. Led by our grumbling bellies, just under thirty of us made a mass migration to a local all-you-can-eat buffet establishment which was enjoyable (until later). My tummy was not happy, and back at the hotel lounge Erika topped me off with her homemade stollen until I felt I would burst. Mad crafting took place on the floor while we tried to get decorations put together for easy set-up the next day. People were everywhere, stuff was everywhere, it was manic and hot and I felt yucky but was so happy at the same time. Here we were, working hard, all together, making this happen. I’m so proud of my team. After much hugging I headed home to get some sleep.
Saturday arrived like Christmas morning and I couldn’t wait to get back to my FCD family. The team met early so we could start to get set up. Hightower, Centaur’s Head of Engineering, joined us having arrived on the shuttle that morning and would be staying Saturday night at mine. So much set-up to do but we managed it in record time, and the place looked great. I was ready set up to greet, check people in and hand out the lanyards. Doors opened at 11:30 and here they came in bunches all bright and shiny. Some were in Discovery uniforms, some in other Star Trek cosplay. There was a Centauri from Babylon 5, a pair of hooligans from Firefly … many just wore their favourite t-shirts, one even riding a dinosaur!
I loved seeing everyone come in. People started playing board games and chatting. Familiar soundtracks were playing in the background and the vibe was joyful. The USS Iceni was there running a raffle for the Crohn’s & Colitis Charity. The Tribblemakers competing with Team DISCO. There was singing theme tunes, charades, sci-fi quizzes, image guessing games, super-fast sculpting of a model of Odo and all sorts until it was whittled down to just two contestants on a head-to-head of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire–Geek Edition. Our engineer, Matt Holt, did a great job as a stand in for one of the contestants who couldn’t make it. Well done, Matt! The game was regularly interrupted every time another order of chips arrived in the room to which where everybody present was yelling, "Chips!" when the server came in with a bowl in tow.
There was also an honesty table where people could swap items, a badge-making corner and other stalls set up. At 2.00pm the geeky game show started which was run by the amazing John Hancock and Neil Green and it was an absolutely delight. It began as a team against team event with
As the competition came to a close and the raffle began I needed to duck out and get ready for the evening’s masquerade ball. Thankfully one of the organisers, Mike, let me use his room to get ready because I was going full-on Andorian and I had little time to do it. I was also going to surprise the audience by dancing a bellydance-hip hop fusion choreography I’d written to the Beastie Boys’ song ‘Intergalactic’. Josh showed up to give me a hand and then Mike and his son returned to the room. When I saw Mike, he was wearing an original Narn mask from Babylon 5 and a masquerade mask over it, which looked so freaky! We then headed over to get the tables set up for the evening buffet and party. I talked to the DJ to make sure he had my music and some of the workers at the hotel’s mouths dropped when they saw me looking blue with my antennae. Their reactions were comical.
People started arriving looking smashingly gorgeous. Many were in ball gowns, some in tuxes, others in full cosplay and yet others just wearing what was most comfortable, but most people had a mask. The buffet was served and the room was filled with laughter, warmth and good humour. Then it was time … Erika announced me and I was up! I was on the dance floor, the music started and it was all go! The surprised yet happy looks on people’s faces while I was dancing was awesome and I enjoyed every second of it, finishing with a little kiss for Wil and David before they took the stage to talk about FCD, the upcoming Cal Mah Unofficial Stargate Convention and to thank the team. A video of my dance has been recorded for posterity and can be viewed here… The organisers were all brought up to centre stage and given gifts of flowers, chocolates and mementos. Then the party kicked into the full swing and the disco began. It was a really fun time. I had changed into my light-up birthday tutu to add to the shininess of the place. There were grins everywhere, excited chatting, non-stop hugs, drinks aplenty and loads of selfies as well as hoedowns, step dancing and much bouncing about. Eventually I was beat and going home was very difficult as it was saying goodbye again for a while, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before we were all together again.
We did it!

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Stranger Things

With a slightly retro feel to it, Stranger Things takes you on a hunt through a continually expanding landscape looking for your lost buddies. With quests along the way (to find things to add to your collection or return to their owner for a suitable reward), baddies to bash and even a few boss levels thrown in for good measures, it’s compellingly addictive and fun. It also has two levels of play which makes it fun for the littler ones, too.

Download for free from the App Store and give it a bash! (‘Scuse the pun!)

