OggCamp11 – Fear & Loathing In Farnham

The OggCamp11 logo. Blue text on white background, the word OggCamp11.
OggCamp11 Logo - by @fabsh

Hello again folks. I’ve been very busy over the last 2 weeks. Not least with a little thing called OggCamp11. So in lieu of my normal Weekly Rewind I’ve decided to concentrate on events since last Friday (Aug 12th). There’s probably enough in there to make a novel on its own. If you’re reading this blog for the first time you might like to know that OggCamp is a 2 day event bringing together Open Source / Free Software fans and Free Culture peeps, along with Makers, Artists, Musicians and anyone else we can grab. I’m one of the organisers and this year it was held in Farnham, Surrey. So, if you’re all sitting comfortably then I’ll begin…

On Friday morning I got up and began packing everything I’d need for the weekend. I had a rather bizarre and hectic day on Thursday for reasons I might elaborate on in another post, despite this I was feeling good. I’d even made a list of what I needed to take the night before. That’s suspiciously unlike me but it worked. As I got everything together my friend Andy from LivLUG arrived at the flat. I’d invited him along for the trip as I knew he’d enjoy OggCamp. Besides, driving long distances on your own is boring and tedious, add another person and it instantly becomes an adventurous road trip. We loaded up the car with my guitar and everything else then hit the road. I hadn’t factored in the Friday afternoon traffic and it took us well over 2 hours just to get near Birmingham. The M6 was murder. Having Andy doing some Google Maps magic on the phone as we went was cool though. Driving along and saying things like “bring up the traffic overlay” made me feel very Captain Kirk. Andy is also a fellow music obsessive and we spent most of the trip swapping tunes by passing a mini-jack cable back and forth. I even joked I should get a little mixer in the car for such occasions. Maybe Nissan should look at that.

A photo of all the OggCamp presenters on stage. Me with large Stetson hat.
On stage in Farnham - Photo by Chris Woollard

I should probably point out that Andy always introduces himself as Andrew and I asked if he minded me calling him Andy before we left. This was after about 2 years of doing it anyway, luckily he didn’t. I’m one of those people who insist on shortening any name. I don’t know why. For example, my neighbour introduced himself to me as David and I think I replied “alright Dave how’s it going?”. I’m not one for formalities but I do sometimes wonder if I piss people off by shortening their names.

Anyway, lets leave that tangent there and get back to the story. We arrived at the Premier Inn Aldershot at about 6:30pm on Friday. A bit later than I’d planned but not too much. We had some confusion at the check in desk when the bloke said “..and what ages are your 2 children?”…

“Um, I don’t have any kids mate.”

They explained that I’d booked a family room and it seems Premier Inn take the “family” part of that very seriously. My cunning plan had been to book a family room and have more space. I didn’t realise Premier Inn expected me to actually bring a family along. What was I supposed to do abduct one? That’s a very odd, and if I may say dangerous, challenge to set for your guests. We sorted it out anyway and just booked in 2 adults. The computer system nearly had a fit because this wasn’t a “recognised family room configuration” but we managed eventually. After dumping the bags we met my friend Kevan in the bar next door and set off for the crew BBQ. Once again at the mercy of Google Navigation I found my way from Aldershot to Farnham without too many detours through fields or barns. I think everyone in the car realised as we made this journey that the venue and the hotel really weren’t within walking distance of each other though. Keep a mental note of that fact, it’ll come into play many times as we go on. We met all the other folks at Alan Bell’s house and had some food. It was incredibly generous of Alan to invite us like that and I appreciated it. While at the BBQ I got a message from my friend Karen Sandler saying she was on her way to Farnham. I rang her and thought I’d suggesting coming to Alan’s house to meet us, but Karen’s taxi driver took her straight to the pub instead which I don’t think she minded. We all walked down from Alan’s house to meet the growing crowd at the William Cobbett pub. For such a rural location it seemed to be full of students but the courtyard at the back was amazing. They were even cooking burgers on a BBQ. I could get used to this I thought. I had great fun chatting with everyone and meeting people who’d travelled across the world in some cases just to say hello to me. That’s a pretty humbling experience, but a very nice one too.

