When it comes to travelling to cons, Fate has a habit of trying to dissuade me. The first con I went to – someone threw themselves in front of my train. The second con – the French train drivers called a wildcat strike and walked off my train. This time I was prepared. We set off a day early incognito and spent the night at an airport hotel in Paris.
Fate, though, was waiting. When we arrived at CDG, our flight to Washington was running ten minutes late. Not too bad, I thought. We had three hours to kill so we went and had breakfast … and when we returned, the flight was fifteen minutes late.
Being an optimistic plane, it kept to its story of running fifteen minutes late all the way up to the time we were supposed to board. Then every five minutes it added an extra five minutes to the expected boarding time. The priority passengers were called to start queuing … then told to return to their seats … then told to board. Yay! Apparently the plane had failed some very minor safety check – and who needs four engines anyway – but the problem had now been solved and the upper deck was ready for all those first class flying folk.
Twenty minutes later – with all the first class passengers aboard – silence once more descended. No one else was being called to board. The main deck hadn’t passed its safety check and no one knew when it would, or if. I wondered if the A380 airbus was like the Enterprise. Could the bridge and upper deck undock and fly off to Washington on their own?
Fifty minutes later we were told that the problem had been solved – an over-enthusiastic smoke detector had been discovered in the crew toilet. It had been reprimanded – after all, this was a French airline and no one French could possibly be expected to last eight hours without a cigarette!
We set off two hours late. I had a panel at 7pm and our ETA at the hotel was now 6pm. That is, if I made it past US Immigration. Not many people talk about the War Against Farmers. The War Against Terror – headline news. But on the same document that asks the telling question – ‘Do you intend to commit any acts of terrorism while in the United States?*’ – there’s the sinister – Are you, or have you ever been a farmer? Everyone entering the USA has to fill in this form. And it doesn’t stop at ‘are you a farmer?’ There’s ‘Have you spent any time on a farm? Have you handled any livestock recently? Are you in possession of an apple?’
We smallholders have been told to answer ‘no’ to these questions and hide our rustic accents. Some farmers are even issued with special passports – with all the pictures of cows scratched out. There’s even a rumour about an unnamed internment ranch in Cuba that awaits anyone who admits a familiarity with cloven animals or is caught carrying more than three Cox’s Orange Pippins (one or two is deemed personal use, but three is definitely dealing)
We spent an hour with US Immigration. We were fingerprinted, photographed and had sniffer dogs search us for forbidden fruit. Our shoes were examined for traces of farmyard manure.
But we passed. We found the Washington Flyer, exactly where it was supposed to be and on time. Then came the metro. Now, is it just us or is there something weird going on with the Washington Metro? Are they in financial problems? Frightened of being sued by vampires? The reason I ask is that all the underground stations appeared to be using emergency lighting. Passengers were dark shapes in the gloom. I’m used to the Paris Metro or the London Tube where stations are awash with light. Dark platforms are deemed dangerous places where muggers would lurk. But no one on this metro seemed to mind. And it didn’t feel in the slightest way a dangerous place to be. Just strangely dark. Perhaps the citizens of Washington eat a lot of carrots.
We arrived at the hotel jetlagged and with 30 minutes to spare. My plan had been to spend an hour in the bar before the first panel to lubricate my little grey cells. Now I’d barely have time to shower and get changed. But wait… there’s a package for me in reception. Jen Stevenson has sent me a box of exotic chocolate – including bacon chocolate, Icelandic chocolate and a slab of freshly dug brown rock from a genuine chocolate mine – at least that’s it what it looked like to me.
And even Fate is powerless in the presence of chocolate.
Next week: Capclave (Part Two – Being There)
* Has anyone besides George Washington ever been caught out by this question? I cannot tell a lie. I intend to raise an army and throw out the government.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?