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A Gamer's 'Fix'

Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to game. I loved it. I was one of those geeks who could easily game on right through the night and into the next day. I even had a job that involved gaming. I was a very happy little bean in my pixelated world of adventure and treasure hunts. I proudly bore the calluses on my thumbs, and the insomnia worked in my favour, giving me those extra hours to dedicate to the cause (aka quest). And then disaster struck.
Repetitive Strain Injury comes in many forms. Mine strikes in the upper arms and wrists causing muscle spasms and chronic pain—but I’m not here to talk about such things. Instead, I want to introduce you to the world of gaming apps. Well, come on! An addict’s got to get her fix somewhere! And the nice thing about apps is that they require no setting up and can be played in small doses. No, the dedicated XBox/Playstation/Nintendo/Sega may not find the play satisfying enough, but us invalided players have to get our jollies where we can. Don’t be mistaken either, because some of those games can be very addictive as well as, get this, FREE! A price I very much like.
So what do I look for in a game?
I’m easily bored by a game, so forget your Candy Crushes and hidden object games. You can only match four lemons or find ten teapots so many times before the entertainment wears off (about 10 minutes if I’m generous). Then there are those games that are free for a teeny-weeny sample and then they want you to pay. Sadly, the authors don’t seem to realise that the free bit needs to be incredibly good if it is to win you over enough to make you stick your hands in your pockets, or a good bit longer to get you properly hooked. I can understand that they want to make money, but with so many free offerings about to try, the competition is stiff.
Not that I am averse to paying for a game. Indeed, there have been a number of games that I have paid for to remove the advertising. The game has been that good that I’ve wanted the uninterrupted play, so have dug my grubby little mits into my pocket for the pleasure of.
Enough banter, though. Next week, I’ll begin with my current favourite, Stranger Things.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

An Evening with Sir Patrick Stewart

PO3 Rebecca Lockley

Back in February, my Google Alert for Patrick Stewart went off with an interesting alert: Sir Patrick Stewart would be giving a talk during the Huddersfield Literature Festival. Tickets were £15 and I hadn’t yet seen it pop up on Twitter, so I blagged front row tickets. Then I waited … and waited … and waited for the day … and oh, was it worth it!
I had a bit of a panic on Thursday when I started to read the weather report for both Yorkshire and Lincolnshire—snow, but not until the wee hours, so we would likely be fine. To be on the safe side, we packed sleeping bags, extra warm clothing (hats, scarves, fleeces), water and snacks into the back of the car just in case the snow turned into a Second Beast and we had to sleep in the car.
Our day started off with a walk through Huddersfield. There was an international food fair going on, so we checked that out and then headed to the Town Hall to make sure we knew where we would need to be. We also scoped out the place where we were meeting up with some friends for dinner before settling down in a local coffee shop (I’ve forgotten the name!) for a cup of tea. Earl Grey-hot, naturally.
We met up with friends for dinner at the Zephyr. None of us were familiar with the place and the food was … okay. I had a Cajun grilled chicken burger and there was no spice at all on my chicken, which was disappointing, but the strawberry gin was good.
We all were scattered around the auditorium, so we parted in the lobby and Tim and I headed to our seats. I still didn’t think it was real. I would actually see one of my heroes live on stage! Talking! Telling us about his life and career!
When Nick introduced Sir Pat, he explained that Patrick agreed to photos during the first five minutes (and he even posed for pics), and then asked for phones/cameras to be put away and asked that it wasn’t recorded. In fact, we were told if anyone did get caught with their phone held up during the talk, they would be kicked out. I did spot one guy on the balcony out of the corner of my eye holding up a phone, though, so if any footage gets posted online I’ll link it.
Patrick Stewart was brilliant. He warned us that he didn’t give short answers, so there weren’t a whole lot of questions asked, but the stories the man told … it was worth it. I’d have gladly sat there for another hour … two … three … just listening to his stories. Perhaps one day he’ll publish a memoir (and Mr Stewart, if you’re reading this, please can I edit it?).
We even got a rare treat! Not one accent, not two, but three accents! Sir Pat imitated a local accent when he was telling us about his interview to receive a scholarship to attend the Old Vic (and apologized for it being bad, though as a non-local I couldn’t tell), and then he gave us “space, ze final frontiere” in a French accent. I have to say, I’m quite happy Paramount didn’t make him use a French accent! His third accent was a recreation of his role in 1967 on Coronation Street, plating a Fireman from Lancashire.
We also learned his favourite episode is The Inner Light (though the questioner asked “What’s your favourite Enterprise episode, so I’m not sure if the questioner was confused over which series Sir Pat was in). This is honestly no surprise to me as it is an incredible episode and it’s made even better by the appearance of Daniel Stewart playing his son!
Sir Patrick told us about his early days in acting, about meeting and becoming bezzies with Sir Ian McKellen, and how he felt when he was on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are and discovered more about his father. We also learned that the two charities he is patron for are in memory of his parents: Refuge for his mother and Combat Stress for his father.
And speaking of his early days in acting – did you know he lied his way into gaining his scholarship? Naughty Patrick! But I think he paid his debt in full back to Yorkshire in the end when he became Chancellor of the Huddersfield University.
I’m still giggling over his (former) hair piece having been flown across the Atlantic specifically for his audition for Captain Picard … and then it was never used. While he did mention he wore a hair piece in one episode (Violations, in a flashback Beverly has), he didn’t specify if it was the same one or styled the same way. Hmm. Something to ask him in the future, perhaps?
Sir Patrick said in an interview on BBC Radio Leeds on Thursday that his favourite childhood book was Treasure Island. I really think he should record an audiobook for it, don’t you?
All in all, it was an incredible evening. Sadly, I didn’t get to ask him my question. I wanted to ask him to give advice to those of us in the arts (performing, writing, creating) who face criticism and how you can bounce back from it … but it wasn’t meant to be and I’ll hopefully get to see him again and ask.
Thanks Huddersfield Literature Festival for having him, and THANK YOU Sir Patrick Stewart for speaking with us!
You are, forever, O Captain my Captain.
Photo by Neil Armstrong.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Tribble Conservation

