Thursday, 3 June 2010

Life, The Uni, and PSiFA

It's been a long five years. But good ones. It is strange to think that five years ago I was doing A-Levels and getting ready to go to University, not knowing what to expect. Granted I've not completely finished my time here yet, it is the end of the academic year for most of the other students who went to Uni in Hatfield this year. This, along with going to the last PSiFA this academic year, got me thinking about my time here, and how the end of the (academic) year has crept up on me [1].

A lot has changed in the last five years. I have changed. I have lived in many different houses with different people. I have studied a large variety of different things covering a large range of my subject. I have met new people, lost contact with some, but still talk to many frequently, even though they have moved on from Uni.

Some things have stayed the same, or at least been somewhat constant. Friends I have had have been excellent, as have experiences I have had during the last five years been equally enjoyable. Some of my interests and tastes have remained the same, while also expending and finding new things.

Something else has been a constant throughout the last five years, initially new when I first arrived at Uni, but it has became a big part of my life. This is PSiFA. PSiFA is the Sci-Fi and Fantasy (and Anime, and Horror, and Cult, and board/card game) society at the University of Hertfordshire, and is the main focus of this post.

Brief History of PSiFA
Firstly, I'll go over a brief history of PSiFA, before getting to the bit when I joined in my first year. It was formed in 1978/79 academic year, back when the Uni was called 'Hatfield Polytechnic' (i.e. before it became a University); thus PSiFA stands for 'Polytechnic Sci-Fi and Fantasy Association'. One of the founders runs a Sci-Fi newsletter Concatenation [2], initially with around 100 members. Not as many as there have been while I've been at PSiFA, but in '78, there was no internet to allow communication between like minded people, so people went to PSiFA to meet like minded people. No one had personal DVD players (as they hadn't been invented, I don't think VCR players were widespread either) to watch things in the comfort of their own homes (or, in the case of Uni students, student halls), so lots came along to watch new/old films as there were few other places they could go, if any. There was also a thriving fanzine called Hypo-Space, with many different articles. Hypo-Space was so called because, when it first started, the SU published a student paper called 'Hypo' as it was the 'Hype of the Polytechnic', and Hypo-Space took its name from that. The society also held small conventions called 'shoestringcons', with films and guests and drinks over a day or few. Initially, the society met just met once a week with one activity (be it a film, quiz, or talk), but after a few years they started gaming as well as a separate meeting (I think). This then broke off and started its own gaming society (or two), and eventually re-merged with PSiFA. A gaming group broke off again (called 'Morpheus'), and re-merged back with PSiFA (again) due to low membership numbers just before I arrived at Uni. So in my first year PSiFA was having two meetings a week, one for games and one for films. 

Joining PSiFA
At the end of the first week of arriving at Uni was the Freshers Fair. It was great fun, wandering around, getting free stuff and finding out about all the things going on. I seem to recall getting details on many different societies, but could only manage to fit a few in due to meeting clashes. One of the few I decided to go along to was PSiFA as I hadn't seen a great deal of films and thought it would be a good way to watch lots of good films that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. The first meeting was quite fun, with an almost full room when we chose among a selection of films the organisers had brought along, ending up watching Spaceballs I think. After the meeting I wandered off to the field with a few others for sitting around talking with someone playing a guitar. General Freshers stuff really.

I kept going back for a few weeks, including a trip to watch Serenity in the cinema when it came out; this was when I first had Adam come over and talk to me on the way. After a few weeks, Simon had changed his work schedule enough so that he could also come along, and the three of us started hanging out after meetings, usual for drinks and sometimes to watch some films. After a month or so of just going to the film nights, we were told about and invited along to the game nights on a Monday. Having not played that many games before and not knowing what to expect, we went along to have some fun. The main game of choice was Magic: The Gathering, and Simon, Adam and myself learnt from the others playing (watching and borrowing decks, mainly playing in big multi-player games. Monday meeting became a regular occurrence for us, and we went out to find cards and decks of our own. I put together a white deck of life-gain, Simon got a black deck of destruction, and Adam made a red deck of explosions. As we didn't have many lessons on Tuesday mornings, we often ended up drinking and playing Magic 'till the early hours round Adam's house after PSiFA meetings.

In the first year, the Thursday night room moved a few times. Originally in a normal classroom above the Medical Centre, we moved part of the way through the year to a tiered lecture room in some corner of the University building. We eventually got moved from this room as campus security wasn't too pleased with us being there; something about having to turn off the entire alarm system to allow us to be down there. So we moved to another tiered room in the middle of the campus. The tiered rooms at the time were some of the few rooms that had a computer and/or DVD player as opposed to just a video player in the older rooms, but the Uni eventually upgraded all rooms to have video, DVD and computer capabilities. Even so, the tiered rooms were nicer, bigger, and slanted so it was easier to see. 