I wasn’t drinking on Friday night as I had to drive and I also knew I ‘d be up and working at 8am the next day. Around midnight I walked back up to my car with Karen and Andy. It was quite an uphill trip and some of it cross-country too, carrying Karen’s luggage with me. Why does everything in the countryside have to be so far apart? When a country person tells you something is “just over the road” what they actually mean is “it’s fucking miles away!”. We got back to the hotel and Karen checked in. I told her to sleep in as she didn’t need to be at the venue till 10:30am the next day. With that I went to bed and tried to sleep but just couldn’t. I’d warned Andy that I snore really badly. I’ve been told this many times by many people. He must have thought “his snoring isn’t bad at all” but I wasn’t actually asleep for most of the time. I think it was probably the excitement and expectation of what was to come. I did get some sleep, I’m just not sure how much.

The next morning I donned my big black cowboy hat and strapped my guitar to my back. Andy was wearing his amazing reflective Back To The Future II hat and we got some strange looks as we passed reception. Probably justified. We’d arranged to meet Kevan in the car park at 7:50am and he didn’t seem to be around. Just as I was saying to Andy “I’ll have to ring him”, the window of a random hotel room next to me popped open and there was Kevan, complete with a cup of tea in his hand. “Alright Dan”. Monty Python couldn’t have written it better. So I told him we’d have to hurry up. Next minute he sidles through reception carrying a bottle (full and unopened) of Bombay Sapphire Gin in a very rock and roll fashion. We must have looked like some crazy rock band to all the respectable guests enjoying their nice family weekends (they’d remembered to bring families, the devious bastards). After some more navigational hilarity we arrived at Farnham Maltings, our venue. I hadn’t been inside before and beyond a couple of pictures I had no real idea what to expect. It was very impressive. I walked down what felt like a stadium tunnel into the main venue. 450 seats, which doesn’t sound that much. I bet Bono is laughing his ass off at that right now, but when you have to stand on a stage and face them, it feels like a lot of people. I helped set up the the audio stuff with Tony and left Andy to join the digital signage crew. He was soon off doing all kinds of cool stuff. Not least manning the mixer in the main room for most of the weekend. He did a great job and enjoyed himself too, which is the main thing. Alan Bell and his video team were on top of everything and we even had a makeshift studio to the side of the main hall. It all felt very Richard & Judy, impressive. Les Pounder was helping me out with the crew stuff, or to put it more accurately taking care of al the crew stuff and making me look good. He and everyone on the crew worked so hard and it just seemed to come together really well. A big thank you to all of them.

Mark had the scheduling software Campfire Manager working a treat. It was written by my good mate Jon Spriggs and it’s under the GPLv3, so credit to them both. The reaction you get from people when you say “you can just text your pitches and votes if you want” is amazing. It felt like Britain’s Got Geeky Talks, thankfully without Simon Cowell.

A shot of the OggCamp welcome session. 6 presenters on stage.
The OggCamp11 Welcome Session - Photo by Robert Main

We got the venue ready to go and people began arriving. The exhibition area and bar looked full, I was pleased to see so many friendly faces. The crew ably herded everyone into the main hall and we prepared to do our welcome session. There had been some panic beforehand as the first speaker Simon Phipps hadn’t arrived. I found Karen and asked if she’d fill in at the last minute. She kindly agreed and we got her slides onto the stage laptop. I was all ready to introduce Karen at the end of the welcome when Simon walked through the door. They seemed to sort it out quickly between themselves and signalled that he would be coming on. I felt really bad about asking Karen to bail us out and then her talk getting bumped like that. She was great about it though as usual. It was fortunate we’d gotten Karen set up though as we needed her to fill in when Wayne Myers was a little bit late following Simon. Karen got on and did her fascinating talk from the recent OSCON. Everyone enjoyed it and we were able to push Wayne’s talk back 30mins. He arrived not long after Karen began and was very apologetic. I told him not to worry, anyone can miscalculate a train time. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see his talk as I ran off to sort out other things. Those crew radios are always going off but they’re damn handy. Here’s one gem I heard over the weekend as I was trying to talk to someone and keep a straight face in the lobby.

