Celestial Weasel (celestialweasel) wrote,
Celestial Weasel

The West is red

I had the day off yesterday to see Neal Stephenson in Bristol at 6 p.m. as part of the 'Festival Of Ideas'. I combined this with having lunch with 'C' (WINOLJ) who works in the centre of Bristol, near the Watershed which is where NS was speaking. The area round Temple Meads remains a largely derelict waste-land covered in parts by bright primary colour boards, with a few new buildings built before the money ran out, and presumably will remain so until, if ever, the economy picks up. Bizarrely, they make a big thing of the ferry to the town centre in the signs at the station, despite the ferry only running once an hour for not many hours (last ferry 1610 I think). The ferries are of course cunningly non-synchronised with anything, particularly the trains to / from London which I would naively assume would be the ones from which people would be most likely to want to take a ferry to the city centre.
Having had lunch I went for a walk along the dockside to opposite the SS Great Britain, then up the hill to the Cabot Tower then up the tower (to the first balcony anyway, which was quite enough thank you). I then had a walk round the University area and towards Clifton. At this point it began absolutely bucketing it down and despite having my rain jacket I sheltered under a tree. I don't know if there was some particular place or event on but the people walking round the area seemed to be 90% East Asian (Chinese?) women, 9% East Asian (Chinese?) men and 1% older white guys looking as though they were delivering / building / maintaining things. Maybe all the overseas students have arrived.
Having got to Clifton I spotted Clifton Down station, and found there was a train in about half an hour so, avoiding a heavy outbreak of Greenpeace chuggers, I had a coffee and then got the train, as part of 'Mr Weasel travels the run down and not terribly fast or usefully sited suburban railways of Britain'. The station building has basically been turned into an Australian themed pub, with the windows facing the platform covered with zoo themed murals, this being the station for the zoo. The train goes not terribly fast, and had to wait for a train going the other way, as the route is single track on the whole. Some of the stations are on the single track part with one platform used to trains going in both directions, and the other platform abandoned. One or two of the stations have the characteristic murals of 'relatively poor part of relatively rich city'. I suspect you would not on the whole use this train if you lived there. There are, however, plans to improve things, it appears.
Having returned to Temple Meads I then had another walk round, taking the scenic walk back to the centre and got heavily rained on again. Just before the talk I had a look round the Arnolfini. The main art exhibition was Rise Early, Be Industrious by Olivia Plender http://www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/exhibitions/details/1338 - this had a couple of particularly interesting things, one was a room where the art work basically consisted of an installation of a 1970s Open University thing on Art and Society, and another with some stuff about the Kibbo Kift http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbo_Kift - amusingly, when I was a member of the then Ecology Party there was an old guy in it, Wilf 'Social Credit' Price who was a remnant of the Green Shirts etc. which is what the Kibbo Kift evolved into (he may have even been in the Kibbo Kift, not sure quite how old he was) - his name live on in an article about current cranks copied and pasted a couple of times on the web http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/education/depth-articles/economics/major-douglas-rides-again
Neal Stephenson's start was slightly delayed by a bomb scare in central Bristol. He was of course doing a (not very big) tour because of the release of 'Some Remarks'. He talked mainly about his view that we have lost the ability to do big projects. He has the slightly bizarre idea that it is 'all because of computers' (i.e. people doing stuff with the Internet instead of building big non-virtual things). The does strike me as bizarre, people traditionally blame 'people working in finance' or 'in defence'.
As other people have pointed out, the trouble with these talks is that the interviewers are never nearly as good as the ones you get at cons.
The audience was obviously 'fannish' (as in fandom, as in what I think of as 'real' fandom - just as Britain doesn't put the country name on stamps because it invented them, 'the' fandom does not need to qualify its name) in the way that audiences for Bill Gibson when I saw him haven't been.
He also showed his kickstarter video for the Clang project.
I bought a copy of Some Remarks and got it signed. The first time I have anything signed since my Puffin Club membership book thing by a couple of the actors in Swallows and Amazons when I was about ten!
Bristol is clearly trying to brand itself as a high tech place. More plausible than Silicon 'OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE' Roundabout, but it all seemed slightly desperate and trying too hard to me. But then what else can they do, I suppose?
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