EIGHTIES LETTERS AND FAN DIARY
30: EARLY FEBRUARY 1986Thursday 6th February
(I really *must* make entries in this diary more often; I'm missing stuff!)
Lessee... Jerry Kaufman and Suzle arrived from the States last Friday and we got to see them with Greg & Linda Pickersgill, Phil Palmer, Pam Wells and others (quite a few others as we couldn't all get comfortably around a table). We got to see them again last night, here at Greenleaf Rd. In the interim I'd run off CHUCH, so they were able to help collate and take copies back to the Pickersgills with them when they left. I didn't actually see too much of them myself, unfortunately, as while they were doing this and chatting with Avedon I was busily bashing out stencils. I was determined to get CRANK #5 out before Ted White flew in... and I did!
When I got in from work tonight, Ted was there. After a brief chat he, Avedon, and I travelled over to Farringdon where he treated us to a meal in The Raj prior to us all going on to the One Tun. In The Raj we met Dave Langford. He had just finished his own meal, but he sat and chatted with us as we ate ours. Afterwards he was accosted in the street outside by Chris Priest, who'd been in a collision with a Rolls-Royce, and that was the last we saw of him that evening.
Inside the One Tun were fewer fans than we'd hoped for, but eventually more people did turn up. These included Malcolm Edwards with Bill Gibson in tow (nice guy!), and Dave Bridges with a startlingly slim Linda Blanchard. The hassles Dave was having with the US Embassy concerning his proposed emigration had necessitated her coming over to help sort things out. They seemed pretty happy together, anyway - not always a sure thing with a postal romance.
Back home, Ted and Avedon talked late into the night, but I crashed out early. Sadly, I had work tomorrow morning.
Friday 7th February
Following a predictably hectic morning as a cog in the mighty machine that is the J. Sainsbury supermarket empire, I met up with Jerry, Suzle, Ted, and Avedon at Euston and we took off for Brum and MEXICON 2 on the 1.40pm train.
When we arrived in Birmingham we split, with Jerry & Suzle heading to a cheap greasy spoon to eat while Ted treated Avedon & me to a meal at a Berni Inn, the first time I think I'd ever eaten in one. He and I had steak au poivre while Avedon made do with a salad, and we were all much impressed by the quality of the food.
The Royal Angus wasn't as I remembered it from NOVACON days, mainly because the fittings had been upgraded significantly. They were even better than the good ones they used to put back out when it was time for us to leave the hotel. (Since we were never the rowdiest of groups I never understood why they felt the need to do this.)
A fun evening ensued, from what I can recall of it, with me introducing Ted to all manner of people he had never met before, drinking, and generally having a good time, or at least as much of a one as the exhaustion caused by the private and professional workloads of the previous few weeks would allow. It was because of this that I crashed at (I think) 12.30am - some hours before Avedon, though this would reverse itself before the con was over.
Saturday 8th February
Alan Moore turned up a half hour before his noon interview, to my great relief. I was the one interviewing him, and I'd been getting a little nervous. I shared a few drinks at the bar with him and Avedon beforehand, then it was on to the interview - whose intro I totally flubbed due to nerves. Still, Alan was as interesting and entertaining as ever and the interview - to judge by the applause it garnered - ended pretty successfully.
Since Avedon was on it, I briefly popped into the 'Women in Fandom' panel in the afternoon. Andy Robertson was there with his usual paternal bullshit, but it was clear most of the audience was against him.
The disco in the main hall that evening was dreadful. The DJ the convention had arranged insisted on playing nothing but ska and reggae that no-one either could or wanted to dance to. He also projected the film 'Scream and Scream Again' directly into the faces of the audience as a lightshow, which succeeded only in blinding everyone. You'd think a DJ would tailor his set to his audience, but apparently not. Wanker. An alternative 'People's Disco' was hastily convened in the Fan Room and most of us decamped there. This was a great success with Jerry Kaufman in particular showing us what a nifty little mover he was.
Tired but happy, Avedon and I crashed out together around 3am.
Sunday 9th February
We managed to make it down to breakfast yesterday, but there wasn't a hope in hell of that today. Avedon was on a panel with Ted at 11am, and extremely grumpy at having to get up so early. I stayed in bed another half hour after she left our room - a *very* necessary lie-in.
Avedon and Ted were also scheduled to appear on stage together at 2pm, with her interviewing him, but this got pushed back a half-hour (and so was halved) due to an overrun on the auction Greg Pickersgill and Rog Peyton were running. The interview went OK, but was rambling. Avedon really needs to tighten up her stage act.