“Can someone gets lots of toilet roll to the Barley Room now!!”

I could only imagine what was going on in there. Torn between running straight up to see and avoiding the scene altogether, I opted for the latter. I don’t think we lost our deposit so it can’t have been that bad. At lunchtime I walked over to the O’Reilly offices in Farnham to collect some drinks and other things for the Geeknic in the park. Les and some of the crew had it well under control but I felt like tagging along. This was all done while still wearing my rather large Stetson by the way. You get some amazing looks from people walking around in a hat like that, and overhearing the phrase “follow that cowboy” in the middle of the street was a highlight for me. Right after lunch I was set to host the panel and I dragged everyone back for that. On the panel we had Simon Phipps, Karen Sandler, Stuart Langridge and my fellow outlaw Fab. I’d planned to get people submitting questions throughout the day and run it like Question Time, go all Dimbleby on it you know. That really didn’t work out. Mainly because I completely forgot to ask for questions in the introduction. So there I was sat on stage in front of a crowd and wondering what the hell to say. I had to improvise and grab the first topic that came to mind. Guess what that was? Yeah, the future of the Linux desktop, I’m so imaginative. It kicked off a pretty good discussion though and the pace picked up once we got the audience involved. I need to get a lot better at cutting people off and ruling the panel with an iron fist, but it’s not my nature. In the end it went pretty well and I felt ok but knew it could have been better organised. Some people told me it was their highlight of the weekend, others told me it was their least favourite part. I suppose reality is lurking somewhere between the two as it always does.

An 8 bit representation of me on the presenter t-shirt. Designed by @fabsh
My awesome 8-bit presenter shirt, designed by @fabsh

After the panel we had a quick break and I checked out what was happening in the other rooms, chatted to people and did various jobs as commanded by my crew radio. Then we got set up for the live show between Linux Outlaws and Ubuntu UK Podcast. You may have heard me raving about the new Beastie Boys album in recent weeks. As soon as I heard the opening track “Make Some Noise” I wanted to walk on stage to it at OggCamp. I didn’t think the others would agree but surprisingly they did. I changed into my amazing presenter shirt complete with 8-bit avatar. Fab made one for each of us and they looked great. I put the cowboy hat back on and we assembled behind the curtain. I figured if you’re gonna put on a show you should really go for it and make an entrance, entertain people. Andy hit the music and it slowly built up. My plan was to walk out as the drums kicked in and I went out first, just after the beat dropped. I started to dance a little bit thinking “if people boo I’ll just stop and play it off”. They seemed to like it and it made for a great start to the live show. It was a good discussion and a fabulous comedy ending from Tony. He’d gotten hold of a video of Popey trying to iron Fab’s presenter shirt on a trampoline while flying all over the place. It was comedy gold and I hope you’ll get to see it. Follow the link there to YouTube.

With the days talks over and kit packed away everyone had a couple of hours off before meeting in the Cellar Bar. I say everyone, I didn’t really as I had to sort things out for the party. I headed back to the hotel with Andy and Wayne in the car. We got Wayne checked in and then jumped in a taxi back to the venue. This seems like a pain and to some degree it was but I needed stuff from the hotel and I didn’t want to drive later. We got back to the Cellar Bar and I set up the PA, checking the mic worked and we could play back some music from the laptop. People were enjoying the sponsored bar it seemed. The queue was massive and it took ages to get served. Wayne was booked to play live and I’d planned to play after him but during the day Joe Ressington had approached me. He wanted to play a few songs and I decided to give him a go, why not. I’m glad I did as he’s actually really good! He used my guitar and did 3 songs to a very warm reception. After another short interlude I got Wayne on and had some trouble getting his sound right. The mic was distorting and he seemed to have a fault on his electric guitar that kept making it cut off. Despite this his set went really well and everyone enjoyed it. Not least me. The sight of him stopping to drink his pint during “Drinking On My Own Again” was priceless. He went off to a great reception too and I was really glad. I hadn’t realised it but I discovered we needed to be out of the venue by 11pm. Seems far too early to end any civilised party to me. Anyway, it was already approaching 10:30pm and I hadn’t left myself much time to play. Just as I started they began doing some fire juggling display outside and most people were obviously distracted by that. Aq (Stuart Langridge) had warned me at the last minute that this was going to happen. To be fair he’d said to me “don’t start till we’re done, we won’t be long” and there were certainly no hard feelings, I just didn’t have any time to waste and wanted to play some songs. It also gave me comedy gold to work with. “Like everything else in life you think it’s going great, but then some fire breather comes along and fucks it all up”. There’s some video of Mr Langridge and others juggling fire on YouTube.