Towards the end of my first year, PSiFA held the annual 'Tribble Hunt'; when many 'tribbles' were hidden around the meeting rooms, for members to find. I managed to find the most and won a Dungeon and Dragons board game. Also at the end of the year was the AGM, when new committee members were needed. As no one was really interested in being the president for next year, I put myself forward (luckily I had Kris as a vice-prez who ran most things that year to help me out). Adam was treasurer, and Simon became Minister of Propaganda Publications Officer. 

Running things in the second year
...although I didn't so much as run things, as let the society run itself...

I don't remember doing too much planning in the second year. We booked some rooms and went along to Freshers Fair with some leaflets, telling people about what was going on. Simon was doing posters around the Uni as well. The first two meetings we had were both film meetings to try and get more people interested; Red Dwarf and Stargate. We got some new members coming along too (huzah!), some first years, some who had only found out about the society this year. 

A month or so into the year Simon, Adam and myself resumed our post-PSiFA meeting drinking sessions, but invited others who came to meetings along too. This led to various memorable nights (well, as memorable as you can get after a lot of vodka) over the year.

Like in my first year before it, I met lots of new people and made many new friends. Hannah, a new member for the year, started bringing along friends who hadn't heard of the society before; one of whom was Liz, who I started dating in Semester B (and we still currently are, 3 years later). 

During the year, we held two casual Magic: The Gathering tournaments, as it was still the main game of choice of most members who came along on the Monday nights. 

As usual, the end of the year had the Tribble Hunt and AGM, with a mostly new committee being elected. I was unable to continue on the committee as I would be working in Luton on my placement year. Coincidently, the member who won the Tribble Hunt also became President for the next year, as I had done in my first year. 

Third year: The reverse commute
Originally, when I moved to Luton, I thought that I might not be able to make it to PSiFA as often as I had been in the last two years (i.e. twice a week). I missed the Freshers Fair due to work, but knew a few people who helped out alongside the committee. 

After some careful planning, I figured out how to get to/from PSiFA on both Monday and Thursday meetings. Usually some combination of a bus and/or train. For Mondays, I would walk across Luton to the Train station, go to St Albans and get a bus from there, then do the same in reverse after the meeting. I did find that I should try to leave the meetings earlier, otherwise I'd have to wait ages for a bus to St Albans. Originally I got a taxi from Luton train station to get home, partially because it would have already been late and partially because I didn't want to walk through Luton town centre near midnight, but after a month or so I decided to just walk home (quickly) to save some money. 

Thursday meetings were a bit easier as I would just stay over at Liz's for the night and get the bus the next morning. The plus side being I wouldn't have to face a long trip late at night to get home. The downside being I had to get up early in order to get the bus to get to work. There were a few less than normal regular members coming to the Thursday meetings, although I think this was mainly due to most previously regular members being in their final year and having a lot of work to do.  

The AGM/Tribble Hunt ended in a tie between Adam and myself, and I went onto being President again for the next year. Adam remained as Treasurer for the third year running, and PSiFA came on as Vice-Prez. Liz joined the committee as Secretary. 

30, 4, 2, 1 (Fourth year)
PSiFA had been running for 30 years. It was my fourth year at the society (and Uni), and second as President. And it was a fun year. 

Having a years worth of experience in running the society already, I actually started some planning for this one. I had Power Point presentations and everything...

Liz, Simon and I dressed up for the Freshers Fair, thinking it would make us stand out (as much as you can stand out in one of two huge marquees). I had also gone with Simon to meet one of the founding members of PSiFA, who had some books to give us to give to members. We also brought along some Flying saucers and gummy sweets to entice people to sign up to the mailing list. 

I went as a Jedi, Liz as an Ensign from the original series of Star Trek, and Simon actually went out of his way to make a Stargate costume (including staff which is unfortunately partially out of shot in the photo). 

The first meetings were fairly successful, harking back to the numbers at the start of my first and second years; our costumes had obviously worked ;D with lots of first years coming along (huzah!). The Monday games night was also popular early on, so much so that we splashed out on a load of new board games. Most were ones that Kris used to bring along sometimes before he graduated, so we got our own copies for PSiFA as we knew them to be popular, as well as some other classic games. Magic was played less than before, with lots of new games being the focus of meetings. 

The first Thursday meeting had me bringing along a lot of random videos and DVDs for everyone there to choose from. There were 20 or so I think, and counting votes was an interesting experience, but we got enough chosen for that meeting, and the next one or two meetings. We also started running some longer events, to watch lots of films, or most of a TV series. They were fun, although it was hard to find a day/time that people could come to, and we could book rooms for. We also had a few RaG events in the 96 hour license for the Ele house, showing various films from late at night 'till early in the morning. 