After we watched the 6.30pm panel 'What Is Fanwriting?' where he was much impressed by Jimmy Robertson's performance, Ted tried to buy Avedon and me yet another meal, but I insisted on us paying for our own this time.
The closing ceremony was fun, with Greg holding court in entertaining fashion. The only complaints on how the con had been run came from the Towellies* who were upset, not unreasonably, that we'd automatically assumed it was one of their number who'd taken the hotel lobby phone that later turned up in one of the lifts, and from Ken Slater, who was unhappy over the dealers being put in separate rooms near said lifts.
* ('Towellies' was what we called Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fans back in the day. Fun Fact: Mark Plummer and Claire Brialey started out as Towellies.)
Partying in the fan room continued late into the night and the free punch went down wonderfully, though my dunking an empty beer bottle in the bowl (in the absence of cups) perhaps did not. This time it was Avedon's turn to crash out first, with me following her two hours later at 4am.
Monday 10th February
Sitting around for a few hours before departing from a con is always sorta sad, particularly when it's at the breaking up of a convention as enjoyable as MEXICON II had been. Bridges and Blanchard had both been ill during the con and - apart from a brief appearance by Linda on Saturday - we hadn't seen them since the first night, but both were up and about now, cheerful and looking reasonably well as we held our wake.
Ted, Avedon, and I travelled back to London on the train with Joseph Nicholas and Judith Hanna. At one point, Ted commented on a letter of Joe's printed in that day's Guardian newspaper.
"You'll note it's only two sentences," joked Joe
That evening John and Eve Harvey came over to our flat to deliver stuff they'd carried back from Brum for me in their car, but prior to this was the Great Crank Editorial Conference in which Ted and I hammered out the disagreements we'd unexpectedly encountered in editing CRANK.
Wednesday 12th February
(The following account of our visit to the US combines diary entries with the report I later wrote in a long letter to Chuck Harris.)
Ted left yesterday while I was at work and Avedon still in bed, today was our day to cross the Atlantic, and tomorrow it would be Jerry & Suzle's turn.
We made Gatwick with plenty of time to spare, validated our return rail tickets, and rode the shuttle out to the satellite, where we sat around for a coupla hours. First time I'd been back to it since my TAFF trip. Our flight itself was uneventful but as usual the sights passing beneath us, from snow-covered England to the night lights of New York, really did things for my sense of wonder. I hope I never get too jaded to appreciate flying.
Then there was Newark Airport....
The customs man stared at the cover of THE TRANSATLANTIC HEARING-AID and frowned. Oh no, I thought, this is it. We were passing through Newark Airport, jewel of scenic New Jersey, on our way into the Land of the Brave and the Home of the Squaw and - as was developing into an unwelcome tradition whenever I visited the States - I was the one out of the hordes teeming into America who they decided was worthy of a closer look. I don't understand this. Do I perhaps fit their profile of the typical drug dealer, I wonder? Whatever the reason I'd been singled out again and I was none too happy with the way the customs guy was puzzling over Jim Barker's illustration.
"Is this supposed to show that while the guy behind the desk is going through these folks' stuff he's too dumb to see the other guy sneaking stuff by him?" he asked.
I smiled a sickly smile and suddenly wished I hadn't agreed to carry over all those copies of Dave's trip report.
"What's all the stuff in the cases, anyhow?"
Avedon explained about the hearing-aid batteries and wool and the customs man, clearly deciding this was too improbable to be untrue, stopped her from proceeding further with her dissertation, closed the cases, and waved us through.
Outside Patrick and Teresa awaited. Teresa leapt up and down, waving her arms when we emerged from customs while Patrick hung back, looking cool. We talked animatedly while waiting for the bus to take us to the Port Authority terminal, hopping from foot to foot all the time as we tried to keep warm in the sub-zero temperatures. We talked animatedly on the bus into Manhattan, talked animatedly as we rode the A-train to Washington Heights, and talked animatedly at P&T's Fairview Avenue apartment, deep into the night. It was one of those occasions. It was also the first - we realised at one point - that P&T had seen Avedon and I together. All in all an enjoyable first night in the Big Apple, though not without at least one surprise. This came when I opened my bags and found that all my clothes were soaking wet. Maybe that guy at customs hadn't appreciated the joke after all.
Thursday 13th February
On the flight over Avedon's teeth had started to play up and by the next day she was in a fair bit of pain. A visit to the medico-dental center on the next block to P&T's got her a prescription for some tetracyclin to ease the pain but it was clear that she was going to need to see her dentist as soon as we got into Washington DC. Not an auspicious start to our visit. Nevertheless we spent a pretty enjoyable day pottering about in downtown Manhattan, taking tea in Greenwich Village and checking out the books and comics in FORBIDDEN PLANET (a much larger shop than its London counterpart) before returning to the apartment and waiting for our hosts to get in from work.
