All photos by Geri Sullivan.

In keeping with the eco-friendly principles we all strive to live by, this convention report contains at least 30% recycled material by weight, said material being my programme notes....

Welcome to PRECURSOR, the convention for those who can't afford INTERSECTION and those rich sods who can afford both. This all-expenses spared leaflet is the programme and should be read immediately as it includes all manner of information vital to your enjoyment of the convention, spiritual health, and regular bowel movements. Should you have any queries the committee will be glad to help you with them. We are, of course, Rob Hansen, John & Eve Harvey, and Martin Smith, though just for a laugh we'll be wearing badges identifying us as Joseph Nicholas, Dan & Lynn Steffan, and Martin Smith. We'll be delighted to answer all your questions in detail and at length.
Friday 18th August 1995 did not begin well for me. The previous evening Martin had phoned to say he was ill and wouldn't be at our regular Thursday night pub meeting. He thought he had flu and said he might not make PRECURSOR either. This would be an enormous tragedy for the con because he was bringing along the equipment for Sunday's softball game. While frantically trying to contact Jim Young to get him to bring his softball gear along, I decided to check the days e-mail...and discovered that Avedon had offered Tom Whitmore crash space here at Gross Manor when he flew in from California tomorrow. Arrgh! Leaving Avedon to send an urgent e-mail message to Tom while praying he hadn't set off for the airport yet, I drove over to Welling to pick up Vince Clarke, hoping against hope this wasn't all a taste of things to come. I needn't have worried. After driving Vince, Avedon, and our houseguest, Neil Rest, up to Stevenage and the Hertfordpark Hotel, venue for PRECURSOR, we settled in for what was to be a pretty good little convention. Chuch and Sue Harris were already at the hotel when we got there around 2.00pm, as was Peter Hentges, and we were soon joined by Andy Hooper, Carrie Root, Geri Sullivan, Dan and Lynn Steffan, Ted and Lynda White, Mike Abbott, Anne Wilson, Vicki Rosenzweig (who'd also been at last night's Fanhattonite meeting in London), Anne Wilson, Bridget Hardcastle, Jack Heneghan, my fellow concom members John and Eve Harvey and, most amazingly of all, Peter Roberts who was attending his first con in more than a decade.

"Peter's in advertising," I explained to John, "which means that someone like the head of the Chocolate Marketing Board will come up to him and say: 'Quick, we need a slogan that will make people buy more chocolate!' 'Eat Chocolate, It's Yummy!' replies Peter. 'Great' says the man from the Chocolate Marketing Board, 'here's two hundred thousand pounds'."

"Actually," laughed Peter, "I quit advertising years ago. I'm a taxonomic mycologist now."

"Good for you!" I enthused, trying to sound like someone with a clue as to what a taxonomic mycologist might be.

Standing: Peter Roberts, Dan Steffan. Sitting (clockwise from left): Pat McMurray, Mike Scott, Vicki
Rosenzweig, Neil Rest, John and Eve Harvey, Linda White, Andy Hooper, Vince Clarke, Chris Croughton.

Martin showed up mid-evening, when things were in full flow and a lot of great conversation and drinking was going on in the bar, looking and sounding half-dead. The Harveys and I ordered him to bed, and he went, but he was back in the bar an hour or two later; the call of the alcohol was far stronger than his need for rest.

The programme starts at 1.00pm on Saturday since any programming on Friday would only interfere with the serious business of getting acquainted with each other and with the bar. This is a social relaxacon, after all. There is no programming before 1pm on Saturday itself since this would only interfere with the serious business of recovering from the serious business of getting acquainted with each other and with the bar the night before. As for the running order:

FANZINE READINGS (Starts 1.00pm-ish)
Yes, this is actually what it sounds like but, having seen how well these work at US cons we've decided to try one at PRECURSOR. We're sure you'll enjoy it. No, really.

