Day Four: Saturday 4th May 2013My sleep was still all over the place, but that was hardly the fault of CORFLU since I've been insomniac for years; if I succeed in getting as much as five hours sleep I count that a good night. However, this morning's early rising was not caused by either jet-lag or insomnia but by a sudden muscle cramp in my left calf. Snapping awake, I gave a manly scream, and leapt out of bed, hopping/pacing up and down and chanting the usual mantra of "Ow! Ow! Ow!" in an attempt to get the knot out.
It was 5am and after abluting, I took out my laptop and began making notes on the previous day's activities. By 7.40ish I was written out so I headed down to the lobby to see who else was around. This turned out to be Karen Schaffer, who had a box of bizarre looking doughnuts on the table in front of her.
"Good morning, Rob," she said. "Would you like to sample some voodoo doughnuts."
"Of course I would," I said, sitting down and eyeing them dubiously.
The doughnuts came in all manner of alarming shapes and colours. One was in the form of a gingerbread man covered in chocolate, a stake driven though its heart. Another looked like a conventional cake topped with golden icing. What destroyed that appearance of normality were the two strips of bacon on top of the icing, real bacon and not some sort of doppelganger crafted from sugar. I am not making this up.
"Go ahead," said Karen, "it's really good."
Karen seemed too nice a person to have concocted such a thing purely to catch out innocent foreigners and laugh at their discomfit, so I accepted a piece of the bacon-maple doughnut. And it was delicious. Seeing the surprise on my face, Karen burst out laughing. We sat there discussing gardening of all things - I'm of the nuke'em and pave'em over school - until Geri Sullivan and Pat Virzi showed up. They were heading off to a pancake house for breakfast with David Levine and Kate Yule shortly, and so ate no more than a desultory half-dozen doughnuts while waiting for David and Kate.
When they set off I did so too, not for breakfast in my case but in an attempt at walking off the knot in my left calf. I took streets at random, at one point photographing a Buddhist temple bell for professional reasons, before circling back to the hotel in time to join Jerry, Suzle, Ulrika and Lucy for breakfast. I had pancakes with a ham steak and for once the meal was too big for me.
We mostly chatted about absent friends and how awkward it can be trying to maintain neutrality when they break up. As the meal ended and we were preparing to leave Bryan Barrett joined us. Ulrika and I stayed to chat with him while the others took off. Bryan now gets about with the aid of a wheeled walking frame. This is the man who on a visit to the UK once corrected Arthur Thomson when ATom said he'd always assumed the Republicans were like our Tories and the Democrats were like Labour.
"No," explained Bryan, "it's the Democrats who are like your Tories."
"Then what does that make the Republicans?" asked ATom, looking puzzled.
Thanks to his illness Bryan had had to declare medical bankruptcy.
"Medical bankruptcy is a concept unknown in the UK," I told him.
"It should be unknown in *every* country," he replied, with feeling, "and certainly in any country that considers itself civilised."
Today was Free Comic Book Day. I only knew this because someone had asked about it during yesterday's opening session. I'd been intending to check out a local store anyway and pick up this week's arrivals, hence yesterdays abortive search, so I resolved to do so now while it was still early in the morning. Ulrika decided to join me so that we could each catch up with what the other had been up to lately. My calf was still throbbing so I figured the walk could only do me good. Based on Dan Steffan's description of the comics store as being within walking distance I also figured it couldn't be too far away. I figured wrong. As we trekked through mile after endless mile of insufficiently shaded street, a ferocious sun beating down on us, I started to feel really guilty about Ulrika being along with me. I'd promised her a brief walk and this was turning into anything but. It wasn't 'walking distance' as that phrase is generally understood by most people. Indeed it was 'walking distance' only in the sense of containing both 'walking' and 'distance', lots and lots of 'walking' and 'distance'. Many and colourful were the muttered imprecations I heaped on the hairy head of Daniel J. Steffan.
Eventually we reached the comics store - Things From Another World. We could tell we'd reached it even before we saw it. This was because of the pirates.
Standing outside the store, enthusiastically "arrrhing" and "shiver me timbering" away were several large men dressed as pirates and waving cutlasses around. There were still more inside the store. I have no idea what this had to do with Free Comic Book Day, or indeed things from another world, but who am I to deny others their simple pleasures? The shop was packed, with a long queue snaking around to the cash register. I picked up the couple of comics I'd actually come for and again felt guilty. This was going to take a while which meant Ulrika would have to hang around waiting for me.
I briefly looked at the shelves of action figures, but as usual they never have what you want. In my case this was 'Seventies Disco Pimp-Strut Jerry Kaufman! Now With Kung-Fu Grip!' I would even have settled for the version that comes without the space hopper.
We caught a bus back to the top of the street the hotel was on, of course - I wouldn't have dared suggest we walk - but while waiting for it we saw even more pirates arriving at the comics store. What *was* going on? Perhaps when Things From Another World was done with Free Comics Day they were all planning to sail away in it, to hoist the Jolly Roger and attack rival comics stores, boarding them and relieving them of their treasures. It seemed the only rational explanation.