The evening went much as the previous one had, though this time with the addition of Stu Shiffman, and at its end we again made up a bed on the floor of their tiny main room and fell asleep. We were both still having some problems with jet-lag but not so much that Avedon should have woken at 5am feeling as ill as she did. I did what I could to comfort her but it wasn't enough and so she woke Teresa. Shortly after she threw up. What she'd forgotten was that when you're on tetracyclin you shouldn't eat cheese as some sort of adverse reaction occurs and while out we'd eaten - and how could we have resisted it after the pale facsimiles sold over here - pizza. Avedon had so been looking forward to visiting home and so far things weren't exactly going her way. I couldn't help feeling sorry for her.
Oh well, tomorrow: CORFLU!
Friday 14th February
Friday was the day for taking the train to DC, but first Patrick, Teresa, Avedon and I had to get to Penn Station. This, I soon discovered, involved hailing an unlicensed cab, driving across a large chunk of Manhattan - there was a certain frisson in cruising through Harlem - and stopping at the kerb in an expensive parkside area while Teresa ran into her doctor's office to drop off a heart-monitoring device. It also involved Teresa attempting to converse with the driver in halting Spanish and him leaping out of the cab at one point to use a pay-phone. It's a different world over there, I tell ya.
Waiting around at Penn was as boring as waiting around at any station, though the bagels and (again) pizza helped , and the train journey itself uneventful. At New Carrollton, the station outside DC proper where we got off, Gary (Avedon's father) was waiting for us. As thin, grey-haired, and wild-eyed as ever he grinned his huge grin at us and hugged Avedon before bundling us into his car and driving us straight to the dentist. On the journey father and daughter exchanged family gossip while in the back the Nielsen Haydens and I listened with some concern to the reports coming in over the car radio that talked of a possible twelve inches of snow falling before midnight.
Apart from the huge sums they charge American dentists have much in common with ours, not least of which is the amount of waiting around they make you do. About two hours into our marathon waiting-around session, having long since given up on those boring magazines whose natural habitat is dentists' waiting rooms, we saw the first flakes began to fall. By the time we left we were driving in what was damn near a full-scale blizzard. There were quite a few hairy moments on the road before we reached the safety of Avedon's folks' Kensington MD home, but when we did get there the question was whether or not we should leave again. Patrick was all in favour of braving the elements so as not to miss the first night of CORFLU while Avedon was adamantly opposed to this on safety grounds. A rather heated argument developed, the eventual outcome being that P&T would drive over to McLean in Avedon's car and come back for Avedon and me the next morning - and that's what happened.
Saturday 15th February
Before they got there, though, I was up and about and - shovelling snow. Jet-lag was responsible for my early rising but the snow shovelling was something I couldn't resist. Oh sure, as a guest it was a nice gesture and all that, but I was entranced by the way the snow looked in the brilliant morning sunlight and couldn't wait to get out there. Over here snow is heavy and wet but over there it was light and fluffy and strangely dry. Everything looked sugar-coated in a way we seldom experience on this side of the pond and it's one of the things I regret most that I failed to photograph the scene while it was still in that condition.
As they drove us to McLean, Patrick and Teresa were full of how great the previous night had been, the one downside was that they'd had $20 stolen from them and they were pretty sure they knew who the culprit was. This isn't the sort of thing you expect to happen at a CORFLU, but Ted had reimbursed them.
"CORFLU can more easily afford the loss than you can," he told them.
On entering the hotel I was immediately confronted by a mixture of people I knew and people I didn't - mostly the latter. Ordinarily name badges help with this state of affairs but for some incomprehensible reason the badges we'd all been issued with read 'Hello, My Name is Richard Bergeron', rendering them useless. This was even worse than those con badges where the logo takes up most of the available space. Name badges serve an actual important purpose, people. Please don't fuck with them. The Bergeron thing might be amusing for a second or two but this was the badge you had to wear the whole con. Like many others, I immediately turned mine over and wrote my name on the rear.
Traditionally the GoH at CORFLU is chosen from the membership and on this occasion the name drawn out of the hat was....Teresa Nielsen Hayden! Apart from giving a speech after the banquet tomorrow, she was required to pose for the cover of 'The Living Fanzine' by sticking her head through a hole in the large drawing done for this purpose by Dan Steffan. On the front of this was drawn a picture of Wally 'The Snake' Mind, and as soon as Teresa stuck her head through Dan caught her with a cream pie. Unfortunately this pie consisted not of shaving foam as such pies are supposed to but *real* cream. The top she was wearing was ruined, much to her dismay.
