EIGHTIES LETTERS AND FAN DIARY
4: EASTER 1983(Diary and fanzine accounts of convention interspersed):
Friday 1st April
The advantage of the Nightrider is its low cost. The disadvantages are the near-impossibility of getting any sleep in the infernally uncomfortable seats, which doubtless won their creator some award or other for innovative design ("This design wins the award for it's creator's daring approach to lower-back support, namely its total elimination, and the novel tilting lever which deposits the passenger in the lap of the person seated behind."), and being dumped in Glasgow at the ungodly hour of 6.45 am, a time whose existence I had previously considered a hoax. In my usual attempt to appear cool, laid back, and stylishly hip (a forlorn hope, this) I had worn light clothing. This was a mistake. When I stepped off the train my life flashed before my eyes.
It is, I have since become convinced, a long-established practice of the Scottish Tourist Board to bribe cartographers into showing Glasgow on their maps a lot further away from the Arctic Circle than it actually is because the difference between stepping off that train and stepping into a meat freezer was negligable. With me hopping, slapping my sides, and rubbing my hands vigourously we made our way out of the station. After dumping our bags at our respective hotels we searched for food, and ended up eating breakfast at the BR buffet of the station we'd arrived at. Afterwards, Linda decided to check with her hotel as to when she could check in.
My long-held belief that there is no justice in this world was re-affirmed by the discovery that while Linda's hotel would let her have her room at 8.20 am, with a resultant fall into the sweet arms of Morpheus, my own wouldn't let me register before noon. I killed the time as best I could but even two circuits of the Glasgow Metro - which to we big city sophisticates who regard even the London Underground with jaded disinterest seemed like something out of an amusement park - did little to allieviate the boredom. When I did finally get to bed I managed to grab no more than a couple of hours sleep before Linda woke me by phoning and demanding to know why I wasn't handing out 1984CON badges. Sighing, I dragged myself out of bed, dressed, and went among the milling throng, handing out badges to all and sundry.
I spent most of the evening renewing acquaintances and drinking, before crashing out.
Saturday 2nd April
Was down for breakfast by 10.45am, alone on a table next to one containing Steve Lawson, Avedon, and John & Eve Harvey. Though they were there before me, I'd been served, eaten my meal, and was leaving before they were served - to the vociferous aggravation of John & Eve.
Edie Stern & Joe Siclari arrived today, and I bought copies of A WEALTH OF FABLE and QUANDRY vol.1 from Joe.
Around noon in the fanroom, Avedon was interviewed by Kev Smith. Afterwards Linda and various other female fans gathered around to talk with her on matters female and fannish. Peter Weston interjected a number of times with the male point of view until he and I began chatting, the first conversation I've ever had with him. Linda and I asked him if he'd be prepared to move the Brum group party to the following night to let us use that evening for a 1984CON party in the fanroom, and he agreed immediately.
Thus it was that Linda and I were to be found scouring the vicinity for Tequila and orange in order to make large quantities of Tequila Sunrise. Linda bought the three bottles of Tequila, and me the twelve one pint cartons of orange (£6.36p), money to be reimbursed by Malcolm from the pre-supporting memberships. (It never was).
Though Rob Holdstock had decided to attend ALBACON after all, the knowledge that I would be called upon to present at least some part of our bid at the Sunday morning bidding-session, the first time I'd ever had to do anything of the sort, coloured everything that happened at the convention prior to that momentous event, and there was within me a growing sense of expectancy, tinged with fear. This was it; the bottom line where it was make or break and there were no prizes for coming second. I knew very early on that we had the vast majority of those who spent most of the convention in the fan room on our side, but what of the faceless masses attending the programme items reputedly taking place beyond the walls of this room? Would they regard John Brunner with the same contempt as those who had observed his antics atconventions over the course of many years or would they, as seemed more likely, see only a Big Name SF Author and vote for a bid fronted by him on that alone rather than on any ability he'd ever shown at running conventions? It was all very worrying. Still, this worry was greatly allieviated by good times spent propping up the fan room bar with people like Linda and Rob and Avedon and Dave and Rog Peyton and Many Others (who'd followed us up). However, more and more I knew that - win or lose - I wanted that bidding session behind me.