The con suite had opened by the time we got back to the hotel. I poured myself some red from the keg and we sat chatting with Linda Deneroff, Bryan, Elinor Busby, and Milt Stevens until the first program item of the afternoon in the St. John suite. This was 'The Class of 1970: A Fannish Tribal Reunion' featuring Jeff Schalles, Dan Steffan, John D. Berry, Frank Lunney, and 'Bill Kunkel's Ghost'. A fascinating panel, it covered an era of US fanhistory I know little about. Jay Kinney joined in from the audience and was quickly drafted onto the panel, as was - once again - Michael Dobson. Dan told the story of an early convention they were at where he was the only one who had a room so the others all slept on his floor.
"We all had our assigned spots on the floor," explained Frank, "all except John D.Berry who announced that he would be sharing the bed with Dan. John didn't do floors; he always took the bed."
It would be interesting to see the group's 'rookie cards' from back then, if such things existed, since the only person on the panel who still looked the same as when last I'd seen him was Jeff Schalles. He put this down to being meat-free for the past three decades, and if given the chance would happily bend your ear about the benefits of this and other dietary choices he had made down the years.
I was on the following panel 'Ink Stained Memories: Fanartists Look Back' along with Jay Kinney, Dan Steffan, Steve Stiles and 'Bill Rotsler's Ghost'. We all talked about how we started drawing for fanzines and when it was my turn I mentioned the collaborative covers I did for my fanzine EPSILON, including one I worked on with Dan.
"It was a Will Eisner pastiche," I told the audience. "I laid it out and Dan turned in this note-perfect version of an Eisner drawing - well apart from the little cartoon guy peeing into the river."
"Yeah, and Eisner may have seen that cover," said Dan.
"Rob sent me a bunch of copies of the cover when he mailed me the fanzine, so I forwarded one to Eisner's assistant. He didn't get back to me, but you never know...."
"I was on a panel with Eisner at a convention once," said Steve, "and he turned to me and said 'I like your work'. It's one of the most treasured moments of my life."
"We've all met people whose work we admire," I said, "but those meetings don't always work out *quite* how we might've hoped. Alisdair Grey was GoH at the first MEXICON, a writer whose work I greatly admired. Included in the con's registration pack was a fanthology that reprinted an infamous, scurrilous, libellous conreport by Leroy Kettle. He read this. Which is why when highly-respected literary figure Alisdair Grey met me he peered at my name badge and said 'Oh, you're the one who farts!'."
I was also on the following panel so when the others departed I remained seated. I was soon joined by Rich Coad, Graham Charnock, and Roy Kettle. Roy demanded beer.
"I can't do a panel without beer!" he said, as if the very suggestion was absurd. Which in the UK it would be. Beers were dutifully brought and placed in front of each of us.
"This is what a real British convention panel looks like," I told the audience, "breathe in that authenticity."
The title of the panel was the apparently generic 'Lager, Lager, Lager & UK Fanzines: a Ratrospective', but that last word tells you what it really was. This was a panel about Ratfandom.
When Dan had first asked me about the panel it soon became clear he thought of me as a Rat. I explained that while flattering this was wrong. I also pointed out there was someone coming to the con who should be on any panel about Ratfandom: Rich Coad. Dan had originally been considering Sandra Bond as moderator, but Rich was obviously a much better fit. He opened by asking Roy about the origin of Ratfandom.
"There used to be this thing in British fandom called 'Silly Animal Fandom'," said Roy, "with groups naming themselves after animals. So you had wombatfandom, shrimpfandom...."
Roy continued in this vein - very entertainingly - for a while, then the mike was handed to me.
"To correct what Roy's just told you......" I began (Much laughter. Roy buries his face in the table.) "...there was in fact never a shrimpfandom, but there was a kittenfandom. Also, at first the Rats were gonna be axolotl fandom. I am not making this up. Wombatfandom was the 'brainchild' of Dave Womack, editor of VIRIDIANA. Greg Pickersgill's review of VIRIDIANA in FOULER #3 may be one of the most famous - and most quoted - fanzine reviews of all time. A lot of British fanzine fans know it by heart."
I then launched into it:
"Jesus Christ I'm reading this bloody thing right now and I can't believe it. It's worthless. It gets Brit fandom a bad name it hardly deserves, bad as it is. Every copy ought to be sought out and burned, with editor Womack securely roped down in the middle of them," I said, finishing there.
"My fury knows no bounds," added Mark, Claire, and Sandra Bond from the audience, in unison, supplying the closing line I'd forgotten and proving my point.
Roy went on to say it was all very different than legend would have it, and that he and Rob Holdstock actually bonded over shared laundry, though the pub they used to meet in did have the memorable name of 'The Goat in Boots'. I prompted where, necessary and one by one the various characters were introduced.
"As well as Holdstock there was Peter Roberts," I said, "the man who lived in a cupboard."
"It really was a cupboard," said Rich. "When I showed up at a Globe meeting, Graham volunteered him as someone to crash with, so I did. For a while I slept on the floor next to his bed. Peter says he's never wanted to kill anyone more in his life. Great days. Ratfandom has this reputation for being nasty and unfriendly, but you took a visiting American you didn't know from Adam under your wing."
