So, VapeFest 2015 weekend has been and gone. Now that I have had the chance to digest all that happened, I've decided to put some of my thoughts to paper on my experience of the event.
So there I was, Friday lunchtime, studiously going through all the gear I was going to need for the coming weekend. Tent - check, camp bed - check, sleeping bag - check, coolbox (full of booze) - check, vape-gear - check, enough eJuice to sink a battleship - check, and so on and so forth. I must have checked that I had everything several times over and was still convinced I had forgotten something (and so it proved - more later), and so at precisely 1.15pm I reversed my car off the drive and started the 3 and a half hour journey from Swansea to Shrewsbury in blazing sunshine. For once, Vapefest was going to enjoy good weather for the weekend.
At precisely 4.30pm, I was driving into the Vapefest campsite and seeking out a suitable spot to pitch my tent. Having identified a suitable location and proceeding to erect the tent, I was met by a familiar female voice. Turning around, I found myself facing Katherine Devlin (ECITA) and Bella (her dog). Quite by accident, I found I had pitched my tent almost directly in front of where Katherine and Tom Pruen had erected their ‘mini-village’ (the Wasters Arms to the uninitiated) - which turned out to be the base-camp for quite a number of familiar faces (who by chance had also pitched up in the same area). Tent set-up almost complete, I heard another familiar voice hailing me. This time it was that of Rhydian Mann who, along with his new bride - Mrs Mann (Vicky) - and the effervescent Be, also proceeded to pitch their tent in the vicinity.
On completion of setting up my tent, I decided it was time to have a sit-down and enjoy a cold can of Strongbow as a reward - only to find the first thing I had forgotten - a folding camp chair !!
However, my sentence of expletives was cut short by the arrival of Tom Pruen bearing gifts - a nice paper cup full of cold cider - and an invitation to take a seat at the Wasters Arms. Perfect !!
That set the tone for the weekend. Tom started the barbecue up (never knew how talented a cook Tom is until Vapefest) and we sat around chin-wagging about advocacy, events past, and what was to come, gradually being joined by evermore people from nearby (such as Liam, Abi, Rhydian, Be, Vicky etc).
At this point, I caught sight of Meg being escorted from the grounds by three security guards and waved back as she waved at us as she passed our little gathering (though it appears she had too much going on to notice me). I had an inkling of what was probably going on but I am not going to discuss that here as it has been covered in quite a few other blogs, not to mention Meg's own blog (vapemestoopid.co). So go and read the events there if you want to know more.
Anyway, Friday evening was spent sat around the Wasters Arms drinking (and being assailed by all manner of barbecued meat by our host Tom) into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Saturday morning arrived and I found myself wide-awake at the absurd hour of 5am (nothing unusual about that where I am concerned). With the first light just starting to appear over Vapefest (and very few other people awake), I decided to take the opportunity to have a walk around Vapefest to orient myself for the days coming event, making note of where all the vendors and areas I particularly wanted to visit were. My walk revealed just how much larger and better organised Vapefest was this year. There were many more vendor marquees, but also a nice selection of bars and 'eateries' to cater for the refreshments that all attendees would require. It also showed just how popular the event has become because at the top end of the field I was able to view the thousands of myriad tents, mobile homes and caravans parked in the field - and knowing that many more would arrive during the day. By the time I had completed that circuit, I arrived back at my tent to see Tom boiling up the kettle and offering up a cup of tea to start the day.
So the next few hours were spent (once again) sat around the Wasters Arms chatting with folk as they emerged blurry-eyed into the bright sun-light, while we awaited 10am and the official opening of all the vendors (during this time Tom insisted on frying-up an amazing breakfast for several of us who were sat around).
10am duly arrived and off we all went to have a look around. I simply did my usual thing of checking each of the marquees to find which of the vendors were stocking kit that I was genuinely interested in. I wasn't going to fight with the crowds. I much prefer to find out where to find the bits I want and then go back at a later time when the crowds have died back to be able to properly chat and find out more of the item(s) that interest me. Besides, the obsession with 'free-shit' means that the freeloaders are often unruly and aggressive in their attempts to beat the crowds and muscle their way to the front. How fights don't break out in such circumstances amazes me.