Strangely, as the bidding session drew closer the tension it was generating keened my appreciation of the convention and those around me, making Saturday evening the high point of the whole convention for me. It started fairly quietly with a trip to a nearby restaurant, which meant missing the Fancy Dress. Present were me, Avedon, Rog Peyton, the Harveys, and the Oborns.
"That was a damned good Chinese restaurant", I told Langford on my return.
With the bidding session tomorrow morning this was the ideal time to throw a 1984CON party. There were large quantities of Tequila Sunrise for all and great music courtesy of tapes compiled by Phil Palmer and Jimmy Robertson. Avedon and I did some serious dancing together, really hit it off, and decided to continue matters in her room.
Sunday 3rd April
Down to breakfast by 9am for a pre-bid briefing. The Charnocks were the only ones there before me. I'd worried where they were the previous night since all our PR Zeros were in their room. Turns out they'd been at a local hospital with their small son Jimmy, who'd had an asthmatic attack. Rob and Linda eventually joined us.
Breakfast was an all 1984CON committee affair with each of us poring over the copious notes provided by Malcolm Edwards and memorising the bidding strategies he'd devised. I tried to eat something but my stomach rebelled and so had to be content with tea. I also wanted desperately to go to the toilet, despite having gone shortly before we sat down. Finding myself unable to sit still I went to our room to wake up Harry, then decided to fill in the few hours remaining before the session by going for a walk in an attempt to loosen up and dissipate the feeling in the pit of my stomach I knew to be nothing less than total fear. It was ridiculous, after all, that anyone should be terrified by the prospect of speaking to an audience of a couple of hundred people, but ridiculous or not the fear was very real. When it finally came to the crunch and I actually found myself sitting up on the platform and facing all those people the fear subsided considerably, the anticipation having been far worse than the event itself.
The session went,off reasonably well with Holdstock, Charnock, and I doing most of the speaking, and I noted with some satisfaction that while the Eurocon people were trying to imply that anyone who opposed their bid had to be xenophobic we were the bid who had foreign nationals on our panel in the form of Linda Pickersgill and Avedon Carol, the latter having been drafted in as 1984CON's American representative after some last minute persuasion. Maybe they weren't European but they did at least speak English (well, sort of).
Standing outside the hall after the ALBACON bidding session, toying with a pint of bitter and watching anxiously as convention members registered their vote by exiting through the appropriate door, it seemed impossible that I had started on the long and often-frustrating road that had brought me to this time and place simply by calling round to the Duckett Road residence of Malcolm Edwards and Chris Atkinson for a drink with them and a few others.
It had started with a conversation about the then-recent abortive bid to secure the 1985 Worldcon for Britain and the sour taste left by the unnecessarily snide comment this bid received in some sections of the Australian fan press. From there it was but a short step to the John Brunner inspired combined Eurocon/EaStercon bid, an idea we all had misgivings about. The holding of a Eurocon in the UK was something we all supported and long overdue but we weren't too happy about it being combined with the Eastercon, particularly as it appeared we were being railroaded into it by John Brunner (see DRUNKARD'S TALK 4 under 'moral blackmail'). The possible consequences of such an unholy marriage could have a profound and far-reaching effect on future Eastercons and so it seemed wholly wrong to us that Brunner's bid should proceed unopposed. It was both necessary to explain what could happen if this union came to pass and, we realised, to provide a viable alternative. And so the 1984CON bid came into being.
Was it my imagination or was the flow of people emerging via the 1984CON exit faltering? I exchanged nervous glances with fellow concom member Rob Holdstock and bit my lip. It had all seemed no much easier during those carefree days before ALBACON, an endless round of committee meetings and conversations and, once, a visit to Blackpool to assess the hotel where we intended to hold 1984CON. After that visit we knew we had found the perfect Eastercon hotel but, as we learned shortly afterwards, this was not an assumption that was going to pass unchallenged.
When a SEACON '84 (as the Brunner bid had, somewhat contentiously, come to be known) internal memo asking for knocking copy'on our bid was leaked things looked to be getting interesting. Aha, I thought gleefully. So this was going to be an eye-gouging, rabbit-punching, knee-to-the-groin type of contest was it? So be it.