"That's because we thought you were a girl," said Roy, to laughter. "No, really, I know it's hard to believe looking at him now but he was slim and pretty and had long blonde hair." "How did you first meet Malcolm Edwards?" I asked.
"Ah, that came about because we thought he was a girl," said Roy, revealing a disturbing inability to determine gender among the Rats. "There was this woman in British fandom at the time named Lisa Conesa and we thought this must be her. Sadly, it wasn't."
"You guys also ran an Eastercon," I said, thinking of SEACON '75.
"An Eastercon?!" said Graham. "We ran a *Worldcon*!"
And I suppose they did. Greg says Ratfandom existed from 1970 to 1974, but that's not necessarily how the other Rats see it. In terms of the majority of the group acting in concert, the 1979 Worldcon can be seen as their last hurrah. Ironic then that Peter Weston was the Con Chair given the not always cordial relations between him and Ratfandom.
Pat Charnock - the most prominent female Rat - was called up from the audience and joined us briefly.
"Pat is the only one of us ever to appear naked on the cover of a Ratzine," said Graham. "Well, her bottom did, anyway."
This is true, A photo of Pat's bum forms the cover of Peter Roberts' EGG #9 (Feb '75), but more importantly she also edited the legendary fanzine WRINKLED SHREW.
"The main Rat fanzines received limited distribution in the US," I said, "and there remains this perception of a disconnect between much of UK and US fandom through most of the 1970s. When Rich Coad sent his collection of Ratzines around in the early 1980s, Patrick Nielsen Hayden said they created this small series of explosions among them."
"Among us, too," chimed in Ted White from the audience. "Reading them a few years later it was clear the spirit of fandom had been extremely active in UK fanzines of that period and I was sorry we'd missed it. Wanting to connect with you guys was one of the main reasons Dan and I started PONG."
Afterwards, thinking about that EGG cover, I told James Charnock that I hoped he wasn't too shocked by these revelations about what his parents had got up to in their youth.
"It's not a problem," he explained. "Whenever they talk about that stuff I just stick my fingers in my ears and go 'la la la la'."
It was now time for dinner and I found myself heading out to a pie shop with the Harveys, Nigel Rowe, and Nigel's (not actual) niece Calyx (pronounced 'kay-lix'), who was passing through. Getting there was a bit of a trek, though nowhere near as long and convoluted as last night's epic journey to the Japanese restaurant. When we entered the pie shop it became clear why Nigel had chosen it. There on the back wall were a New Zealand flag and an Aussie one.
"I see the Australian flag is bigger," I said to Nigel, "which is only right."
I wasn't actually certain which is which - they both look like Britain after dark to me - but since Nigel didn't correct me I obviously got it right. He didn't rise to the bait, which impressed me. Back when he lived in London it was easy to wind him up.
"Hey Nigel," I remember saying to him on one occasion, "what's the world's shortest book?"
"I don't know," he'd replied, "what is the world's shortest book?"
"'Who's Who in New Zealand'."
"That's not true, there are loads of world famous people who come from New Zealand," he said, obviously stung. He then reeled off a list of names, each of which Martin Smith and I responded to with a shake of the head or a puzzled frown, which got Nigel more and more worked up. Ah, happy times!
The shop/restaurant served food Nigel presumably remembers from home. Fortunately this didn't include witchety grubs or Vegemite. I had a chicken salad sandwich and, again, could only finish half of it. The half I didn't finish would be tomorrow's breakfast, something which was becoming a pattern with me. I sat opposite Calyx, who was very pretty, had long blonde hair, and was in her early twenties. She was currently making her way around the world in that enviably fearless fashion some youngsters have and had dropped in on the con during her travels to see her Uncle Nigel. She was bright, witty, and good company.
At the end of the meal the waiter presented the bill and asked if any of us qualified for the 'honored citizen' discount. We had no idea what this was until he explained it applied to the over-65s. An old fart discount, in other words. Only John qualified, so he took advantage of it because why not?
"How's it feel to be an 'honored citizen'?" I asked him as we were leaving.
"Bloody silly name," he grumbled.
"Oh, I agree," I said. "I hate that sort of thing. It always seems so condescending. I'm 58 years old, not 58 years young."
Back at the convention there was an item in the St. John at 9pm led by Michael Dobson. Chairs were circled, and people reminisced about things from a list of topics that had been handed out. I dropped in on this but soon felt myself falling asleep so I returned to the con suite, clambouring over a snoring Rob Jackson to do so.
In the con suite more Voodoo Doughnuts had been bought and multiple beers laid in for the beer tasting. Randy Byers and Andy Hooper were serving. Ulrika and I sampled many. Most were good but some were weird. One in particular was obviously nothing more than hot sauce. Try as I might, I couldn't stay the course and I eventually fell asleep.
I was awoken by Andy Hooper gently bellowing in my ear.
"YOU'RE DONE, ROB, BUT YOU CAN'T TELL" he soothingly intoned. "GO TO BED!"
To placate Andy, and so that my eardrums would stop ringing, I did.