It's midnight on Saturday [or the following morning or later if comments are in square brackets [like this]].
In the run-up to Novacon 22 members were invited to suggest alternatives to the usual Saturday night disco. In the event we were told that overwhelming public demand had, once again, insisted that the disco be retained. In this case "overwhelming public demand" apparently means 20-30 members out of an attending membership of 350, with a maximum of twelve or so dancing [peaking at about 50-60 with twenty dancers well after midnight]. By comparison, there must be more than two hundred members in the lounge and the "sodding crowded and hot" (D. Langford) bar, mostly in unavoidably loud earshot of the disco. Meanwhile Storm Constantine's multimedia presentation has just been crammed into a sixth floor committee room that would have comfortably held everyone at the disco, but is in no way adequate for a two-hour program item featuring the guest of honour. Earlier in the day, the BSFA meeting (expected to need an hour) was forced into a rigid half hour time slot immediately before the GOH interview, and achieved nothing useful before it wound up. [I suspect that nothing useful would have been achieved anyway. but now we'll never know]. This can only have been due to a lack of free programme time.
Including set-up and clear-up the disco will occupy the main convention hall for at least five hours [more than six, in fact]. More time has been taken up by parties on the Friday and Saturday evenings. [To be fair, the parties were a lot more popular than the disco. but it's worth mentioning that the Saturday party was organised by a publisher, not members of the convention, didn't feature any form of entertainment apart from free drinks, and might just as well have been held in the lounge or bar.] This might be acceptable if there were other programme items, in areas large enough for a significant portion of the membership to attend; the Novacon programme this year was notable for an absence of quizzes and lighter items, which might have been nice alternatives.
Birmingham isn't an isolated hamlet. If there are really fans who can't face a weekend without a disco. perhaps it might be possible to organise a group visit to a suitable venue, and leave the rest of the convention in peace. Maybe the disco could have been run after midnight, which would at least have given less interested fans the alternative of going to bed (although I've just been told that it's audible on the fifth floor) [I couldn't hear it in my third floor room a little later, but I was on the opposite side of the hotel]. Maybe it could have been mounted elsewhere in the hotel [OK, I was clutching at straws here - the only other function room was in use as the book room], or in the pub next door. Instead it was held in the main hall, and there will be another disco on Sunday evening [after I left, but a fair number of fans were still there]. This means that two large blocks of the avaiable programlme time will have been used for a type of item that fails to enthral a majority of members, and can't be mounted without inconveniencing non-participants.
At best [the best I could think at midnight in a fairly bad mood] this can be interpreted as unimaginative and extremely lazy programming. Not everyone will agree; several people who have read this over my shoulder have suggested that I may be being too harsh, and that (a) while there might only be thirty people in the disco at any given time, a much larger number have been in and out, and that (b) it's an important bonding ritual for some fans, an opportunity to dress up and socialise. Both these points may be true, but I still feel that the disco is an irrelevant nuisance for a sizeable proportion of fans (including another group of onlookers who have Just suggested that I'm not being nearly harsh enough), who find talking a more effective means of socialising.
I have nothing against discos, though I don't happen to like participating in them myself, but it would be nice to have a realistic alternative. Novacon 23, and anyone else tempted by the lure of the disco, please take note, and try to find a compromise that gives non-participants a chance to do something else in relative peace.
[Later it occurred to me that I would have been much less annoyed if there had been a programme item after the party, and the disco had started at eleven or twelve. Perhaps something that takes advantage of the room being clear, such as a mass-participation quiz or a "great egg race" type of event, could be fitted in.]
[I should add that on the whole I enjoyed myself at Novacon, and signed up for the next one without any qualms. Nevertheless, I do think this is a matter that requires attention.]
PS: A note on a completely different matter. A letter mentioned Portable Appliance Testers, needed to comply with the Electricity At Work regulations. Phillip Harris, one of the biggest educational laboratory suppliers, sell one at about £120. Secondary schools typically own hundreds of electrical appliances, aren't exempt from the new regulations, and should be buying in their own units. I'm hoping to get one next year, if I can sneak it onto the list of goodies needed for our new labs, and will try to get permission to loan it to cons. Other schools and colleges with better budgets may already have the equipment available. Maybe one of these days someone will be able to tell me how you test an appliance tester (which is mains powered) for electrical safety...
PPS Attending figures are wrong