“What!” I hear you exclaim. “Are we mad?” But the answer is a stolid no.
The tribble home world, Iota Geminorum IV, is in dire straits since the Klingons set out to destroy all of tribblekind. Any why? For no other reason than the furry little critters are 'annoying' and have a tendency to squeal in a Klingon’s presence.
But why is the resurrection of the tribble so important? What use is a tribble? Plainly put, it is fodder.
We all know tribbles breed at
an alarming rate. Born pregnant, through asexual reproduction (which means they self-fertilize) a single tribble can produce a litter of around ten kittens every twelve hours. With sufficient food supply, a tribble can result in over one million tribbles in less than four days.
As to the reason for this prolific breeding ability, it is simply to ensure their continued existence because for many of the creatures on Iota Geminorum IV, the tribble is their main food source. With the loss of the tribble, these creatures have but two options: to predate other species or to starve.
Naturally, they have chosen the first option, but as these other species do not breed so quickly, prey is becoming scarcer with each passing day, and as that prey becomes rarer, species are being forced to predate upon their own kind. In summary, all of the animal species on Iota Geminorum IV are under threat.
Take the ghost flyer, for example. A small raptor with razor sharp teeth and a vicious hunting instinct, it used to be perhaps one of the most common creatures on the planet (barring the tribble, of course). It could be found across the planet in almost every landscape and on every continent, with a large number of subspecies. However, their numbers have now declined by over 70%. Initially, they have turned to hunting other species such as the little razor mouse, but as they do not reproduce as prolifically as the tribble, their numbers suffered quickly too. More disturbing, the effect snowballs.
The razor mouse,despite its sweet, furry appearance is also a predator. Hunting in small, family packs, its primary food source was also the harmless tribble. With the loss of the tribble, the razor mouse has found new prey in even smaller rodents, insects and even its own species. Razor mice numbers are down 82% and the decline continues. When the razor mice become extinct, what will the ghost flyers eat?
As each species dies out, another becomes the primary food source and comes under renewed threat. Already extinct are the swallow-tailed eaglet, larger spotted bantock, urbassi goomba, greater crested ghost flyer, teena mouse, kangaroo rat and the bushy tailed felix. However, the tragedy continues with yet more devastation.
Tribbles consume plant matter—and in great quantities. They consume billions of tonnes of vegetation each year. Without the tribbles to graze the plains and forests of Iota Geminorum IV, the vegetation is growing uncontrollably, strangling the landscape. At first, it was just a case of the plains becoming very lush and the forests more verdant, but as they have continued to grow uninhibited, the plants have literally sucked the moisture out of the ground. Drought has become an issue and as a result, a good number of plant species, no longer able to draw sufficient nutrient enriched liquids out of the ground, have died off. The plains have turned from savannahs to deserts. Even the forests, once havens, are wilting and dying.
In total, with the loss of the tribble, the entire ecosystem of Iota Geminorum IV is in jeopardy. For all of these reasons, the tribbles have to be reintroduced to Iota Geminorum IV.