30th Anniversary celebrations - Take 1
As it had been 30 years since PSiFA had started, we organised some Anniversary celebrations, which ended up covering one event per term. The first of which was the end of November, with a range of films shown, and a PSIFA cake (yay!). 

We even had a games console in the big lecture theatre, which was quite fun. Two player wireless guitar hero with huge screens is pretty fun. Unfortunately, as this was planned fairly short notice, only a few alumni were able to make it, so we organised some more, giving people lots of notice. 

30th Anniversary celebrations - Take 2
The second anniversary celebrations just before Easter had more alumni coming along, and we got to meet people throughout the years of PSiFA, along with lots of interesting stories of past years. 

30th Anniversary celebrations - Take 3
The third and final celebrations of PSiFA's 30 years was just after the Summer Ball (luckily it didn't start too early), and was the biggest and most attended of the three. Some alumni from the second one came along again, and some new alumni also came along, so more new people to meet and more interesting stories about PSiFA's past. I had put together a special Hypo-Space specially for the Anniversary event, with articles from past and present members. There was a talk from one of the founders, as well as a small camera crew there doing some filming for the Uni alumni association. 

Liz gave a tour of the Uni as some hadn't seen it in years, and I had made some foam lightsabers for some duelling just outside the venue. All in all, it was a great way to end a great year. 

Coming up to half a decade
Even though I had finished my degree, I still had a year at Uni as I started a Masters course just afterwards, so was still around with PSiFA. I moved from President to Vice-President as I didn't know how much time I would have to run things, so Kobe became President, Faye took over Liz's job as Secretary, and Liz ousted Adam from his 3 years running as Treasurer. 

We continued our planning before the year started, and even decided upon films to watch in the first two months of Uni. This schedule was put into a special Freshers Fair edition of Hypo-Space to hand out to people. The Freshers Fair itself was an interesting day; we had one tiny table instead of the larger ones we had before (the SU had moved societies to the new Forum instead of the marquee where they usually were), and it was a very loud room (sound bounces off walls more than a tent, who would have thought it, loud speakers blaring music didn't help). We did run out of Hypo-Spaces, and then leaflets, and ended up writing details on Magic cards to give out to people. 

The first meetings were fairly successful, keeping up with the numbers of previous first meetings. We watched some Red Dwarf first, and I brought along some warm gazpacho soup specially. We also watched V for Vendetta on the 5th November, which I hadn't seen before and enjoyed. Halloween was fun, with a longer day watching Braindead, Beetlejuice and Rocky Horror (including audience participation stuff). The Christmas meeting was interesting, it was fun, although Simon and some others couldn't make it due to the snow. But there was snow which was fun. 

Come Semester B, me and Simon ran a small stall at the Semester B Freshers Fair, although the turnout was poor. We also had an interesting talk from Tony Boydell [3] about board game creation. As an alternate to long day events, we put on Trigun for a few meetings in a row, mainly playing in the first hour or two in order to watch the whole series, but not devote a whole day to it (and not devote a few meetings in a row either). This seemed to be a fairly successful idea, as were the talk we held (in addition to Tony's talk on games, we also had previous PSiFA president and published author Jaine Fenn [4] give a talk on writing). Just before Easter, we held a PSiFA reunion in the new Ele House, not as many people as the 30th Anniversary June event, but still fun (and with some more new people). 

The last term went pretty fast, I was fairly busy with courseworks, as were others with courseworks and exams, but still went along to PSiFA meetings, until last week, when the academic year ended. We even managed to have some interesting talks in the last few weeks, one from Bex on Born of Hope [5] and one from Dave on Space Stations. The last meeting of the year, and the last one I would be running, was on Saturday, with a random array of films and things. There was some Robot Chicken and Button Moon, followed by Robot Monster (a fairly bad, but humorous film), then Wayne's World, ending on Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (an Excellent Adventure being what my time at PSiFA has been). 

My initial reasoning for joining PSiFA was that I hadn't seen a huge amount of films, and I thought being in the society would allow me to see some good films I wouldn't have otherwise seen. This goal was greatly fulfilled. 

I'll be starting a Masters Thesis next week, I hope I can write as much on it as I have done for this post. 

I've met lots of interesting people through PSiFA, and made lots of good friends. I even met Liz through PSiFA and we've been together over 3 years now (one of a surprising amount of relationships caused because of PSiFA). 

I'd say that I have learnt a lot, both from being part of the society and the people in it, but also by organising and running things. 

Finally, the experiences I have had have been great ones, leaving me satisfied with the time spent going to/running the society, as well as giving me some exceptional times to remember for years to come. 

[1] The last third of the Masters course I'm doing is a project over the summer, so while I finished Semester B with everyone else, I have an extra Semester over the summer that not many others have. So I knew that I still had some extra time here, but forgot that lots of others doing different courses would be leaving soon.