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Unpacking Chunky Fringe

24th of July 2019

I am working on the Digitiser game, believe it or not. There was enough interest that I did plan to bring a demo to Digitiser Live, but the main hall would have been the wrong place for playing it. So, with Mr Biffo's blessing, I booked a side room. Then, with further support from Chris Bell and a cast of tens, Chunky Fringe came to life.

People seemed to enjoy whatever Chunky Fringe was. Which is just as well, because the Digitiser game turned out to be as absent as Bandersnatch Forever: Episode Three.

This is the story of Chunky Fringe, as told by someone who was there from the start, but only remembers most of it as a blur.


Being Boring

I first considered sponsoring a side room at the start of this tax year. I wrote down my budget, then checked prices on the Harrow Arts Centre website. The numbers worked, so after briefly estimating other costs involved, I offered Biffo money to make it happen.

Sensibly, he responded that it was a nice idea, but too much for him to take on. However, he was stupid enough to suggest that I could arrange it myself. I was stupid enough to run with that suggestion, which is one of the best worst decisions that I've ever made.

My first sensible move had been to carefully read the room hire terms and conditions. It appears that I may have been the first person to do so, proofreader included.

This isn't the best place to learn about civil and criminal liability, but then, neither is the first day of your hearing. If you don't understand what you're reading, then don't sign it.


Suburbia

My next sensible move was to visit the room before booking, drawing on my professional experience to survey it properly. As with many professions, you can get most of the way with bluffing, so patience, paper, pencils, and a long tape measure is all you really need.

The room was good enough. I paid for it immediately, knowing that with only two months until Digitiser Live, there was no time to waste gauging demand. Though I was primed to pay the full rate, my booking went through with an arts discount, being a public event with free entry.

I left site with a carefully-dimensioned drawing in hand, but no idea if the projector worked. I also forgot to ask about WiFi, the oxygen of tech gatherings. Bill, my roadie, is blameless with regard to disorganisation, only being there to selflessly support my mad idea, which just so happened to be near an aircraft-type museum that he wanted to visit.

Bentley Priory Museum is four miles from Harrow Arts Centre, and should not be possible. It is a site of great historical importance, most of which is now a gated housing development, except that the filthy public cannot be prevented from visiting the museum left smack in the middle of it.

Go, while it still exists, because any housing developer would dearly love to turn it into more apartments. The contrast between the extremely reasonable tea bar prices and the view over the garden is worth the price of entry alone. Is there also a walled-off nuclear bunker in the manicured grounds? Yes, yes there is.


Opportunities

Yesterday, I woke up briefly unsure exactly what year it was. The heatwave isn't helping, but it's now almost tea-time and I haven't finished breakfast, or unpacked the boxes, let alone memories. I worried that I was taking too long to adjust back to normality, until I realised that normality could do with a few adjustments itself.

There was a moment in the live show where Paul Gannon quipped that cheering an inappropriate remark was how the Nazi Party got started. Writing that snaps me out of the bubble, as I remember that the current situation is no joke.

People on all sides feel angry, powerless, and fearful. It's not the name of the ideology which matters, and it will sound perfectly reasonable to most people at the time anyway. The danger is always the charismatic leader who plays those feelings for their own benefit.

Which is perhaps why the sad person, not sad for their problems, but sad for using them as an excuse to be so inconsiderate, came to Digitiser Live. They only cared for leaders, ignoring nonentity central before the main show. I don't mean to be rude, but even one of our most notable guests was upstaged by a small packet of biscuits.

Biffo doesn't care for playing our feelings, other than to lead us through his land of filth and whimsy. He invites us to forget ourselves in a few hours of shared laughter and terror, for their own sake. His only expectation is that we always try to make each other feel welcome and comfortable, even if we struggle in social situations.

Which is, ultimately, far more empowering than following any loud-mouth idiot. Even Biffo.

Anyway. Chunky Fringe!


12:15pm

We arrive at the big supermarket by Harrow Arts Centre. The traffic has been fine, so despite leaving late after we struggle to fit everything in the car, my roadie and chauffeur for the day, Bill, has arrived perfectly on schedule.

The sandwich platters are ready for collection, this time. All seems right with the world.


12:40pm

I spot Alistair and Peter in the car park, and a prime unloading spot. We exchange pleasantries, then I try the front door of the Hatch End Suite, having fallen for that "unlocked all along" trick too many times before.

The front door is locked. I head for the box office, detailed schedule in hand, so cool and collected that I don't even need a terror poo on the way.


12:45pm

Box office closed at weekends.


12:50pm

The middle door was unlocked all along.

I meet the first of many helpful strangers, and forget the first of many names. They kindly unload some water bottles. I alarm them with a joke about stealing, but save face by swiftly suggesting that nothing at Chunky Fringe will be worth stealing.

Stuart sends an email alerting me to his travel situation. I do not have email on my phone.


12:55pm

I have stopped ticking things off the plan. I begin to miss small details, like putting the cloths on the reception and panel tables before dumping food and boxes on there.

The electrician calls to say that they will be late. I am too, so as they walk in, the gear is only just queued up for them. Kettle and coffee machine first. Drakelow Tunnels taught me that you can never serve enough hot drinks in a damp, cold, former nuclear bunker.