As a result, I found myself in the central area where the forum marquees were situated very early on. This also meant that I found the main tent where the raffle tickets could be purchased before the majority of the crowds. So I duly went in and purchased my raffle tickets (no, I didn't win anything either) with no queue whatsoever and then sat down to have a chat with Liam and the rest of the Vapers In Power people in the comfort of their modest marquee and consequently got to meet quite a few other people (such as Roger Ball) who I have known on Twitter for years but never actually met before.
Liam Bryan had asked me to give a talk in the Vapers In Power marquee about Vaping Politics. So,at Midday, I prepared to do that talk. I had agreed with Rhydian the previous evening that it would be good to team up for the talk as we both have similar experience with the 'Wales Situation'. I would speak on behalf of the consumers whilst Rhydian's part would focus more on the vendor viewpoint. Sadly, our talks were done with an audience of just a handful of people. It really is frustrating that for all the thousands of people in attendance at Vapefest, only a handful of people are actually prepared to listen to such talks. After all, if the Politicians get their way then this could turn out to have been the last Vapefest. I hope not, but this really is what is at stake, but with so few people prepared to invest their time in this it really does seem like apathy rules. They will also be the first to complain when vaping is clamped down on, but by that time it will be too late (this is something that Forest's Simon Clark also alluded to in his talk later in the day). A big thank-you to all those who did turn up to listen to what Rhydian and I had to say though.
Job done, it was time to relax and get some food down me before the first raffle prizes were awarded. As the crowds at the vendor marquees had finally died down a bit, it also enabled me to get the gear I had been interested in.
After the first raffle draw, I spotted that Dick Puddlecote had arrived ready to do his talk at the Vapers in Power marquee and, as I hadn't seen Dick since Warsaw, I decided to go over and have a chat. Dick introduced me to Forest's Simon Clark, who surprised me when he immediately worked out who I was and then recounted all that I have been doing in Wales against the proposed eCig ban. I was not aware that Simon even knew I existed let alone all the details about the Wales eCig campaign, so I was quite taken aback. As it turned out, I found myself chatting with Simon Clark at some length on events in Wales and the wider world and it was quite interesting to discover that Forest have made many of the same mistakes we have made in our respective campaigns and it was interesting to hear Simon's view of how those mistakes were made and how they were (or should) be overcome. This is something that Simon would revisit in his later talk in the VIP marquee.
Eventually, Dick and Simon took their places in the VIP Marquee to prepare for their talk. Unfortunately (as Simon alluded to in his blog), the AC/DC tribute band decided to start their sound-check at this time so it became quite a battle to hear Dick and Simon over this. About 20-25 of us huddled together on the grass within the marquee as close as we could get to Dick and Simon so we could hear them. The surreal scene rather reminded me of the 70's Children's TV programme 'Jackanory' (for those old enough to remember) as we all sat around attentively listening.
'Are you ready children ? Then I'll begin ....'
First off was Dick with his talk concentrating on why vapers and smokers should form closer bonds as we have so much in common and because what happens to smokers almost inevitably happens to vapers too. I thought Dick was rather restrained compared to his normal 'force of nature' personality, but he came over very well and made some very good and pertinent points. Simon Clark's talk also went down rather well, covering many of the points that I had been chatting with him about earlier. He even incorporated some of things I had related to him earlier into his talk. That was followed by an eventful Q+A session in which we learnt many things about the mistakes that Forest have made and how we can avoid making those same mistakes. By the same score, I believe that many of things discussed during the Q+A session also gave Simon Clark quite a few things to consider in his future campaigns. I also agree with Simon that vapers need to work much closer with smokers. We have similar issues and problems to overcome. Furthermore, current smokers are the potential vapers of the future.
With all the talks over, it was time to ‘raid the nearby bar’ for refreshments and get to know all the people that kept arriving that I had never met in person before. There were so many turning up to say hello that it really is a blur to remember everyone who introduced themselves to me so to save face and avoid omitting names I will just say that it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet each and every one of you. You know who you are.
