A brief walk around the hotel where Orbital is happening, our home for four days: the Radisson Edwardian at Heathrow. This is not the first time we have stayed here – 17 years ago, we spend the night in this place, before Jen went to Leningrad for five months (to return weighing five stone). We left the confines of the hotel then, too – I remember how anomalous it seemed to find a normal pub in a residential street, just a few yards from the marble-and-chandelier dreamland of the hotel.
The Edwardian, with its glass and water, ancient-looking statues, palms and leather, is a great example of corporate hyperreality. It would be easy to decry it as some kind of inhuman postmodern space (and the Boys’ Book of Psychogeography encourages exactly that.) However there is a kind of community here – the Maître D arranging an extra break for the staff, rewarding them for their efforts in looking after 1,200 science fiction fans; the fans themselves, meeting this way for half a century now, affectionately described as a ‘tribe’ by Neil Gaiman; a self-assembled Easter service, one of Jen’s and my favourite events. So this place counts as a sort of ‘last homely house’ to me…
Turning right outside the entrance, McDonalds is the first landmark. Elongated M/’arches’ logos have been etched into the grass, presumably designed to foreshorten at drivers’ eye level to the approved design. The arches are hard to escape on this walk, as just about every metre of it is specked with McDonalds containers in various states of decay.
There was an unexpected green space behind the hotel, rough grass surrounded by a fence, graffiti painted out.
Soon there are real houses – still seeming incongruous after the airport, hotels and training centres of the orbital road.
A scrubby, scratchy park – branded as the Harlington Doorstep Walk – opens out, with views to (even more incongruously) farmland and a large dark barn. It isn’t much of a park, littered, the explanatory signboards irrecoverable beneath spraypaint (only the word ‘connectivity’ peering out). The fantasist in me thinks: the trees would make great camps and hideouts for kids. I hope they do get played in, not just filled with beer cans, carrier bags, and windblown McDonalds memes.
Back amongst the houses, I get slightly lost, seeing the hotel mirage-like from unexpected angles.
(Thinking about something author Charles Stross said earlier today: a generation is growing up who, thanks to GPS , may never know what it is to be lost.) I stick to a right-right-right algorithm, through rather cheerless roads (though a passing family, three generations stretched out along the pavement, seem cheerful enough). I begin to yearn for the fantasy-friendly warmth of the hotel. Houses date from the nineteenth century to now. Two children’s faces peer from an upstairs window. There’s the pub we went to in 1991.
Back on the main road; back to the hotel; looping round the back and through the car park. A setting sun gleams throught gaps between hotels, shining from tailfins. I have orbited Orbital. Fellow Con-attender denni_schnapp sees this area as ‘Heathrow wastelands’. I cannot disagree: there is something of the wasteland about this area. However, I don’t think this makes a bad place for a SF convention: a transitional space; focus-point for conflict between paradigms of accessible travel and environmentalism; J G Ballard’s backyard – where else should science fiction people be?