No question - it was a long drive. Margate to Water Orton, in Birmingham, is not just down the road, however after leaving at 7am, I found myself driving down New Road, looking for the hall at around 11am - not bad timing. Looking around, I wasn't sure exactly where it was but whilst looking, I saw a very suspicious character, that I thought I recognised, sloping down a side-road. As I'm always a good citizen, no matter where I am, I thought it only right to follow this potential miscreant and check everything was OK - lo and behold, it was Wrighty! (@paulums). I pulled over and offered him a lift back before he got into trouble, which he gratefully accepted, and then he showed me the way to the hall.
On arriving, I have to say I was nervous. I'd been listening to these guys for the last year and conversing with them on Twitter and via email, but meeting them was a whole new ball game. As I walked into the hall, there weren't many people there at the time so it was VERY easy to pick out Paul Wheatley (@paulwheatley) and Ewen (@BritishTech). They were trying to organise the draw for the World Card Cutting Championships.
Essentially, this involved writing everybody names on napkins, cutting them up and putting them in a bowl for people to draw. That's right - this is the British Tech Network and that's how we performed the draw. I have to say, any nerves I had at the point were wiped out pretty quickly! Paul and Ewen made me feel very welcome. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, Ewen actually is as intimidating in real life as you would think.
People started arriving at this point and I did the usual nervy meet and greet with people who I knew only from their Twitter avatars and occasional emails. I was pleased to meet Charlotte Henry (@charlotteahenry) who shares my love of all things Tottenham Hotspur and Mac - I reckon you should watch this space for a Shared Blog if you are of a like mind!
At this point, I was wishing that my kids didn't have dance rehearsals for their upcoming production as there were lots of others children their age to play with and things to do. Next year let's hope.
With the arrival of the Naybours, we were off. Expertly compered by Steve Naybour (@stevenaybour) the itinerary was delivered.
The World Card Cutting Championships were then underway. To the relief of all under 10's there, Wrighty was knocked out in the first round. After despatching cheeky young upstarts with ease last year, he wimped out meekly on Saturday.
After the first round, we were on to the Egg and Spoon race, which worryingly was taken extremely seriously by all involved. It's true that the stewardship of the course was not quite up to the standards we would expect from somewhere like Brands Hatch or Silverstone (there were frequent 'gaps' appearing in the track to allow for shortcuts when certain people raced who will remain nameless Wheatley) but for an amateur event it was well run.
Next was the Help Show - and it has to be said, Paul Wheatley did a great job of trying to act professionally and with great responsibility - however after taking almost half an hour to read out one listener's question, he was onto a loser I'm afraid - but it was excellent watching him struggle and being heckled and a reasonable highlight of the day.
The second round of the World Card Cutting Championships was a mixed bag for me - you see, I was excited because I was up against someone who is admittedly a bit of an idol for me - none other than 'The Don' McAllister (@donmcallister), owner of www.screencastsonline and all round Mac legend. I'd met him about half an hour previously and have to say he is one of the nicest gentlemen I've ever had the pleasure to meet. I spoke to him about a couple of the projects I'm working on and he seemed genuinely interested and offered help with a couple of elements which was greatly appreciated. So when I despatched him with ease with expert use of a Queen (???) I felt a twinge of guilt - but hey, the winner gets an Apple TV - there's no room for sentiment.
Lunch followed and kudos to the caterers who laid on the greatest Pulled Pork Baps I've ever tasted (OK, but no matter how I write that, it's always going to sound weird).
An excellent selection of salad and the greatest brownies I've been lucky enough to eat. Seriously, these things were made in heaven, they were IMMENSE.
For some unearthly reason, the Sack Race followed this gorgeous feast which, rather unsurprisingly, didn't have many takers - and as soon as we had a retiree with a Twisted Knee (which got better very quickly after the application of yet more free booze), it died a rather abrupt death.
Then my highlight - Will Green (@britishmac), THE Will Green, presented the Mac Show live.
And it was a corker.
Although I'm still baffled as to why Will took such offence to Don McAllister's Pebble Watch.
This was a unique show in that Paul, Ewen and Steve's kids made valuable contributions all the way through and the undoubtedly impressive alcohol consumption form all involved did not actually lead to a loss of quality compared to the norm.
Which now I read that back, is quite worrying.
The semi-finals and finals of the World Card Cutting Championships followed and it was contested solely by females. Clearly the fact that to win you require zero skill and 100% luck played a massive part in this turn of events. However those stats were quickly called into question when, for the second year in succession, one of Steve Naybour's kids won the final. Now either that man has purely golden sperm or there was some very clever deck switching going on. Either way, there is another Apple TV heading to the Naybour house this weekend.
Due to the long drive back, I had to call it a day at that point, but I have to say, it was one of the best days I've had in recent memory. I feel I can now call people that I would have referred to before as celebrities, friends. Paul Wheatley, Ewen Rankin, Paul Wright, Will Green, Don McAllister, Charlotte Henry, Ian Lewis, Princess Bagel Helen, Batwench, Alan Howshall - all people I had been following on Twitter on Friday, all people I can say that I've spoken with, respect, and am looking forward to meeting again. All amazingly normal. All top people.
It was everything that Ewen said it would be and I'm certainly looking forward to next years one. If you are reading this, having umm'ed and ahh'ed about whether it was too far to go, whether your family would like it, whether even you would like it, don't hesitate next year. Just go.
Thanks to all the BTN guys - (and their wives, the BTN gals) for organising this year and making me feel as though I am part of your BTN family.