The second raffle draw came and went (again, I didn’t win, as expected) and everybody started to prepare for the evening festivities. For myself, I decided to have a quick last look around the vendor stalls before they closed for the day to see if I could spot anything I had previously missed (I was REALLY tempted by the tiny Hana One mod that one vendor was selling – as was Rob Heyes – but I managed to contain my enthusiasm, and the money in my pocket).
One further unexpected event was bumping into one of my work colleagues being tempted by Gary Dibley’s myriad collection of drip-tips, thought I think I might have upset Garry by taking his potential sale away to chat with me – sorry Garry.
The plan from there was to head back to my tent for a sit down for 30 mins before going over to watch the AC/DC tribute act. However, I sat down at the Wasters Arms (again) with a can of cider, only to find a large number of burgers and ribs (not to mention more of Tom’s cider) being thrust in my direction, that plans to watch the live band soon fell by the wayside. By the time Dave Kitson turned up with his keg of HobGoblin and Marco Van B with his venison burgers, the party at the Wasters Arms was truly underway. So we stayed put (we could clearly hear the AC/DC tribute band anyway and had collectively decided that they were not very good). So Saturday evening was spent in blur of laughter, burgers, beer and fun. The one thing I do remember was how cold the evening air became once the sun went down.
At one point I remember standing up and looking across the campsite after dark to see a sea of BBQ’s ablaze in every conceivable direction.
I finally gave up on Saturday night at around 11.30pm (lightweight that I am) and retreated to my tent for some well-earned sleep. I was up at 5am again on Sunday morning, and as I had never maintained any intention to stay for the Sunday (I had seen everything I wanted to see on Saturday), as soon as it was light enough I quietly packed away my tent and made my way home on virtually empty Sunday morning roads (via a McDonald’s breakfast in Newtown). The roads were so quiet that I made it home in less than 3 hours – even with a stop-off for breakfast.
So, in summary, what did I learn from Vapefest ?
· Tom Pruen is a very good cook and would do well in the restaurant business if he ever decided to retire from ECITA
· Tom also seems to have a secret brewery hidden somewhere as he seems to have a neverending supply of beer (cider)
· Be is completely and utterly bonkers (and burns nicely in the sunshine)
· Vicky and Katherine like singing – a lot !!
· Dave Kitson has an enormous appetite for beer
· Marco Van Basten has serious shiny-itis issues at festivals
· Abi and Liam are remarkably organised and we Vapers are lucky to have them prepared to represent us politically
· Abi and Liam like homebrew red wine – a lot !!
· Dick Puddlecote can string a sentence together without using expletives (when he wants to) ;-)
· Rhydian likes Bara Brith – a lot !!
· Neal Roff is not as quiet (or big) as he likes to make out ;-)
· Tents DO make rather excellent kites (there is a story there ...)
· Vapers need to snap out of their apathy and start making noises before it is too late
· The attendance at VapeFest proves that vaping has arrived in a very big way and it needs to use those numbers to worry the Politicians enough to back off from their ridiculous regulatory plans
· Vapefest needs to embrace the advocates because it is the advocates who will ensure that there is another Vapefest next year (i.e. it will not be banned)
· Thieves exist wherever you go (a number of vendors apparently had gear stolen)
· Simon Clark is a very erudite person and has far more in common with vapers than I think even he previously recognised. I also think he has shifted his opinion on vapers, recognising that the majority of us are also very libertarian in view. I actually got on with Simon very well
· I don’t handle hot sunshine very well !!
A big shout-out to ‘mein hosts’ of the Wasters Arms – Tom Pruen and Katherine Devlin – for keeping me fed and watered (though I am not sure my diet would thank you) and running the best ‘temporary pub’ I have ever had the good fortune to visit. I trust your hiking holiday in the New Forest is going well.
I look forward to meeting up with each and every one of you again sometime in the future.
Vape on, vape hard .... and all that !!