I thought seriously about this for maybe a full minute before deciding against it. Nah, too unsubtle. If this sort of thing was going to be done at all it needed to be done with a degree of finesse and at least some pretence of concealing it behind a veneer of genteel politeness - we are British, after all. Maybe Malcolm could do the job best, because behind the owlish innocence of that aging countenance lurks a debauched and depraved mind well versed in the ways of sly scheming and possessed of Machiavellian cunning. On further reflection, though, I realised that this whole routine would be just like farting in the bath - it makes a lot of noise and stirs things up but all you are ultimately left with is a bad smell. Malcolm quite rightly took SEACON '84 to task in DT 4 over certain things they had said and done, but no 'Dirty Tricks Dept.' ever materialised on our side. If, however, the disquieting rumours that have been circulating in recent weeks are true then we were far more innocent and naive in this regard than we should have been. If ever I'm able to substantiate even 50% of these rumours you will be reading the full expose in these pages shortly afterwards. Count on it.
People were still leaving the hall via the SEACON'84 exit, but the flow through the 1984CON exit had ceased. We had lost. I felt....odd. The 60/40 voting split (232 to 139) was decisive, and for that I was profoundly grateful. A narrow defeat would have left an with the awful feeling that maybe the true will of the convention had not won out, and terrible guilt at the thought that with just a little more effort, we could have tipped the balance. A nice fantasy, but this was real life and in real life sometimes the good guys lose.
Thinking further on my reaction to the result I realised that though disappointed we had lost I was relieved we didn't now have to do all the work necessary in running a convention. I was also relieved that 1984CON had provided a viable alternative to the Eurocon/Eastercon combo, because if it does have the detrimental effect we fear it will no-one can now claim they had no opportunity to alter the course of events. In that sense at least, we had achieved what we set out to. My final thought as everyone slowly dispersed was far from profound:
"The Brighton Metropole again? Jesus Christ!"
Our bid lost for much the reasons I'd thought it might, namely that while we appeared to have the majority of fanzine fans on our side we failed to win over enough of those who made up the bulk of con-attendees. In many ways this also pointed up the divided nature of ALBACON itself with most of those who hung around up in the fan room - predominantly fanzine fans forming almost a convention-within-a-convention and reporting that they'd had a great time, while rumblings of discontent reached us from those down below who felt the convention organisation was falling apart. Such splits are hardly a healthy sign but from here on in they are, I'm afraid, inevitable.
After the session I hung around long enough to hear Kev Williams give his presentation - a proposal to hold an Eastercon as they used'to be, one stripped of media programming and peripherals, that concentrated solely on written SF and fanzines, an idea of which more was to be heard in the weeks that followed - before going off by myself.
Still on an adrenal high and needing to go somewhere or do something to work it off I first wandered around Glasgow city centre - the only place I know of where police telephone boxes like that the TARDIS in DOCTOR WHO is fashioned after still exist - and later hit the spot with a few stiff drinks. It took hours before I finally came down, probably not until early evening, but when I did I knew the bid was finally over with and I could really begin to enjoy the convention.
The fanzine review panel with Linda, Avedon, Judith, Phil Palmer, and Roeloff Goudriaan went off rather well, certainly better than the incomprehensible fanzine quiz, hosted by John Harvey, I'd been on the day before. After the banquet was the Brum Group party, which was pretty good. Later, Avedon and I retired to her room for the night.
Monday 4th April
Got up, kissed Avedon goodbye, and crept back to my room to pack. When I entered I discovered my bed was not empty but occupied by Simon Polley, who Mr Bell had kindly decided could use it. I was vaguely annoyed at this since I could have had an argument, been thrown out by Avedon, and had to return to my own bed. What would have happened then?
I was at Linda's hotel by 8.30am and waited in the lobby for her to finish packing, listening with interest to the staff sharing horror stories about the goings on at the Central. Among these was one about the 'Rogue Trooper' who got blue body paint over everything in his room, and the assholes leaping up and down in a lift.
Our coach pulled away at 9.00am and we slept, or rather dozed, most of the way back. The only 'highlight' of the trip was having lunch in a motorway service station (Charnock David, I believe).
