I was just cleaning my Shield of Umor.|
No, honestly, I was. It's been in Catherine's gardening shed for a while (now how fannish is THAT, eh)
because for one damn reason or another we've been short a bit of wall to put it up on. Anyway, to cut
a long story short I've found a bit of wall and now all I need is a couple of big hooks and we're away
to the races.
The Shield is in pretty good condition considering it hasn't been used for a while - a bit dusty, some
strange aluminium-type corrosion on the backside, but the legend and the cheerful face are A-Number-One.
Looking at it brings all sorts of times and places and people back to me - maybe I ought to be using it
as a meditation piece, an aide-memoire to put myself back into a time when fandom was if not a nicer
more interesting place then at least one I felt at home in. As opposed to the one with too many boring
shitheads in it that I seem to see whenever I open the gate. Sorry, should have been more moderate there,
must go and gaze into the Shield again, and see the funny side of it all.
I'd love to say that my Shield of Umor appeared by my bedside one night years ago when I was but a tiny
fan reading a few pages of ALL OUR YESTERDAYS with the commitment
of a convert every night before I forced myself to sleep at three in the morning, homework undone (yes,
that's why I'm a poorly paid clerical at best, instead of running the country) but many scifi magazines
read. I'd love to, indeed, and I wonder sometimes if it did. But the real story - as I remember it
anyway - is more prosaic, but still charged with a kind of fannish fervour.
The Shield I have - I would say 'own' but that's not strictly true - originated with that person from
Porlock, Peter R Weston. I can't for the life of me remember why Peter had one of his skilful minions
in the door-handle factory run him up a Shield of Umor - it was almost certainly his entrance into a
fancy-dress competition as Jophan (well, that's obvious isn't it!) but I definately don't recall when.
I was probably in the bar at the time anyway. But it must have been before June 1983 as the cover of
one of the two issues of Peter's rather good little fanzine PROLAPSE issued that year featured a
cartoon of him plus shield
Anyway, time passes and we arrive at the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton.
For no doubt positive reasons Peter donates his Shield to the fanfund auction, which takes place in
the Fan Program Room towards the end of the convention. I was Bossing the whole fanroom setup during
that convention and like many of the staff I'd got a bit overwrought about it all - it was a peculiarly
stressful convention in many ways, and far too many people got far too carried away with it all,
sometimes in quite the wrong directions; we won't even go into the paper planes, for example. Or the
unknown young twerp I had in a strangling deathgrip at one time. Let's just say that we had our little
war, then and there, and fanrooms have never been quite so Involving ever since. Some of them have been
fucking useless, it has to be said.
Anyway, there we were, wired up tight like that and the Shield of Umor comes up for auction, Immediately
this great light goes on behind my eyes and I'm thinking of this as just the most Fannish Damned Thing
ever to have existed on the planet - in my state I'm probably convincing myself that it actually is the
Shield of Umor itself. It is a wonderful thing, it seems to glow with a deep internal brightness and the
murky surroundings and dulled and exhausted faces of fans who have had Too Much Fun seem illuminated by
its very presence. To cap it all, the first bidder is bloody Moshe Feder. Bloody hell, the man's an
American, for gods sake. OK, he's a fan, and he's a right guy as far as I can tell (hangs about with
publishers a bit much for my taste tho...but you have to make a living) but crikey that means that the
Shield of Umor will LEAVE THE FUCKING COUNTRY!
Of course this can't happen. I instantly resolve that whatever happens the Shield will be British. We
need it for gods sake, we take fandom so seriously here. (Oh how I wish I'd actually thought that at
the time - as it was I was just roaring away on a huge wave of fannish nationalism, this was Our
Worldcon, we'd just run a pretty damn fine Fanroom, we deserved a Symbol, a rallying point, something
that linked us directly to the heart and soul of the ENCHANTED DUPLICATOR!) So whatever Moshe bids, I
top, thinking the hell with it, I will win and worry about the consequences later.
We rapidly charge up the scale - fifty pounds passes and the damn thing is now more valuable that a
double room in the convention hotel - sixty, the price of two nights drinking in the hotel bar - seventy,
two nights drinking and a hotel meal - eighty, drink, meal, and enough cash to waste on books....
Moshe wavers, he obviously hates to let it go, but I also sense he thinks I haven't got infinite reserves
(well, I haven't, but at this point I don't give a damn) so he pushes it up to 82 pounds (drink, meal,
books, and the price of medication for liver failure...) in the vain hope I'll crumble. But no. My 85
pounds is too much for him, and with obvious disappointment he let's it go. (Of course he claimed later
he only kept bidding to keep the price up and make sure some substantial money went to TAFF or whatever
it was...yeah, sure thing...).
The Shield of Umor is mine, it's part of British Fandom now and forever, it is a wonderful moment. I'm
genuinely elated and I carry the thing to my hotel room with real pride and tears in my eyes, and no
doubt nonfan convention attendees passing me in the corridors and halls perceive me as a crazy man.
Later while in the bar I discuss the idea of the Shield being owned cooperatively by British Fandom -
part of me already wondering where the hell I'm going to get 85 pounds from, but overall I genuinely
want it to be an Us rather than My thing. There's a chorus of agreement to my suggestion that a group
of us contribute towards the actual cost of the Shield; I certainly don't expect any cash at the end
of a pretty damned expensive convention but feel, in my position as Fanroom Boss that all of these
people, all of whom had been in my team, all of us flushed with Unit Pride and a job well-done in the
fact of almost overwhelming hostility, that everything will be alright. The responsibility won't be
mine alone, we will share the burden, work together.
