I've been meaning to write this since September! But time runs away. I thought a little behind the scenes article might be interesting. Perhaps I'll jog Julia and Gerry into their versions. This is also when I realise that I never take enough pictures!
Now obviously 'my conference' runs most of the year. I'm responsible for the graphics etc so a lot of time goes on creating those as well as promotion, hunting for sponsors and advertisers. Julia runs the admin side, but as lowly assistant I luck out by escaping that side of things ;) However things get very hectic the week before, especially so this year as I was completing a huge bridal order for a wedding happening a week after I returned! Lots of running back and forth to the printers (Love you Print Box in Finnieston!) picking up supplies and printing off reams of paper. But once all that's done and the case and bags are packed and the many lists double and treble checked, it's time for the off.
The conference proper starts for me on Wednesday morning. For the last two years I've driven down due to the quantity of stuff I need to carry. It's a fair old run from Glasgow to Oxford - this year got through with audio books (Dresden Files) and Blondie. There is nothing like balling Sunday Girl at the top of your voice to distract from the tedium of the M6. I had the added stress of a dodgy speedo on the way down, not something you want when there's average speed cameras on long stretches. Thank goodness for my phone's sat nav! So due to that there were fewer coffee stops than normal, and even then I found myself still on the road at 9pm in the pouring rain. But got to Julia's house tired and ready for the waiting gin and delicious dinner. It's always a pleasure to stay at Julia and her husband's house, it's quite a home away from home for me these days. Pre conference of course, Gerry is already there too. So it's hugs (from the dog, Marley, too) and catch ups then it's a night camping on the comfy sofa.
Thursday takes us to the Sew Curvy cottage for prepping and packing. As we never feel we manage to fit in any pre conference socialising, frustratingly so, this year we knocked about some ideas and came up with a tea party at the cottage for the early arrivers. We thought it would be a nice way to start things off and let people see Julia's pretty cottage studio, somewhere a bit more personal than a public venue and especially lovely on a sunny day. Of course it rained! The morning saw the welcome bags packed with Julias' assistant Camille's help (including some annoyed calling of a supplier about errors on their part), Gerry taking care of some last minute stitching, Julia tearing about in a blur of email checking and a hundred other things, and me working out the badge system and colour split on the final numbers and doing some necessary last minute chopping and changing on the shoot schedule. After that we were ready to set out the china and pick up the guests (oh and pick some brambles which I was getting laughed at for! but they were very tasty!). It was a lovely little party, so nice to see people in a quieter setting to get a chat and a relaxed start to the weekend. A photographer turned up from the Oxford paper so we had a scramble to organise and thankfullyLowana O'Shea and Karolina Zarzycka were on hand to do some impromptu modelling in Julia's 'Clessidra' corsets which luckily fit the girls very well indeed! The resulting pics made the next day's paper... front page no less!
After we'd said cheerio to everyone who'd managed to come along, we packed up to decamp to Jesus College. There's always a ton of stuff to move and lots of 'have we forgottens', but we squeezed into Julia's car and headed along. We did have a bit of a slump on arrival as we'd been so used to being welcomed by our conference gem Luke's smiling face and willing help. However he'd moved on to a new job and It just didn't feel the same without him. We soon discovered his replacement Ruth to be a worthy successor, but initially we were three little sad faces once we'd unloaded into our usual room, feeling a little bereft. However, no time for that, we had a reccy to do with Ruth to check everything was going to plan, what was going where, oh and a couple of fights to win over some bureaucracy gone mad! Finally some food in a nearby restaurant (disappointing with some xenophobic 'humour' thrown in.. something that always seems to happen to me at some point!) and back to make up badges, do a bit of sewing on unfinished showpiece corsets and gather the last minute bits and bobs.