We got into London around 5.20pm and after getting back to East Ham I spent most of the evening in a semi-comatose state, collating copies of ETA very slowly. Around 9.30pm Avedon phoned to tell me her train would get in to Euston at 4.00pm tomorrow.
Tuesday 5th April
Most of the day was spent in getting my flat into something resembling a state of respectability prior to Avedon's arrival, a formidable task.
After laying in some money and checking out the uptown comics stores FORBIDDEN PLANET and COMICS SHOWCASE, I made my way to Euston in plenty of time to meet Avedon's 4.00pm train from Manchester, where she'd spent the previous night as a guest of Kev Smith. After waiting for a while at Gate 2, I moved to Gate 5 with everyone else when the change was announced and met Avedon as she came through. She hadn't had a proper meal that so day so back in East Ham we dumped her bags and ate out at an Indian restaurant.
Back the flat we were interrupted *four* times by phone calls. Firstly by a woman trying to sell me double-glazing, then by Judith Hanna inviting us around for a meal the next day, Abi Frost arranging to come and duplicate her fanzine next week, and Linda Pickergill arranging a lunchtime meet between Avedon and Greg. When Avedon phoned Malcolm later and he set up a meeting with himself and John Brosnan I knew tomorrow was going to be hectic.
Wednesday 6th April
Having to return to work was a real drag. After making a pot of tea for Avedon, and a lingering au revoir, I made my way to the station reluctantly.
Went through my paces in fairly mechanical fashion, my only important action being to arrange to take my remaining half-day of leave tomorrow morning so as to see Avedon off from Heathrow. At lunchtime I met her and Greg at Blackfriars Underground station and took them to the Ludgate Cellars for a drink, after which I had to return to work.
We were due at Joe and Judith's flat in Pimlico at 6.30pm, Avedon going there directly from visiting Chris Atkinson in hospital, and me after going home after work first and changing. It had been pissing down all afternoon and the skies opened even further when I emerged from Victoria station laden down with Avedon's cases and my own bag, while also trying to wield an umbrella at the same time.
At their building I pressed the buzzer and after what seemed like an eternity Joe answered and let me in. I then climbed an Everest of stairs to the flat, where Joe, Judith, Avedon, and Pascal Thomas awaited. The meal was a vegetable stew of Joseph's devising, and an apple pie of Pascal's topped with ice cream.
Around 9.00pm we all saw Pascal off at Victoria and Avedon and I travelled over to the Salisbury in North London. We encountered Malcolm at a bus stop near the pub, making an unscheduled trip to see Chris in hospital after her mother having upset her, and met John Brosnan inside the pub. After a short while all three of us went back to Malcolm's, where we were spending the night, and he himself eventually joined us.
Thursday 7th April - First Thursday of the month
Got up at 8.00am (though awake before that) and left at 9 with Malcolm and Avedon, but not before Rob Holdstock phoned to say goodbye to our TAFF delegate. We took the Piccadilly Line into town, where we deposited Malcolm in Leicester Square to make his way to the Gollancz offices while we travelled on to Heathrow.
Avedon's flight was British Airways BA 277 to Boston and Washington, at 11.30am from Terminal 3. We got there at 10.30am, so there wasn't time for much after baggage check beyond a bacon and egg bap and a quick farewell. For those of us involved in such matters the ALBACON had expended to encompass Avedon's TAFF trip, and had in doing so been defined by that trip. As I watched her vanish into the departure lounge I realised it was, at last, over. I was beat. It had been a good convention but now it was time to return to 'the real world'. Well, almost....
Making good time on the tube back I decided to pick up copies of ETA and DRUNKARD'S TALK #7 from home before going into work in the afternoon rather than going there directly.
At 5.30pm I met Greg straight from work and we went for a meal, where he told me how impressed he was by Avedon. We were joined later by Linda and Rog Peyton.
The One Tun was more crowded than I'd ever seen it, so midway through the evening a splinter group formed and established themselves in the nearby King of Diamonds. The group eventually included Greg & Linda, Bill & Mary Burns, Rob Holdstock, Dai Price, the Langfords, Chris Evans, Faith Brooker, and myself, not to mention John Jarrold and Abi Frost.