There I am unpacking the car with the various props and costume extras required for a family of four when I realise I’m being studiously observed by a wary local. These locals are a delightful thing and rare in the Cathedral quarter at this time of year in Lincoln. Usually well mannered, most prefer the part of town found at the bottom of Steep Hill.
The good man is polite as he asks the reasons for the costumes and I in turn endeavour to explain. ‘The Question.’* His reply?
“You do realise, most people will think that the crazies have come to town.”
Yes I do. I know. I often wonder why I spend so much time and effort on something I only wear for a day or two.
You know, like a wedding dress?
This dress won’t stand out in the crowd this weekend but it would have drawn all the attention in York seven days ago. This particular outfit I’ve worn more times than my wedding dress, the attire grows and develops each year. Most parts of it have some story behind it, a provenance if you will, the dress is a collection of memories and reasons. It’s just as gorgeous, if not as expensive, as the white thing of flouncy lace and bustle we saved up for. Granted a little more relaxed, draws less of the camera attention compared to other Steampunk followers. That’s OK.
I hate cameras, but they are everywhere, generally speaking I’ll go for comfort over fashion, and function over trend, suffering pretend whalebone poking in my ribcage isn’t one of those things.
So why do I do this thing each year?
Why? Why do 2000 or more people dress from past times, suffer corsets and woollen waist coats regardless of the heat? Is it a celebration of literature? Jules Vern, H G Wells, most people have heard of , but William Gibson & Bruce Sterling? They’re a little more niche. What does a sparkling unicorn have to do with those novels? Cat ears? It’s not just a weird thing English people to old for cosplay or too vanilla to be goth do. Nope. Anime, gaming, graphic novels, books are all ‘cogtastic’ across the globe. There are some that try to dodge the label, or make it something else. Some Alternative History could at times be branded Steampunk. Does it matter?
You’ve seen Wild, Wild West, perhaps? There were plenty of ‘western’ clad folk, a turban or two, top hats everywhere, and of course a liberal dose of goggles.
Ideas, what ifs, and if onlys walk the streets, exploring the bars and hotels. The brass, the steam and the not brass or steam from a century that hasn’t yet come to pass. The creativity that slowly works its way through the town is always a marvel to witness. The fascination of being able to see working clockwork inventions up close. A weekend of “Look! I made this.”?
Is it the lack of judgement on how you personally evoke the steampunk vibe? The inclusivity? The idea of ‘Be Splendid.’? Is this what happens when you take away a game designer’s iPad?
I suppose it is all of these things. The diversity of the genre. So much interpretation in one place. So much history, so much future.
The Weekend at the Asylum has grown so much, to the point where many turn up in Lincoln just to see the outfits without paying for a wristband. Of course, that way you don’t get to see all the fun stuff behind the castle walls and tucked away in venues that aren’t too eager to cash in.
The genre has grown too. This isn’t the first time there have been author signings. Toby Frost, Jonathan Green, Kit Cox, Raven Dane and Sam Brown are regulars and well established in their field, but now bigger publishers are beginning to see a potential route to market here, understandably. Hendricks Gin’s presence was a fabulous addition too. Of course The Asylum wouldn’t be The Asylum without such frivolities as The Wacky Races, Tea Duelling, Illicit Market, Bazaar Eclectica, Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and numerous evening events that, believe it or not, I have yet to attend.
Call it crazy if you like. Some people don’t want be grown up all the time. Some people are happy to bring to life a little bit of the past, some will re-enact the lifestyle of a Georgian, or bring to life the World War Two trenches. Others will become Romans for the day. Steampunks are re-inventing their world how they imagine it might have been if…
Life is fun if you let it be, it can inspire others, and some fun can only be (wo)man made.
I suspect will sell out twice as fast next year, so buy early. While you can.
*’The Question’ is put to everyone who has anything at all to do with, created within or touched upon steampunk. “What is steampunk?” It is as much ‘steampunk’ as the goggles are.