The last time I'd seen Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden was at the New York CORFLU in 1990, but having reestablished contact via the miracle of e-mail I'd talked them into being on this item. With 1.00pm fast approaching and P&T having yet to arrive at the hotel (they were flying in today) I began getting antsy. Martin had been going to read "Mexicon 4, Martin Smith 0" (which I'm told was reprinted in a fanthology published for the Vegas CORFLU) but wasn't up to it, so I'd replaced him with Andy Hooper, and the last thing I needed was to have to find other stand-ins. Patrick appeared with minutes to spare, sporting a goatee that gave him the appearance of an early-60s jazzman (daddio!), and quickly trawled through the zines I'd brought along, settling on a piece from D West's monumental FANZINES IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE, a seminal collection of fanwriting. There was no Teresa, however. She was in their room, engaged in a titanic life-and-death struggle with a hairbrush. Seriously. Though apparently of previous good character, it had cunningly been biding its time and had chosen this moment to viciously attack her, getting irretrievably entangled with her hair. She would ultimately be saved from a scalping only by the arrival of the sixth cavalry in the form of Avedon and Patrick who, as soon as the readings were over, dashed upstairs and wrested his wife from the clutches of the villainous grooming aid.
HAVE WE GOT FANDOM FOR YOU (Starts around 2.00pm)
Loosely (very loosely) based on the TV quiz show 'Have I Got News For You', this will pit teams of fans against each other in an allegedly topical contest. Angus Deayton, quizmaster of the TV show, is often referred to as 'Television's Mr.Sex' so we naturally chose as our quizmaster his fannish equivalent, Rob Hansen (Brian Burgess was unavailable). Correct answers will be awarded two points each while answers which are wrong but sufficiently witty or amusing may also be awarded a point at the discretion of the quizmaster, whose decision in these matters shall be final. Those contestants hoping to predispose the quizmaster toward favourable decisions on their behalf are advised to ply him with drinks in the bar beforehand. This won't in any way influence him, but they're advised to do it anyway. No actual prizes will be awarded, but the winners will have the satisfaction and almost spiritual sense of fulfulment that comes from knowing they've ground their opponents into the dust.

Dan Steffan, Joseph Nicholas, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Andy Hooper.

The two teams were the Cosmic Circle (Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Dan Steffan, and Joseph Nicholas) and the Muncie Mutants (Patrick, Andy Hooper, and Peter Roberts), the first round being a session of charades. For the benefit of the audience, the titles to be mimed were written on a large pad that was carried among them by my lovely assistant, Martin Smith. Patrick was the 'designated hitter' for the Mutants and, though it caused an eruption of laughter from the audience, for some reason he paled visibly on learning he had to mime 'Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan'. Alas, Patrick pointedly ignored calls from the audience to perform the obvious motion, his dithering causing Andy Hooper to say, very calmly:

"Patrick, if you don't start giving us something to work with I am going to hurt you."

Still, Andy got the answer eventually, Patrick managing to get the word 'fuck' across and there being only two well-known SF stories with that word in their titles. We put a lot of work into the visual aids for this quiz, John doing the actual photographic work, and I was particularly pleased with the way the 'Odd One Out' round worked. Briefly, pictures of the four people you had to choose from were projected, one at a time, until all four were up on the screen. The foursomes were chosen (with the weirdest/silliest pictures of each person that we could find) so that they were amusing in themselves, and in the order in which we projected the pictures, as well as (we hoped) having amusing answers. And it worked!

Through the magic of HTML you can now try to figure out who is the odd one out - and why - for yourself. To find the answers use your cursor to highlight the apparently blank area below each.

a) Ted White; b) Bill Clinton; c) Dan Steffan; d) Newt Gingrich?
Clinton, of course, all the others inhaled.

a) Larry Niven; b) Ronald Reagan; c) Jerry Pournelle; d) Darth Vader?
Darth Vader, but not because he's the only liberal. Oddly enough, he was the only one not connected with America's 'Star Wars' programme.

a) Paul Skelton; b) Ken Cheslin; c) Roz Kaveney; d) WWII fighter ace Douglas Bader?
It's Roz Kaveney, because while all four have lost body parts she was the only one to do so voluntarily. Roz was in the audience, and laughed as loudly at this answer as anyone.

a) Joe Nicholas; b) Joe Stalin; c) Joe Siclari; d) Prince.
Joe Siclari, because all the others have changed their name at some point -- Joseph Nicholas used to be Nick Turner. This is true.

When this item was repeated at another con a few months later, the following set was substituted for the last one. Given what the first three people share in common, the revelation of the fourth got a big laugh.

a) Kath Easthope; b) Ashley Pollard; c) Roz Kaveney; d) Joseph Nicholas.
Ashley Pollard, because she was the only one not to have changed her first name.

