Friday, March 6, 2009


Ok, finally updating this.
Around 4pm on Friday, February 13, I squeezed into the back of a rented car and drove with Matthieu, Samantha, Robin, and Jak up to York for Chocfest 2009, an annual chocolate and juggling convention. The should have taken about four hours from Norwich, but with a couple of stops and a lot of traffic, I don't think we got to York until about 10. Even with Robin driving as fast as 120 mph when conditions allowed.
Along the ride Jak suggested that we play "the lorry game." It reminded me of a game I invented when I was 3: spot the banana truck. In the lorry game, you get a certain amount of points for each supermarket lorry (British for "truck") you see, but you have to be the first to shout it out, and it must be on a dual-carriageway (two-lane highway). Five points for a standard ASDA or Tesco or Sainsbury's lorry. I think it was ten for a Marks & Spencers lorry because they tend to be harder to spot. Some amount of points for a brewery lorry, and then some ridiculous amount of points for a certain supermarket that only has one lorry in all of England. We didn't see it. Eventually it got to the point that we would shout out any lorry we saw, including Royal Mail.
Eventually we arrived in York. We parked outside a pub and went to meet Jak's girlfriend Anna, our host for the weekend. Then we piled back into the car, this time with an extra two people, and drove to Anna's house. Matt, Samantha, and I settled in Anna's room while Jak, Robin, and Anna's friend James went outside to smoke and Anna was downstairs with her housemates cooking us dinner. Robin made us tea. We ate dinner up in Anna's room, then attempted to sit all of us in a circle on her double bed to play Jungle Speed. Eventually we moved downstairs to the living room where there was more space. It was the most intense game of Jungle Speed I've ever played, and although we were exausted and had to wake up early the next morning, the game went on until 2am or so. Anna's housemate was kind enough to give up her double bed so that Samantha and I could share. Matt slept on the floor. I think Robin set up his sleeping bag in the living room.
We woke up at 7:30 the next morning, dressed, and had some tea and toast. Since Anna and the York University Juggling Society organized the event, they had to be there particularly early. Robin and Jak drove Anna out to Selby, a town about 20 minutes outside of York where the convention was being held, then came back to pick up Matt, Samantha, and I.

The convention was held in Selby Abbey, an odd site for a juggling convention, but it provided a lovely backdrop for the day. Anna said Chocfest is usually held in a secondary school auditorium or something of that nature, but I think they should continue to hold it at the abbey.
We parked by a supermarket about 10 minutes away from the abbey, so we grabbed our juggling balls, clubs, poi, and Diablos and walked (Robin unicycled) over. After paying our entrance fee and dropping off our stuff, Matt, Robin, Jak, Samantha, and I decided to walk into town to find breakfast. We stopped at this little cafe. I ordered scrambled eggs on toast. It seems to be the only way the British will eat scrambled eggs. Fried eggs are more popular.
Anyway, after breakfast we returned to the abbey where people were starting to arrive. Samantha and I spent the majority of the morning practicing poi in a corner. There was a group of people from another univeristy practicing sock poi in the middle of the nave, and they were quite good. Eventually, we timidly went over to one girl and asked her to teach us a few tricks. Samantha and I ate lunch in the abbey's adjacent social hall, where members of the church community were selling sandwiches, soup, and muffins, etc. Then we returned to watch the boys in a Diablo workshop given by, as Jak described him, the god of Diablo, the guy who, literally, wrote the book on Diablo.
Samantha and I bought juggling balls. We practiced some more. Mostly we did a lot of watching, because eveyone else was so incredible. In the afternoon we went to the side chapel where they had been holding workshops all day. We attended a poi workshop on the 5-Beat Weave, a more complicated move that I had been trying to learn for ages but hadn't been able to master. I can do it know. I'm very proud.
After the workshop the chapel wasn't in use, so we got a game of Jungle Speed going with Matt, Robin, Samantha, me, and several random people who wanted to learn. It was the biggest room we had ever played in, which made it far easier for people to run after and wrestle for the totem. Hugely entertaining.
In the evening we were kicked out of the abbey so they could set up for that evening's juggling show. Samantha and I went to the social hall to sample the cakes that had been submitted for the chocolate cake competition, then we returned to the abbey to help set up seats and place chocolate bars on each chair.
The show was great, with some pretty impressive acts. They varied from hula hoops to juggling balls, rings, and clubs. The god of Diablo performed some ridiculous feats of Diablo. My favorite, though, was the "Catrobats," a pair of acrobats who dressed like and performed to the musical Cats.
People hung around for a while after the show. It was dark out now, so we watched some people who had taken out fiberoptic poi and glowing juggling balls. Then we helped put chairs away, watched Robin and Jak attempt to ride an enormous unicycle, and stood by the door eating the remnants of the winners of the chocolate cake competition.
We stopped to drop our stuff off at Anna's house, and then went to a pub to have a drink with some of the convention organizers and acts from the evening's show. The pub kicked us out around midnight. Several people came back to Anna's, so I hung around in the living room for a while until I was too tired. I excused myself and went to bed.
We woke up a bit later the next morning, ate breakfast, and drove home. The lorry game didn't last long, since Jak, Matt, and I slept through a good portion of the drive. Occasionally Samantha and I would glace warily over at the speedometer, which would often be pushing 100 mph. But we made it back alive.
I can't say Chocfest was exactly what I expected. I thought there would be more chocolate, first of all. I certainly didn't expect it to take place in an abbey. But I had a good time. After Chocfest, I got really excited for the British Juggling Convention, the second biggest juggling convention in Europe, which Jak and (officially) the UEA Circus Soc is organizing, to be held over Spring Break. However, Jak found out a couple weeks ago that UEA has renigged on its agreement to let the BJC be held on campus, and therefore Jak is having to postpone it until August, when hopefully he will be able to find another venue. It's sad, because I was looking forward to it.
Maybe I'll just have to start a Circus Society at Dickinson.

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