KETTERING 5: THE 1960 WHITCON
The fifth convention to be held at the George Hotel in Kettering took place over the Whitsun weekend in 1960. So far as I'm aware it was never given an official name. It was - deliberately - a minicon and only a dozen people attended: Ella Parker, Archie Mercer, Jim Groves, Jim Linwood, Alan Rispin, Ted Forsyth, Bob Parkinson, Keith Freeman, Ken & Joyce Slater, Dave Eggleton and George Locke. The following report is by George Locke and originally appeared in CRY #142 (August 1960, ed. Buz and Elinor Busby). The photos used are all contemporary but none were actually taken at the convention.
Friday 3rd JuneThe difficulty with the army, more than corporals bawling at you, getting boots to shine like mirrors and getting into the habit of saluting anything that moves and painting anything that doesn't, is of course the complete lack of certainty. Thus, when I was called into the Medical Corps a shade over a week before Easter, I hadn't a clue as to whether they'd let me home or not over the holiday. They didn't, after keeping us on tenterhooks for a few days. So I was doubly dubious at the prospect of getting Whitsun off and of attending the mini-con which was to be held at Kettering.
About three weeks before Whitsun, hopes were not too high. The week before, we'd first been promised a 48 hour pass, then had it turned down for no apparent reason. According to the book of rules, we should not be kept at camp for two consecutive public holidays. But what the rules say and what the army does are two completely different things. My big chance for finding out came one Friday when our squad was on fatigues. It had been my lot to report to the dreaded guard room. The Regimental Police are not like the civilian police--these are killers. But I was lucky, and they sent me off to report to the Chief Clerk's office a couple of huts along. Here, I started making discreet inquiries as to which company would be on duty over the holiday. A corporal informed me that he thought it was our company which would be staying. I dropped the envelope I was steaming an unused stamp off of. I was indignant.
It was then that I began to hate the Army. I knew there'd be no point checking--it was just our luck. C company was the one fated to be hauled off in a flying saucer that wanted some specimens, to be sent to Christmas Island en bloc, and to be given an official leave the day war breaks out. First Easter, then our 48...........
It came as an anticlimax when it turned out to be E company which would stay, not ours.
After all the uncertainty, we were released with no more than the occasional threat of a leave stoppage. I arrived ar Kilburn around five in the afternoon, which immediately earned me a dressing down from Ella; she'd been expecting me nearer three. I was going to say how I'd spent that part of the afternoon visiting some of my mates at the hospital where I used to work, but decided it would be unwise under the circumstances. Ella did her best to replace some of the food I'd been missing for the past eight weeks. Then, with Ted Forsyth, we trooped off in the middle of the rush hour to catch the 6:30 from St. Pancras to Kettering. We also hoped to meet Jimmy Groves, but he was nowhere to be seen. So as the train was rapidly filling with people, Ted and myself were ordered to find a smoker and bag four seats.
Among the very last compartments, we found one capable of holding four of us. It wasn't a smoker. Ted, who is cautious when it comes to bending Ella's orders, was very worried. Thinking at least I did have the British army behind me, I said: "You go back and tell her we're fixed up, and that it's my responsibility. And, while you're about it, try and swipe her cigarettes off her, so she won't mind what compartment we're in." And I sat down, surveying the only other passenger in the compartment. He was a heavily built man of about thirty with the general physique and expression of a gorilla with neuralgia and wore a blazer with a badge on it. The badge said that he belonged to the Royal Army Military Police.........
I made myself small in a corner, and tried to think up a way to let the others know that they were not to mention my Army life.
A couple of minutes before the train was due to depart, Ella, Ted and Jimmy came along, Jimmy clutching to his breast a large bag which contained, presumably, the official documents of the BSFA.........
The next few moments are not very clear---- I remember a certain amount of shouting and screaming. When I awoke, I saw Ella glaring at me, with a fitting look on her face. After a while she calmed down and became almost plaintive, as she asked: "What am I going to do for a smoke?"
Jimmy Groves, possessed of a wonderful knack for the practical, suggested that Ella stick the cigarette through the keyhole of the compartment door and smoke it with the business end outside.
"Jimmy dear," said Ella, "I've just thought of something that needs making when we
get back home."
We arrived at Kettering, which turned out to be a fair sized town. In the walk to the long-suffering George Hotel, we paused to observe a notice on a garden gate saying: "David Kyle, MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon." Nobody had arrived when we booked in, so we wandered off in search of something to eat.
There was one cafe open. I was quite eager to go in--there's very little about egg and chips which can go wrong--but the others were more dubious. However, in we went, and were attended by a young girl of about thirteen. She took our orders, then, always after the extra few shillings, asked us if we wanted anything to drink. Jimmy and Ella asked for teas, and Ted and myself plumped for orange juice. I added -- "with lots of ice." The weather was hot. The girl vanished for a minute, then came back.
"I'm sorry. The ice machine has gone bust. The defroster won't work."
I groaned, but as this was the only way of getting some ice. I followed the girl to the fridge. Faced with a solid block of ice, I was given a puny little knife and told by the girl (who had decided that we were amiable company) to get on with it; her mother, three other customers, and the cat wanted some as well. I was also told not to break the knife. I started hacking away, to the massed band of the other CRY letterhacks chortling away in the background.