Friday morning is countdown day! Early up and breakfast in Hall, and a lovely sunny and very warm day! Today will be punctuated with waves and welcomes to long missed faces and spotting arrivals across the quad with 'wonder if that's xxxx?'. Liase with Ruth, check all the rooms are arranged as requested, make last minute changes. Then Julia's husband and son arrive with the rest of the stuff. Machines for the sewing room, mannequins and more mannequins. Poster boards to go up, the starters for the swap table, corsets, signage and so on. A quick nip out to get some bits and bobs and a takeaway sandwich eaten on a bench on the quad. We spot Autumn Adamme and Stephanie Selmayr arrive and go to say hello and help them with bags. I managed to volunteer for the heaviest case which I bravely hoist up the stairs much to Steph's protestations! LOL! I soon understood why and I didn't realise they were the top floor either.. ouch! We nip back to the JCR to put up the posters, set up machines etc and with the set up 90% done we wash hands, smooth out the creases and go off to meet Mr Pearl from the train. One of the joys (haha) of Oxford is the lack of parking, it's not car friendly. So it's shank's pony to the train station, all three of us, because we're nervous and need the mutual moral support!
So yes.. what do you say when you're picking up an idol, a veritable mythical figure in the world of corsetry! We didn't know what to expect, and personally I'm nervous of meeting strangers although I don't get very phased by 'who' they are. I'm an equal opportunities wuss! But, we needn't have worried, Mr Pearl is a true gentleman and very nice indeed. We walked back chatting and then gave him the grand tour and explained the conference to him as he was rather unsure of what would be happening. As his talk hadn't been planned really due to his attendance being quite last minute, the next stop was a meeting with Autumn who would help put his presentation together (she did wonders with not a lot of time to prepare) and Steph too of course. By this time the rest of the presenters and guests were arriving, Ian Frazer Wallace then Immodesty Blaize and finally Barbara Pesendorfer. We were going out for dinner to all get to know each other and go over final plans for presentations. The only chance to do this as a group as this was the first time we'd all met. I'm sure you can imagine, it all felt slightly unreal! However it was invaluable time to break the ice and calm nerves. I wonder if the delegates realise how nervous we all are, even the most established and respected of people are quite daunted by standing up in front of a roomful of people. Our chosen profession tends to attract rather solitary and introverted people so we're well out of our comfort zones! Gin helps! Well fed and introduced we went back to the room for a couple of late drinks, some last planning and unbelievably some more sewing!
Saturday first thing and game on! Up early, and make ourselves presentable for breakfast and hellos. Find Ruth and get going! There was a bit of a mix up and the doors were opened too early and so our last minute set up (delayed due to meetings and arrangements the day before) was a bit of a shambles. However, we got there.. got badges and welcome bags dished out and got started. A few notes taken for next year, but these things happen. It's always a blur of a day for us, even if we're not taking classes ourselves. We try to get into some of the classes and I did better on that than Julia, who spent much of the day arranging last minute rehearsal time for Immodesty who'd had some delays preventing her from doing so prior to that. I did have my personal most glamorous moment of the day though in later afternoon.. down on my hands and knees in the Hall covering up floorboard gaps with multiple layers of masking tape so Immodesty's heels wouldn't get stuck in a gap :)
The evening is always a joy. My masking tape duties delayed me a little so the getting ready was a bit rushed. But got down for Pimms among a bevy of glamorous revellers! People make more and more of an effort every year and the combined number of personally made corsets on show was seriously impressive. After the Pimms and mingling it's into the hall for dinner. It's all very Harry Potter, as we're seated down three long refectory tables... on benches which causes some amusement for those with straight skirts! We don't use the high/top table (we did one year and hated it) but as most of the guests haven't yet met everyone as some arrive during Saturday and some have been doing their own thing during the days presentations and some - most are quite nervous of the number of people there we feel it's a nicety to break everyone in gently so we placecard a table for them. It also means we can keep the after dinner speaker accessible and the team on hand if needed. Chris was placed to get shots of Immodesty's performance. .
This year we were launched by a spectacular performance by Immodesty Blaize. An amazing outfit by The Whitechapel Workhouse and a rare chance to enjoy an up close show by one of the world's top Burlesque performers! We were all left rather gobsmacked and I'll wager if the paintings could talk.. they'd be pretty stunned too! She then followed our tasty dinner with a moving, eloquent and fascinating after dinner talk. I know I went from laughter to welling up and back again in moments.