The Living Fanzine. as its name implies, was a piece of "performance art" (for want of a better term) with each item being staged before the audience. Ted roped me into this to do a 'think-piece'. After Ted's own editorial and bits by Gary Hubbard and by Patrick and Teresa, it was my turn and I had to do a 'Notions' column. This was cobbled together from a couple of the same from old issues of EPSILON and asked the question: "Where are all the new fans going to come from?" While I'm OK on stage being interviewed or as part of a panel, flying solo is not a skill I possess. I started shakily at first. However, after commenting that the extremely short preparation time had imposed a certain structure on my talk - short chunks of speech interspersed with periods of total panic - I grew more confident as I went on. I worried about how I was going to finish the thing, but I needn't have. Every time I started to flag Patrick and Teresa came to my rescue by leaping in with questions from the floor. Overall it went better than I'd feared and people seemed to like it.
As at most American conventions CORFLU had a con-suite. a room where people partied in the evening and where free booze flowed, or rather it had two - one a smoking room and one non-smoking. Avedon has often said that this arrangement usually ends up with everyone in the smoking room and the non-smoking room empty as the most interesting people at cons are usually smokers, but that was not my experience at CORFLU. I spent most of my time in the non-smoking room that first night and it had more people in it than the smoking room (regardless of the fact that that was the room with the booze in it) and during the course of the evening quite a few smokers drifted in, all of them observing the non-smoking status of the room except for Patrick, who blithely ignored it. Actually, the only other time I've been able to test this theory of Avedon's it also proved false. At a recent party at John and Eve Harvey's a few of us retired to the non-smoking front room to play Trivial Pursuit and in no time at all the rest of the party had joined us, the smokers deciding to ignore the status of the room. Anyway, I digress...
While Moshe Feder had been at the con since it started, Lise Eisenberg had been at BOSKONE, as had Dave Bischoff. Both flew in from Boston and joined us that evening. I'd attended cons on consecutive weekends before - as, indeed, I was doing now - but never two in one weekend. Such decadence!.
Not caring for the beer on offer, I didn't drink but had a good time anyway. Jet-lag eventually got the better of us, and at 1.30am Avedon and I left for Kensington.
Sunday 16th February
On our way to the con hotel we first called in at the 'Hole In The Wall' bookstore to stock up on books and comics. Ted plays poker with the owner and others every week and had secured CORFLU members a 20% discount. Following this we stopped off at Avedon's favourite local eaterie 'Taco Larry's' (real name Taco Laredo), where I had a chilli dog and a burrito. These were as delicious as usual but, as it turned out, a bad idea since the con banquet started shortly after we finally arrived at the hotel. We'd both assumed this was in the early evening, which will teach us to actually look at the con programme next time. Fortunately, my waistline belies my capacity for food so I still was able to eat a fair amount, and very good it was too.
Terry Carr was Toastmaster, and made the usual sort of after-dinner remarks before introducing GoH Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Sadly, I recorded no details of her speech. Dan and Terry conducted a mock awards ceremony after this during which Avedon and I won the 'Award for Coming So Far For So Little'. Remarkably, the auction that followed raised $600 for TAFF and $400 for Gary Farber, who was ill and temporarily (we were naive back then) found himself in dire financial straits. What made this remarkable is that the total was in the region of ten bucks per person for everyone at CORFLU!
Before that evening's party, Patrick and Teresa, Lise, Moshe, and I all piled into Avedon's car and headed out to Taco Larry's - only to discover it was closed. Which is why I ended up feasting on McDonald's with Patrick while the others made do with a Chinese takeaway.
Though the con was already thinning out due to the departure of those who had to be at work tomorrow, CORFLU still had enough people left for the dead dog party to go well. Trips to the US usually mean me going teetotal for the duration since the beer over there is so godawful undrinkable but on the final night, though not usually a spirits drinker, I succumbed to the attractions of a rather delicious Bloody Mary and got through rather more of them than was perhaps wise. Ted and Dan seemed particularly keen on plying me with this, the reason becoming clear when I fell into a stupor, only to be woken when Dan started to draw on my face.
"It's only fannish when it's Joseph Nicholas," I said, blearily.
As with all conventions much of it is now a blur and I have no memory at all of getting back to Kensington on that final night.
Monday 17th February
We had intended returning to the hotel this morning and taking Patrick & Teresa to the station, but Avedon had come down with a heavy bronchial cold and stayed in bed all day, so we didn't. Thus ended our CORFLU.