Day 1 of FantasticFest (Texas, 2009)

I was recently lucky enough to get the chance to go to one of the top genre festivals in the world, Fantastic Fest. The annual sci-fi, horror and fantasy festival, held in Austin Texas, started in 2005 and after hearing so many good reports from friends of ours I couldn't wait to go myself.
Wednesday 24th September:
The day began at 4am (British time) with an alarm, some last minute frantic packing and a much needed cream cheese and cucumber bagel. After setting off to catch the first tube to Heathrow terminal 4, I realised I had forgotten something so had to sprint back to make sure I didn't miss my train – breaking a sweat at five in the morning really isn't my idea of fun (note to self: must. get. fitter.)

Once at the airport I spent a while trying to work out the ticket printing machines (who knew scanning you own passport could be so difficult), and after checking in bags and a quick coffee, I was on my way (to the U S of A!)

Once seated on the plane I tried my hardest not to seem like a deprived child on Christmas morning but as it was my first time on a long haul flight (and first time to the states) I couldn't help myself: “Oh my god – a screen all to myself!” and “look how many films! Ooh they have Mrs Doubtfire!”

Before take-off the pilot announced the duration of the flight and it suddenly dawned on me – I'm going to be stuck for 10 hours in a floating box, still with little understanding of how it stays airborne – no opening the windows for you then, Miss Howson. Aside from the ample movie and TV selections on offer, the sheer amount of food and drink brought round every half hour more than made up for the inconvenience of not being able to nip out quickly when say, you felt like not flying for a while. Admittedly the food wasn't great – I had a bad incident once with aeroplane food when I was little (think reheated alphabites that had previously been chewed up and spat out) and vowed never to touch the stuff again. But me being the fickle, constantly hungry human being that I am, wolfed down the chicken and pasta lunch, the ice cream and the hot turkey and cheese baguette without a second thought.

I arrived at Houston Airport at around 1pm local time and was surprised at just quite how scary an experience entering America can be – I was quizzed as to whether I was in possession of any guns or drugs to which I replied “ I look like I'm on drugs?!” Going through customs I did manage to exercise my 'I'm-innocent-but-probablylook-guilty-because-you're-making-me-nervous' look – who knew you had to have digital fingerprint scans to get into the country? It's a good job I burnt mine off in advance of the last major bank job I did – ha, security, my arse! Also, I tried very hard (And succeeded, may I add) at resisting the urge to pout when they took my photo (all part and parcel of security measures... apparently!)

As if that all wasn't weird enough, nothing could prepare me for the obscurity of what I was about to experience - the toilets, sorry 'bathrooms', in America – self-flushing bogs (yes, even when you're still on them – that came as a big surprise, I can tell you!) and motion activated hand towel dispensers, which got me thinking – either these people are so lazy that technological advancement has sped up just to accommodate for said lazyness, or the somewhat unnecessary technology on display in Houston airport toilets actively encourages sloth-like tendencies.

I then proceeded through to pick up my luggage and check it in again (pointless, I know), then through to hand luggage and full body scan – yep a metal detecting doorway isn't quite enough for the American government, they want a full, hideous 3D scan of your skeleton to ensure you're not carrying anything you shouldn't be. On the way out of the scan I was stopped by one of the security guys who talked into his bluetooth headset with the the woman taking the scan and says “Yes – female. Yes, she's wearing a hoodie – that's what it is”. I was so tempted to lighten the modd by saying “Where I'm from you can get an ASBO just for wearing one of these”, then I thought NO, cracking jokes in this situation is probably up there with shouting “terrorist” or “bomb” in the stupid stakes.

The worst was over – I then boarded the second plane which was much smaller and was told it would only be half an hour until we were due to land in Austin. Not a few moments after they came round with the complimentary drinks did they tell us to belt up and prepare for landing – that was possibly the fastest flight in history, but I did have a quick chance to look at the in-flight catalogue (which I like to think of as Tarrant on TV in print form. A magazine full of ridiculous and useless inventions that you are only ever likely to feel compelled to buy when half cut and 40,000 feet up in the air).

When we landed it was a pretty quick turnaround. I collected my bags and was greeted by one of the Fantastic Fest volunteers, Mary, who gave me a lift to the hotel in a massive, white, ford, hummer-like van – amazing! I barely got through the door before locating the massive flatscreen telly and proceed to flick through the hundreds of channels available - first things first.

I then had chance for a quick snooze before heading out to the Highball bar to collect my pass – a venue that has been purpose-built by Fantastic Fest Organisers Tim and Karrie League to host all of the evening entertainment for the Fest. Once at the Highball I bump into Tim, Frightfest boys Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray (and his dad Alf) and Doghouse Director Jake West. After sinking a few Stellas (or Cokes, in my case) we try out the cocktails on offer including the most lethal concoction I have ever sampled in my life, which blows your head off – it is like liquid fire! And apparently is made with ingredients such as tomato water, onion and basil, amongst other things.

I left the boys to it around 10pm and headed back, stopping off for a quick snack at Jack in the Box on the way (where I came across the longest curly fry in existence). By the time I got back I had been awake for nearly 24 hours – time for some beauty sleep me thinks.