The Tribble Summits

Early last year, a team of eminent xenobiologists approached the Federation with regard to the problem, proposing talks between the Federation and the Klingons. While the Klingons are not members of the Federation, it is imperative that any plan involving the conservation of tribbles has their cooperation and agreement, otherwise, they will just return to Iota Geminorum IV and decimate the tribble population again. After much negotiation, a summit was agreed and as a fellow expert in the field of tribbles, I was invited along.
The talks were not easy to say the least. Tempers ran high and it is clear that the Klingons still detest the cute little beasties with a vengeance. They didn't take it well when it was pointed out (on more than one occasion) that a humble tribble really was no match for a big, burly Klingon warrior. (Would the destruction of all tribblekind really secure a Klingon warrior a place in Sto-vo-kor?) However, all was not lost. Indeed, and ironically it turns out that the ghost flyer is not only the tribbles' primary predator, but also its saviour.

The Ghost Flyer

The ghost flyer is a winged raptor, so called due to its ghostly pale hue. These colourings vary between the subspecies to camouflage it in its surroundings. All of subspecies live both on ground and in the trees but can't fly. Instead, it glides between the branches of trees, or from one rocky crag to another, and swoops down upon its prey from above. Armed with serrated teeth and razor sharp, slashing
claws on its front limbs, they are nasty little cratures that hunt in packs.
Although not sentient, their intelligence is not to be underestimated. Their hunting methods are highly sophisticated. Using a series of low-pitched whoops and whistles, their attacks are highly organised and lethal—a fact the Klingons will attest to. They regaled us with tales of their encounters with the ghost flyers—how they would attack the Warriors brazenly, be it in their beds at night, or by singling out a lone Warrior and then descending upon him in a swarm. Some proudly displayed their battle scars acquired in the conflicts with ghost flyers and spoke with great admiration about the creatures. When they came to realise that this admirable and noble creature was under threat, the Klingons relented. Finally, they have agreed not to hinder attempts to reintroduce tribbles to Iota Geminorum IV, and that is all we needed.

The Tribble Breeding Programme

With tribbles now extinct from the planet, any breeding programme will have to draw its stock from tribbles taken from Iota Geminorum IV in earlier years. For this, we can thank Cyrano Jones. He distributed tribbles far and wide across the quadrant, sometimes with intent, but mostly just dumping them when their numbers became too great for him to cope with on his small trading vessel. Sadly, many of those tribble 'outposts' have also been obliterated, but pockets remain in some of the most surprising places.
Andoria, for example, has a tribble farm where a very hardy subspecies of tribble (the Greater Arctic Blue Tribble) has evolved. (With such a fast breeding rate, evolution is much quicker for tribbles.) Blessed with
a coat of exuberant, thick, blue fur, the Andorians farm them for their pelts to make such things as ear muffs and to form accent collars and cuffs on clothing.
A small Romulan moon has another new subspecies. Known as the Cackling Tribble, rather than purring as most tribbles do, it produces a cackling sound.
The mission, therefore, is to assemble as many tribbles as we can, quarantine them (to ensure they are disease free), study all the specimens collected and then send them back to Iota Geminorum IV. Once back on the planet, however, they are not released immediately back into the wild where they would be instantly predated. Instead, they are taken to the new Tribbulation Facility where breeding commences. The overflow stock is then released into the wild in a controlled fashion and their progress monitored. The surrounding terrain is also monitored and hopefully, through all these steps, the world of Iota Geminorum IV can be restored to its former glory.

Sunday, 1 July 2018


Cadet Sandy Joe Reid

On May the 5th Rosie and I went to Em-Con with our Mum and Dad.
It was really fun. We went as characters from Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone loved my Rocket Racoon mask. Rosie hated her costume because she said it was not pretty and she did not look like a princess, being dressed as Baby Groot, but everyone thought she looked cute.
People stopped us, every minute to take our photo and someone even gave me and Rosie a gift each.
Mummy was dressed as Gamora and Daddy was dressed as Star-Lord.
We met up with Grandma Erika and our cousin Ellie while we were there; they were also dressed up as Harry Potter characters.
There were lots and lots of fantastic costumes, but the Zombies were my favourites because they were so funny as well.