A picture of me playing my usual red guitar at the party
Singing at OggCamp11 - Photo by Hannah Greer

I hadn’t had time to prepare anything special for the gig so I did mostly popular covers and a couple of original tunes. The reception was really nice but the room was by no means full when I started. The distraction outside and the free bar kept most people understandably busy. I tend to close my eyes when I sing and as I started one of my newest original songs the talking noise died out. “Oh great, everybody’s left” I thought, but I continued with the song, eyes closed. As I hit the last note there was a massive eruption of noise and I opened my eyes. There were about 200 people and they’d been standing there in silence just listening. That’s an incredible feeling and I don’t think many others in my life will ever match it. I can see why people get addicted to having crowds cheer at them. We had a good sing along for the rest of the set and people even shouted for Jimmy Carter, an original song by my band 20lb Sounds. I can’t describe the buzz of playing a song you wrote and hearing people sing the words you wrote back at you. It’s fantastic.

After all this rock and roll madness we headed to the William Cobbett pub again which is just around the corner. I was relieved to discover we could stay there till 1am and with my music duties fulfilled I was definitely ready to let off some steam. I had a great time chatting to people, drinking and generally having a laugh. All with my Stetson still firmly parked on my head. At 1am we were asked to leave as they closed the place and I discovered it’s nye on impossible to get a drink anywhere in the Farnham or Aldershot area after 1am. Maybe I’m too used to city life but I expected there to be something open, at least a 24hr garage. Kris, one of the Scottish lads suggested we head to his hotel (not the same as ours) and they’d have a night porter who’d let us buy drinks. Wayne, Andy, Paul (another OggCamper) and I jumped in a taxi and headed to the Potters International. We got out and realised none of us were staying there, trying not to look too suspicious we waited outside for the taxi to leave. I could see he was wondering why we weren’t going in. We’d have to wait for the other 2 lads who were residents to arrive. We’d left them getting another taxi. So we just stood in the car park and looked suspicious for what felt like ages. I couldn’t believe I’d brought us to the wrong hotel and now we couldn’t even get in. After a while we gave up and began to walk down the dual carriageway (the verge not the road) in what we thought was the direction of our hotel. I’ve since discovered it wasn’t. We didn’t get far when a car screeched to a stop in the other lane and we saw people waving at us in an exaggerated manner. It was Kris and Gordon. They’d made it back and it was game on again. We walked back with them and tried to convince the night porter that opening the bar for six random blokes – only two of them residents and one wearing a bloody big cowboy hat – was a good idea. Unsurprisingly this argument fell on deaf ears. In the end we left and stood outside again waiting for another taxi to get us back to our real hotel. We arrived at about 2am I think to find Adam Sweet and many others outside smoking. We joined them for a good while and laughed like crazy at jokes and stories. I’m sure the other residents hated us but then it turned out most of them were attending OggCamp anyway. I have no idea what time I went to bed but I got up about 10am the next day feeling rough. Luckily I saw Tony and Laura on their way out and informed them I was gonna be late. I needed time to sort myself out before heading down. This kicked off wild rumours that I was really ill or perhaps even dead after a legendary night in Aldershot. None of this was true of course and when I rolled in at all of 11:30am people said “oh you’re still alive”, “I heard you had an interesting night” and such like. I’ve got to build up my rock star image somehow haven’t I?