Jim Young

Rob Hansen, Jill Bridges.

QUESTION TIME (Commencing about, oh let's see, 3.30pm or so)
Will the Internet destroy Fandom As We Know It? How can we attract more people to fandom? Why is Martin Smith? Fannish cons usually have an item where the burning fannish issues of the day are debated, and PRECURSOR will be no exception, though ours takes a somewhat different form than usual. Joseph Nicholas will be moderating a panel of opinionated fans (okay, particularly opinionated fans), much as the trainer 'moderates' the lions in a circus show, who will each train their cosmic minds on questions from the audience. Lively debate and audience participation will doubtless ensue and Joseph will attempt to maintain order. Good luck, pal.

With this deluxe Programme Leaflet, you will have received an expensively crafted file card, personally hand-tooled by the equally hand-tooled Martin Smith (sorry -- reflex action). If you have a question you'd like to have the panel debate, please write it and your name on the card and return it to us, preferably no later than a half-hour before this item. Questions should be as wittily phrased as possible and can be either serious or frivolous (if you want them to debate the iconic significance of Martin's pyjamas we'll certainly consider it).

We'd talked Joseph into being the moderator during a party for GUFF winners Ian and Karen Pender Gunn at his and Judith's house the previous Saturday. Predictably, Joseph drank too much and fell asleep in a chair, leading to an immediate call for felt-tip pens. Ever protective of him, Judith refused to let us scrawl the usual tasteful and understated graffiti on her comatose spouse, so instead I put a bucket at his feet and a card in his lap that read: I DIED IN THE WAR FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU. PLEASE GIVE GENEROUSLY. And they did. The sound of coins landing in the bucket, all of which were later donated to GUFF, was matched only by the flashing of a multitude of cameras.... ((I was to shamelessly recycle this same gag in 1998 at CORFLU UK when I placed this same sign on the unconscious form of a drunken fan in the hotel bar who shall remain anonymous in order to protect Martin Smith.))

On the panel with Joseph were Pam Wells, Ted White, and Chris Croughton. Not surprisingly, the topic that generated the most interest was next weekend's INTERSECTION and whether or not Worldcons in general were a good or bad thing for British fandom. No firm conclusions were reached. Sadly, the panel failed to debate my own, eminently sensible question (and here I paraphrase from memory):

"Does the team think the increasing visibility of SM and fetishism at US cons, as characterised most recently by the fascinating (I'm told) parties at DISCLAVE, represents any threat to traditional fandom, or do they agree that the general ambiance of British cons would be greatly improved by having more young people parading around in leather and chains?"

THE TALK SHOW (9.30pm sound good to you? Sounds good to me, too....)
Do you miss Johnny Carson? Do you pine for Jonathan Woss? Then your prayers may have been answered. With the charisma of John Major and the interviewing skills of Marcel Marceau, Martin Smith will be talking to high-profile celebrities from the glitzy and glamorous world of international fandom. This is the item to attend for an insight into the wit, the wonder, and the bizarre sexual practices that have made fandom what it is today.
With Martin's voice now a whispered croak, that gag about Marcel Marceau was taking on unintended significance so, by mutual consent, the chat show was cancelled. Everyone was having such a good time in the bar anyway that it would've been a shame to disrupt them. Martin's intended interviewees had been Pam Wells, Dan Steffan, and Andy Hooper, who'd all found other distractions....

"The British have smaller balls than we do," declared Andy, in an outrageous ethnic slur, "and smaller holes, too."

He did not approve of British pool tables.

Mean and moody, Andy took a singular approach to the game, apparently not realising it was only the balls on the table he was supposed to go for. Or so we assume. I was the first person the white ball narrowly missed; Dan Steffan was the second. Thereafter, the faint-hearted dived for cover whenever Andy took to the table, while those male fans with the necessary sang froid casually slid a hand over our testicles.

The final official programme item of the evening was a cheese and punch party to celebrate Bridgit Hardcastle's birthday. Good food and punch, too, but the infernal heat we were cursed with all weekend finally drove most of us back to the cooler confines of the pool room.

Avedon Carol, Chuck Harris.

