But then we found the A417/A419. And a solution to the dilemma: we would do both.
The A417/A419 is a wide, fast road that slashes its way through the Cotswolds, linking the M5 near Gloucester with the M4 near Swindon. Built initially to provide a relief route for closures of the Severn Bridge, it's nearly obsolete thanks to the opening of the second Severn Crossing a few years back. The wide road sweeps in gentle curves through the heart of the hills, bypassing Swindon before diving down the western slopes of the Cotswolds on to the Severn plain. But what it meant for us was that the two towns were less than 40 minutes apart.
Friday night found us crawling down the M4, dodging downpours with the rest of the weekend diaspora. The road was full of cars making the pilgrimage from City to Country, packed with children and luggage. Three lanes full, thousands of people making their summer evening escape. At Swindon we left the crawling hordes for the wide open spaces of the road to Cheltenham. Foot down on the accelerator we shot through the hills to the gentle terraces of a Georgian spa, to our hotel and a good night's sleep.
Saturday morning we arrived at the con at what bugshaw koshishly described as "the hour of milling", that moment in a convention between breakfast and the first programme item. We wandered around, saying hello, and getting into the convention mood. Like all Unicons, ConteXXt was a relaxed event, mixing sercon literary programming with events that could best be described as, err, less serious. It was nice seeing the guests get stuck into the convention, both appearing on more programme items than anyone else. Ben Jeapes and Keith Brooke were interesting, and engaged, and major_clanger's interviews were well attended.
After lunch, we got into the car, found our way out of Cheltenham and onto the A417/A419. It was time to head for Swindon and the CiXen barbeque. We arrived, bearing chocolates, and spent most of the afternoon nattering with folk like ramtops, beermat, mindygoth, perlmonger and etriganuk. As the day drifted on, landsmand and valerie_k turned up, and the conversation turned to matters foodish. The arrival of jonhoneyball and Andre turned things more decadent, as Andre was bearing white truffle oil honey, which was delicious... But all too soon it was time to leave the barbie, and head back down the road to Cheltenham.
ConteXXt, as the observant may guess from the name, was the 20th Unicon, and so Saturday night was party night. As we walked in through the door, we bumped into akicif, and spent most of the evening nattering about his trip round Europe. The con put money behind the bar for free beer, but most of us looked vaguely worried when Ben Jeapes wandered over with a strange blue concoction he described as a "Romulan Ale". The bar staff didn't quite know what sort of SF fans we were...
The evening was wrapped up by "I'm Sorry I Haven't An SF-ing Clue", ably compered by swisstone (running a convention item is like making love to a beautiful woman...), along with the guests of honour and sundry members of anonymousclaire. Much silliness ensued, especially from missfairchild and enjoyable heckling from the crowds... And of course, as points mean prizes, there was a winner of the Army Surplus Ben Jeep.
Sunday morning (we assume) dawned bright and early. Unfortunately we missed it, and arose to arrive at the convention during the hour of milling. After a brief spout of ad hoc XML consultancy, I spent the day travellin between panels and the bar. I'd volunteered to moderate the last panel of the convention, and ended up running a sprightly discussion on the nature of modern publishing - from e-publishing to the new small presses - with the two guests.
And then the weekend was over, and the A417/A419 beckoned. And when we met the M4, we found the rain...