After dinner we all retired to the bar where things relaxed and everyone mixed. The pictures show just what a good night it was! (not all of which will make the blog!) There were boob autographs, corset trying ons, piggybacks and much laughter. I tried to speak to as many people as I could, but still didn't get anywhere near round everyone. After kicking out time people wandered off...Gerry and I were holding each other up from tiredness but Julia had an duracell bunny type second wind. Mr Pearl, Immodesty and Ruth came back to our room for a few more drinks.. I don't even remember much, I had matchsticks holding my eyes open by that point but I wasn't about to give in. It was a fine night.
Sunday and up with the larks again after a few hours sleep. No matter how late the night before, breakfast must be made and we were down for our cooked brekkie and coffee injection. There were a few bleary eyes around the Hall. I bet the coffee consumption rises dramatically on a Sunday. After that it was straight to the dressing room for our shoot. The last two years we've had a mini shoot in the morning to shoot the showpieces we've made for the conference and also give Luke, and now Ruth a photo with the models as a conference Thank You. We only had a slight wait on one model but the others were dressed in jig time and out for pics. I didn't get a shot with Tigz sadly as I had to go off on a dash to find Ruth and make sure one of the delegates was ok who'd had a bit of a panic. But all fine, hug dispensed I ran back as things were winding up. We've decided to ditch this as part of the weekend for ourselves as the corset finishing and the squeezing the shoot in is just too stressful on top of everything else. A shame in a way, especially as I'm a bit far away to get much chance to work with those models and photographers...and Gerry obviously even more so! But we'll work something else out for another, calmer time. I ran up to the JCR to update the what's on whiteboard, then had an errand to run out into the wide world outside the college, which feels really odd after being cloistered inside. Then in to see Steph's wonderful antiques and then a catch of the end of Fiona's SEO second talk. I didn't see Barbara's sunday workshop sadly. But it's always a juggle of a day. After that I had a quick shoot with Liv as we'd filled some cancelled slots so the models didn't lose out. Then I had to dash to the lodge to collect flowers for Julia and back to the JCR just in the nick of time. I missed the treasure hunt and raffle sadly but I was just relieved I made it! It was nice to then get a little bit of chilled time with people as they wound down and said their goodbyes.
As soon as the JCR cleared it was clean up time for us, as we put everything away and packed up the machines, mannequins and bags of corsets, posters and swap table leftovers up and loaded the bulk of it up into the car. It has to be done then so the JCR can revert to normal opening asap. A quick change of clothes and brief freshen and time for the pub! A little later than planned but packing up takes time and we can only do it once everyone has gone. We bumped into a few others on their way there and after a cash machine stop off for some, we headed round the corner. We were a bit disappointed when we got to the pub to find they'd forgotten the arranged space booking leaving us without room for everyone. Our exhaustion had hit and we just wanted a beer, pizza and a gab. But credit to the pub they resolved it well and we thanked them for it later on. Recovered by some drinks and the amazingly great pizza and all was well with the world. It was an evening of hugs and goodbyes. So many lovely people that we hope to see in future years.
Monday morning was our first sleep in.. and it was needed. On Monday the comedown hits us so we stay in the college for another day to decompress. The first year we went back to Julia's and it was far too much for Julia having guests after the weekend, so staying there lets us properly recover. There's still a bit of packing up and checking back with Ruth etc to do. But we generally take our time. As has been traditional over the last two years, the weather was rubbish! We had a lovely late breakfast at the Grand Cafe then had a wander round Oxford. This was the first time I've ever managed to so some touristy stuff in Oxford, for all the times I've been there now. We went to the Eagle and Child for drinks (we've since renamed ourselves 'the busklings' after the famous 'Inklings') then for a lovely dinner of Tapas before returning to the room to talk over the weekend, make plans and deal with the slight slump that's inevitable once it's all over. But we're always cheered by the lovely posts that start popping up on Facebook as people get home.
Gerry left at the crack of dawn on Tuesday morning to head back so we'd said our goodbyes the night before. Julia and I wandered depressed to the Hall for our last breakfast. Where we found our last remaining delegate, Bec, whom we had a nice chat with. Cases packed we then said our goodbyes to Jesus and headed back to the Sew Curvy Cottage for a bit of a tidy and a last cuppa before I headed home.
After another 8 hours or so on the road, I got home to boyfriend and cats.. tired but happy and looking forward to another year.