On Sunday I watched someone doing a soldering demonstration in the car park and the wonder of this was not lost on me. What other event can you go and see extreme ironing and extreme soldering in the same weekend. Ozzy might as well give up. I found coffee, wandered around and helped out with various jobs. Everything just seemed to be going so smoothly thanks to our volunteers. I even managed to hop in as guest producer on a live version of The Dick Turpin Roadshow upstairs which was fun. Hearing Phil and Becky Newborough joining up with regular hosts Pete and Matt. I hope the recording came out ok, I had some trouble with the mixer. There’s video of it too. After that it was time to get everyone back into the main hall and do the long awaited raffle and closing session. The raffle went well and watching Popey run up and down those stairs was fun, I’m just glad it wasn’t me. We got all the crew down to the front to take the applause of the crowd and ourselves the organisers. They more than deserved it. At the end we started to break stuff down and get it into the cars. We were actually back at the hotel by about 5pm. I could finally relax completely. I got some food and then we were joined by a massive mob of OggCamp people still enjoying their weekend. I hadn’t realised quite how many people were staying till Monday and this turned into another party as the bar agreed to stay open late for us. Predictably I was among the last to leave. It was great to spend some proper social time with fellow organisers Laura, Tony, Popey and Mark. We never get a chance to talk really. It ended up with us standing in a car park again at the early hours of the morning. Thankfully though this was the car park of our own hotel and we could just walk in. I’d learnt my lesson. At 3am the fire alarm went off and a few people probably thought it was me. I can confirm it wasn’t. Andy went out to check and saw the receptionist. I can’t remember the exact details now but apparently 3 lads in another room decided to get a shower at 3 in the morning with the door open. This bizarre set of circumstances triggered the alarm. I think the least said about that the better. I’m all for people doing whatever they want and having fun but shut the door lads at least, come on!

As luck would have it I saw Tony and Laura again for breakfast the next day. I milled around for a while and chatted with my old friend Alistair and his partner Joanne. Along with Marie, Jessica and a lot of other people. I hope nobody will get upset that I haven’t named them here but it’s hard to keep track. After that we hit the road back to Liverpool for more great music and philosophical discussion on the way. I dropped Andy in Widnes and headed home to the city centre, feeling tired but satisfied I picked up a pizza from the supermarket to throw in the oven. I then invited the band over and we had a really good chat, planning all sorts of things for our upcoming recording session.

There’s so much other stuff I could talk about but I think at nearly 4000 words that’s quite enough. I would just like to take a moment to impart some nuggets of wisdom gained from all this. Specifically the power of hats. I never realised it. I wore that crazy cowboy hat most of the weekend and it fuelled so many great things for me. Right down to chatting to a nice girl in the supermarket near the venue on Sunday. She asked what it was for and I told her about OggCamp, she didn’t run away either. Ok, so she was working on the checkout at the time and could have been fixed to the floor, but shit like that doesn’t really happen to me. People notice you when you wear a big hat and they want to know more. That’s fun. The power of a crazy hat is a fine balance though and it also works the other way. When you walk through a town at 2am wearing a large black Stetson nobody gets in your way believe me. I don’t care who they are. Muggers or criminals. They don’t want to mess with anyone mad enough to do that. You get respect, a strange kind of respect perhaps bordering on fear, but it’s there.

So in short, I clearly need more hats, and a lot more sleep. I’ve been chilling out the last day or so and by the end of the week I should be back up to speed. I hope you enjoyed my patchy and very personal Hunter S Thompson account of OggCamp11. If you weren’t there you should have been. I’d even have let you try on my hat… for a short while.

We have tons of high quality video to publish in the next few weeks thanks to the hard work of the video team. So at least you can get a taste, and then make a note to come next year!

Take care, I’ll speak to you again soon 🙂


P.S – If there’s anything you think I’ve missed like links, please leave a comment.

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