Of course it doesn't turn out like that in real life. Within days it's all forgotten. The fans who were
so behind the idea at the time appear to have no memory of it - except, oddly, one AM Berry (Master
Locksmith). Tony Berry comes through with a small sum of money - ten pounds or so (or was it 12-50?)
and from thenceforward owns a proportion of the Shield of Umor. It's almost unbelievable how inappropriate
this is; not that Tony is an especially humourless individual, but he's more known for his dour cynicism
than anything else.
But he has done the decent thing, and eventually even more; some months later he presents me with the
Sword of Angst, a peculiarly British-fandom complement to the Shield of Umor. Made with his own hands
from a sturdy wooden pick handle, it's name neatly painted on and well-varnished, I have it still,
and for years it rested along the top of the Shield when we had a wall to put it on.
So here we are today. I didn't consciously extract the Shield with any fannish motive - I was just
cleaning out Catherine's gardening shed - but I do feel I need it more now than ever. I must try to
see the joke; I don't have any problem with picking up and pointing out the fundamental foolishness
of life in every other circumstance, but setbacks and disappointments and collision with unsavoury
fools and unpleasant shitheads in fandom bring me down very low.
It isn't that I need to convince myself that It Doesn't Matter - I don't want to do that because it
does matter and if it didn't, bloody hell, I might as well just take up gardening or collecting
typewriters or steel helmets or some pointless shit like that - but I have got to be more reasonable
and balanced about it all, not want to discard the whole business because of disappointment with
things or people.
I must be more reasonable - I will see the Joke - I will look into the Smiling Face and remind myself
of what I liked about fandom, and try to find some evidence for it around me.
Maybe everything will be alright in the end
- Greg Pickersgill, 2001.
Greg, I'm not going to miss this chance for a little late egoboo on The Shield of Umor - I'm delighted
you valued it so much and still appreciate it now.
It wasn't made by "one of the minions" because I didn't take over the door handle factory until the
following year. No, the Shield was made by me, myself, personally, in one frantic Saturday afternoon
of creativity in my shed, just before the 1983 Glasgow Albacon. I'd missed Eastercon for a year or
two, and you'll remember this was when I was trying to get the Brum Group "Renaissance" underway, so
for both of these reasons I thought I'd make a special effort to be fannish, and would go as Jophan to
the Fancy Dress.
The Shield started as a piece of aluminium sheet, originally part of a display board we used at an
exhibition in France in l968 when I was with the BSA company. When I left I took various bits of wood
and stuff like this away with me, on the general basis that it might come in useful. So when inspiration
struck in 1983 I just had to get off the letraset, using an abrasive pad, then I cut the sheet into a
rough triangle and drew the face in felt-tip pen. (modelled on the Eddie Jones illo in the second edition
of TED, produced by Ted Johnstone and LASFS in 1962. This is my preferred edition and I have it now).
Next step was to put the thing onto a thick bed of latex foam, and then I started tapping away with a
small hammer and punch. If you're careful, you can gradually distort a sheet of aluminium in this way,
but it takes a long time since each 'tap' makes only a tiny dent, and you don't want to tear the sheet.
(It's called 'panel-beating' and that's how Morgan Motors made body panels for their cars until recently,
at their factory in Pickersgill Road, Malvern [thought you'd like to know that!])
Finally I sprayed the face with some aluminium car-paint to brighten it up a little, outlined the features
in black gloss paint, and bent the top around and secured across the arc with a piece of broomstick, which
holds the shape and gives you something to grip. I think I put a piece of polished brass strip across the
top as well; that was also scrounged, and was originally due to be used as a rain-deflector on my back door.
Anyway, I went up to Glasgow on the train with Steve Green, Martin Tudor and (I think) Tony Berry, but my
problem was that the Shield was too big to put on the luggage rack, or behind the seat, so I had to sit
and hold it, all the way up (5 hours). And when I finally went into the Fancy Dress line-up, I felt a bit
of a prat because no-one, not a soul, knew what it was supposed to be. There I stood with fanzines stuffed
in my socks and a knapsack on my back, along with all these people with swords and cloaks. "Not much of a
costume, is it?" they said, and "Maybe if he had a dragon on his shoulder..." (You can read all about it
The best bit was when I shambled around the area and got a round of applause from Mal Ashworth, who had
chosen that year to re-enter fandom. He was almost the only one to recognise the Shield for what it was.
(You certainly were in the bar - I mean, you NEVER go to Fancy Dress). So it was all a bit of a waste
of time, really, but I enjoyed making the Shield and I'm very pleased it went to a good owner.
Now make sure you keep it well polished, Gregory. You know what will happen if you don't!
- Peter Weston, 2001
An Additional Note of Clarification:
Just before I added this exchange, I received the following from Owen Whiteoak on the pre-exchange version:
"At the 1987 Worldcon, Greg organised a whip-round to make sure the Shield stayed within British fandom - I
ontributed to it, as did many others."
To which Greg responded:
"It wasn't so much a whip-round as me thinking I was running out of money and making a general request to
whatever UK fans were sitting closest if they'd come in on it. Honestly, the only one I remembered afterwards
who made a significant donation was Tony Berry. On the other hand if anyone claims they did then they may well