Eventually, with the help of another man, and after chipping a small piece off the knife, I obtained some ice. The girl very kindly put it into a little glass dish, and carried it to our table. She then said, "We haven't any orange."
I began to feel as though the fates were not working for us, or, at least, were fast asleep. "We'll have some coke, then," I sighed. I was determined to get that ice.
During the main course--yes, egg and chips--the girl hovered around us. It was obvious from the changing expressions on her face that she was going through some tumultuous process of thought. Eventually, as we were busy eating, she came out with it. "Which one of you's her husband?"
I swallowed three chips, Jimmy choked on a piece of egg, and Ted dropped his peas on the floor. I won't say what Ella did. We vigorously denied everything, the most vociferous of us being Ella, who chose this moment to add a few comments on what she really thought of us. The girl digested this with the placidity of a cow who's just decided it's finished its quota of milk for the day, and looked at me. She looked at me for a long time. Then she said, "You must be her son."
I decided it wouldn't be worthy trying to explain--I'd end up as her blasted mother, next--and suggested that while she -- the girl, that is, not Ella -- was still floating round, she might as well fetch us our sweet. We all plumped for fruit salad. Especially, I noted, Ella, who placed hers on another table, a considerable distance from me. I finished mine quickly, and looked at Ella, then at her fruit salad. Ella looked at me. She shook her head. I sat with my spoon poised. I knew she'd have to bring the bowl of fruit back onto our table to eat it, not being blessed with a trunk like Cecil's**. Then she did, she slapped a plate over it, and, every now and again, when I wasn't looking, she sneaked a mouthful.
I am of the opinion--and I record it quite freely--that Ella Parker is a Glutton, and was ashamed of the fact that day.....
** Cecil was Ron Bennett's imaginary pet elephant.
Saturday 4th JuneSaturday morning dawned bright and cheerful and hangover free. We were expecting various others to come, but as there were several meetings of an official nature -- BSFA, Convention Committee, and the like -- and as we were not involved in any of them, Ted and I decided to wander off and return when they were over. I've always had a passion for nosing around old second-hand bookshops, and dragged Ted along with me.
Then we decided to go to Leicester. Ted had no objections to hitching it, and so we set off for the outskirts. Outside the town, we reached a suitable crossroads, and waited there. And then Ted...
Ted is a fairly young Scotsman with a face very much like that of a kindly gnome.
But when he put on his sunglasses....
He looked at me bemused. I explained, as delicately as I could, that sunglasses transformed him into a picture of a simpering psychopathic killer after the style of Rod Steiger, and that we wouldn't stand a chance of picking up a lift. He took them off, and very soon a car picked us up and dropped us five miles up the road, from where a very talkative travelling salesman took us the rest of the 22 miles.
Leicester was a much bigger town than I thought, almost the size of Belfast; one incident pretty well convinced me that somehow we'd crossed the Irish sea. We'd spent quite a while in this shop when I noticed one of the Pogo books. I expressed a mild curiosity in it, asking if he had any more. He had one other volume--priced somewhere about 30/-- a ridiculous price--and launched into a voluntary tirade on how he'd ordered a complete set from America for a customer. Could this customer have been a fan?
"Can you remember his name?" I asked, "You see, quite a number of our friends read
these books, and you never know...."
Back at Kettering, we met Archie Mercer, Alan Rispin, Jhim Linwood and Keith Freeman; the rest of the evening, and a good bit of the night, was spent in drinking, fannish natter, and, later, in wandering around the now deserted Kettering.
Sunday 5th JuneSunday morning there were several official-type meetings to be held--the sum total, in actual fact. The four of us who were not involved departed for Wicksteed Park and its boating lake. Ted Forsyth and myself were the only CRY letterhacks, being opposed, in a way, by Alan Rispin and Jhim Linwood. However, we were not even mildly hostile until we decided to hire two canoes. Alan and Jhim clambered aboard one, and Ted and myself struggled to keep the other stable.
The Rispin/Linwood craft left the shore first, and we followed. When we felt that they were in range, and with Ted keeping us stable, I lifted the paddle and slapped the water with it. The salvo of displaced water shot, towards the enemy. There was panic; Rispin and Linwood tried to avoid the deadly fire, and the canoe capsized and sank. For a moment, two figures floundered helplessly amid the pieces of broken timber, paddles and oil, then they were gone......
The lake was only a couple of feet deep, and the defeated fans crawled out onto the bank. We retrieved the sunken canoe, but found we weren't going to get any prize money for salvaging the thing.
We found Rispin and Linwood sitting disconsolately on a very low seat listening to a grey-haired, motherly old woman lecture on the dangers of paddling too freely in the children's pond. Ah, victory was sweet....
When we returned to the hotel, we found Ken Slater and his wife had come up for the day; the party moved out to Wicksteed Park once more, returned just in time to beat a thunderstorm, and eased off into a party in Ella's room. Next morning, on the way to town, I noticed that the David Kyle sign was no longer on the gate. And now as I type these last few lines, I can hear Jimmy in Kilburn hammering at a wall. The Parker Penitentiary has another souvenir.