This item concludes Saturday's official programme. Thereafter you are encouraged to drink, talk, make merry, and to enjoy any sexual assignations you may have been fortunate enough to make, because on Sunday there awaits:

No, this will not involve tests of testicular rigidity. Softball is actually a (gasp!) sport, not unlike rounders. At the insistence of Martin Smith, who has all the equipment and is dying to use it (no jokes, please), typically unfit UK fans will be playing with or against typically unfit US fans in a battle of wits, wills, and waistlines. Immensely popular at the American CORFLU, these games are legendary among fans and paramedics across the US. Anyone wishing to participate should contact Martin as soon as possible rather than waiting for the tacky and rather unseemly draft that may follow.

To my great surprise, I was the first to be picked for his team by captain Jack Heneghan who obviously thought my height and my still just discernable waistline indicated ball-paying potential. Boy, was he in for a shock! On the Other Side were Martin, Jim Young, Christina Lake, Carrie Root, Joseph Nicholas, Keith Oborn, and Mike Scott, all ably captained by Andy Hooper, while our side consisted of me, John Harvey, Lynn Steffan, Peter Hentges, Peter Roberts, Tom Whitmore (who'd got our e-mail message after all and decided that PRECURSOR sounded pretty nifty), and Mike Ford, under the sterling captaincy of our leader, Smoking Jack Heneghan. (Literally smoking. I'm not that familiar with the game, but surely it's not usual for the guy at bat to be puffing away on a Marlboro?) Dan Steffan was the umpire. There were two injuries in the game, both of which were sustained by Jim Young. The first of these occurred when Jim made a diving attempt to tag Mike Ford as Mike leapt for first base. This left Mike hopping around and Jim lying on his back, clutching his forehead. (Later, Jim confided in me that the game had been the most fun he'd had all summer, and definitely more fun than the US tour promoting his new SF novel, ARMED MEMORY. "So, you're saying a book tour is less fun than being kicked in the head?" "You've got it.")

Front: Dan Steffan, Peter Roberts. Second row: Joseph Nicholas, Christina Lake,
Rob Hansen, Peter Hentges, Tom Whitmore. Back row: Mike Scott, Jim Young,
Carrie Root, Lynn Steffan, Mike Ford, Andy Hooper, Jack Heneghan, Martin Smith,
unknown, Keith Oborn, Chuck Harris, John Harvey.

I'd never played softball before, yet I managed a feat that no-one else on the field was able to equal. Despite many energetic, if spastic, flailings in its general direction, I completely failed to make contact with the ball all afternoon! Realising I was more likely to spontaneously combust than hit the ball I decided to try for a 'walk'. I became stiffer than a board, or a statue, or even Al Gore, only to have Andy respond with perfectly pitched balls and strike me out. Undaunted, I went on to make Martin's con for him by being both the outfielder who let by the ball that gave him the winning home run of the game, and the guy whose strike-out finished off the other team. Being the sort of salt-of-the-earth fannish types who have made fandom what it is today, those of you reading this are surely ready to offer commiseration's such as "Bad luck, Rob", " It could've happened to anyone", and "You're fucking useless". These are appreciated, but unnecessary. Though I perhaps should have been, I was not down-hearted as we headed back to the hotel for drinks and CPR. Seeing the glow on Martin's face, the beatific expression that was all that any dictionary needed to run a picture of next to the word 'smug', I knew that I had Done A Good Thing. On some deep level I had realised how important this afternoon was to my friend and, with his mental and physical well-being ever uppermost in my thoughts, had subconsciously done what was necessary to make him the outstanding player of the game. I smiled, knowing this was the only logical explanation. After all, no-one could be that godawful at softball, could they?

I step up to bat, looking cool....

...and miss, to the amazement of onlookers.

There were a few more hours of pool and conversation as people began drifting away, and then it was over. It had been a great convention with final attendance being just under fifty, an ideal size. Most of the American fans (who made up about half the membership of PRECURSOR) were heading on for the Worldcon, but we'd be seeing many of them again in London in the weeks to come.

As an interesting footnote, when I attended my first con I was 20 years 4 months old. In August 1995, I was 40 years 8 months old. So at PRECURSOR I celebrated having spent half my life in fandom. Half a lifetime? That's not too many....

(First appearance: WILD HEIRS #11 (November 1995) ed. The Vegrants.)