The electrician does a fine job, and no vintage equipment explodes. By 2pm, most of the exhibitors have set out their stalls, there are no trip hazards, and if someone does get electrocuted later, then we have the magic green stickers to show that it's not our fault.

My exhibition is mostly in boxes at this point.


2:00pm

A considerable crowd enters the room, having been politely waiting outside for some time, even though nobody told them to. Their patience is rewarded with surplus sandwiches and cold drinks. Oddly, cold drinks are more popular on this sunny day than they were in a damp, cold, former nuclear bunker.

I have drastically underestimated the amount of time required to set out chairs. Fortunately, more helpful strangers take my frantic activity as their cue to do the same. They carefully follow my haphazard spacing, but at least none of the fire exits get blocked.

My exhibition is mostly in boxes at this point.


2:30pm, maybe.

I rush around, failing to see most exhibitors, beyond throwing occasional cables, adapters, and undocumented spare projectors in their general direction. I occasionally point people towards the toilets in the main building.

I set up my cheap camera on a plastic tripod somewhere on the reception table. The sight line is clear, but heads are missing. I commandeer the bucket for used coffee pods, because nobody is using the coffee pods. It is the perfect height.

The 30W sound system is sufficient for a room full of musical statue champions. Peter has brought his 150W speaker, and I do actually have the right cables to connect them, but only so close that more than a hint of extra volume causes horrible feedback.

Roadie is now in charge of the wireless microphone. Now everyone up to halfway down the room can pretend that we are organised, as long as they keep their eyes closed.

My exhibition is mostly in boxes at this point. Quiz-Me-Do!


2:50pm?

Nearly one hour late, my Retro Gaming Challenge is almost ready to start.

I am greeted by the smug face of The Fat Controller, wagging finger frozen. Panic does not set in until the third reset, when I can only conclude that the emulation file, carefully tested before I packed everything away, is now irretrievably corrupt.

Ironically, I cannot load the actual tape, which is right in front of me at that exact moment, because I thought that the emulation route would be simpler than bringing real hardware.

Chris Bell has finally awoken the main projector, but any panellists who have never used a microphone before will have to learn fast.


3:00pm

The teletext panel begins. I have turned one third of the lights off, so that people can see the screen. It was a good idea, in theory.

The cheap black plastic tablecloth flaps in the breeze from the front door. I turn the noisy air conditioning off, but it continues to make intermittent grinding noises. James, Chris, Peter, and Jason do very well in the circumstances.


3:05pm

I prepare to download Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends, having carefully prepared back up copies of absolutely everything, except for that one 40Kb file.

My browser asks me to accept the WiFi agreement for the second time. I now remember that Alistair had earlier described the system as "funny".

My phone has a good signal.

Ten minutes later, one visitor/victim tells me that Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends is worse than Ride to Hell: Retribution, which their friend once played the whole way through for a dare. My work here is done.


3:20pm

I have absolutely no hope of explaining the not-Digi game that I'm working on, so having set up my second screen, I just load the beta version to see what people make of it. Roadie gamely prods some keys. Nobody else cares, but at least there's no swearing.

Somebody shows me that there were toilets next door all along.


3:40pm

I meet Chris (Jerden-Cooke), my third panellist, and Joe, my fourth. I've already seen Sam, and Steve, who has brought both some excellent props and a sense of organisation.

Poor Joe, who had volunteered mere days before, senses my confusion as I suddenly realise that there were two Joes in Drakelow Tunnels. Though only this particular Joe was on the official sign-in list, so we're covered if the other one got left behind.


3:50pm?

The seats are full, so I put out a few more. I shuffle Peter's speaker forward, which reduces the feedback, and obscures my head for most of the next panel, so everyone wins.


4:00pm

The Found Footage panel begins, noticeably improving once Chris takes charge. Steve is fully prepared, Sam is cool amid the chaos, and Joe hits his stride with Manorak.

Nobody can remember if Peter's microphone is plugged in, but at least casual observers mistake it for a running joke.


4:50pm

Tim and Mentski are here.


4:55pm

Mentski says that Stuart is still on the train. I suggest he participates by speakerphone.


5:00pm

The panel begins, with Stuart represented by a packet of biscuits.

For the record, not stale.


5:02pm

I press record, so you'll have to trust me on the biscuits.


5:05pm

I watch out over the car park for any incoming train-baked internet sensations.


5:25pm

I spy Stuart, who follows me straight to the room.

He doesn't even flinch to check the use-by date before eating his replacement.


Domino(s) Dancing

The pizza man phones, having read my written instructions. He deftly follows me through a packed room, then double-checks the order before leaving

It's a small tip, but considerably more than the panellists and exhibitors are getting.


6:00pm

It is the official end of the event, and only now do I have something ready on time.

Pizza is announced. Did I over-order?


6:02pm

No.


6:20pm

Exhibitors and visitors begin to tidy themselves away.


6:50pm

Now down to me, roadie, thin-base mushroom and sweetcorn, some more boxes to be packed, and one unclaimed string of fabric goujons.


7:00pm

The key holder arrives. They are used to late departures.


7:10pm

I began to sweep up.

Not necessary? Fine by me.


7:15pm

Car loaded. Much easier with most of the food and drink gone.

A few moments of peace, including a serene stroll to the main hall.


7:20pm

Sneak in to Digitiser Live.

Still haven't recovered.


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