Springingtiger's Blog

I Was An Asylum Virgin

Rercord breaking

I have come home after my first ever Asylum Steampunk Festival and now I am processing my experiences. In another context they say ‘you never forget your first time’, I am sure that it is true of Asylum. I am a little sad that my next Asylum won’t be my first because, I think, there is something special about the first Asylum. I dare say that those who have been to all eight Asylums may have a different point of view, it must have changed a lot in the process of going from less than five hundred attendees to the world’s biggest Steampunk festival, but I expect that even for the stalwarts, the first time was special.

My blog yesterday was entitled ‘Thoughtfulness’ and it is a quality that distinguishes the Victorian Steampunk Society’s running of Asylum. Although it was my first time I was made to feel both comfortable and welcome, and they make a particular effort to put ‘Asylum Virgins’ at their ease. This was helped by an excellent Souvenir Programme that included not only the schedule of events but lots of information.20160901_212924

That thoughtfulness was evidenced even before the festival began. Because so many people travel from far afield and arrive on the Thursday there is now an event on Thursday night in the Assembly Rooms, The Advance Guard. I came to the Asylum on my own, but I did not feel lonely because everyone was so friendly. I have Aspergers and generally avoid the whole socialising with strangers thing, but at the Asylum, even on the first night no one treats anyone else like a stranger. I quickly found myself chatting with people and ended up sitting with a group of folk I had never met before.

I didn’t really need any entertainment as I was having fun just observing the amazing outfits around me. However the entertainment was excellent with comedy from Andrew O’Neill and some very interesting songs from the off coloratura soprano Lady Violet Hugh whose lyrics may be taken in two ways. The beer was cheap too!

On Friday there was a special session for first timers the ‘Virgins Meet’ in fact a lot of the attendees were not first timers at all, but just there for the enjoyment of it. It is a useful session to get a grasp of what’s on offer and the principles of etiquette for the weekend. The major theme (or should that be the Major’s theme) was fun and mutual respect. He emphasised that in Steampunk there is no right and wrong something I heard echoed by a Lincoln antiques shop owner on the Sunday when he told me that he loved the steampunks because they weren’t as precious about small historical uniform details as re-enactors. Of course we don’t have to be because we are making it up, but he thought we were more fun. He stressed that we should just talk to people and he was right. I learned so much over the weekend by merely complimenting people on their outfits and accessories because most of them loved explaining how they had made things.

The Asylum was like certain conferences I have attended where there are more things I wanted to go to than I could get to, Many things overlapped or were in venues too far apart to get to quickly. However, although I couldn’t get to everything I wanted, I didn’t feel a second was wasted. When I say the venues were too far apart to get to quickly, I don’t mean that they were far apart just that it takes longer to walk between venues at the Asylum. Steampunks don’t tend to rush, they stroll, promenade or bimble the better to appreciate the sights and sounds around them. Any walk through Lincoln during Asylum is likely to be punctuated by requests to pose for a photograph and it is considered good manners to do so, this is a factor to take into account when planning to go anywhere.

If I am honest I missed several things because I was distracted there is just so much to see and do. Getting to and from the Castle and the Cathedral Centre involves passing wonderful stalls, treasure troves of Steampunkery and so instead of rushing to interesting talks or entertainments I was browsing while repeatedly exclaiming ‘Shiny!’. There were four excellent markets at the festival and they do a roaring trade, so if you hesitate over buying that ‘must have’ you will find it’s a ‘don’t have’. It is a fabulous opportunity to add to your Steampunk clothes and accessories and prices range from ridiculously cheap to ‘Ouch, where would I find that sort of money?’ Having said which expensive doesn’t equate to bad value, in many cases it simply indicates hours of painstaking craftsmanship with quality materials. There is something for everyone and every pocket and if you can’t find it on the markets all the antiques and charity shops in the area are also making every effort to accommodate the needs of the Steampunks. My brother suggested the Asylum should have an event where people start off in just their Y Fronts at the Cathedral then proceed by all the stalls making purchases until they arrive at the Judge’s House fully dressed and Steampunked, I believe it would be possible.

I have yet to write about all the events and entertainments on offer. One thing I have learned is that it is a good idea to purchase tickets early. On the other hand once one has one’s wristband there is much to do during the day free of additional charge and there’s plenty to do in Lincoln outside of the official evening entertainments. There were entertainments I would have gone to had I been in time to buy tickets for them, but I never once lacked for things to do.

There is much more to write about and I will. For anyone who hasn’t been to the Asylum and is thinking about it I say, GO! I very much doubt whether anyone’s first Asylum is their last, certainly not by choice. This was my first Asylum and I am still ridiculously happy, so happy that even Virgin Rail messing up my journey home and making me several hours late couldn’t stop me smiling!