MANCON 5 '76
by Kevin Williams
First published in Tocsin 1, edited by Harry Bell
"A disease little known since the 16th century today struck at a number of people attending a convention at Owens Park in Manchester. The disease, known colloquially as the 'Cringe and Mill Syndrome' was last recorded in 1517 when it wiped out one third of the population of Wrexham, not long after Luther had nailed ninety-five testes to the door of his church in Wittenberg. This, a rare 'social' ailment, is thought to be caused by the impingement of uncomfortable circumstances exacerbated by incomplete cleansing, excessive alcohol and boredom of staggering proportions. In its mild form it is characterised by the 'embarrassment' occasioned by the 'faux-pas of-others'. This is the 'cringe' phenomenon, which slowly but inexorably builds into a feeling of 'sensory dislocation' which characterises the 'mill-about-trance-walker-bore' condition."
This is the story of one who survived.
I came through, biting on a copy of Maya, with my hand in my pocket clutching my lucky piece. 'Mancon 5' will this name in time become synonymous with Sarajevo? Thermopylae? Dresden? Welwyn Garden City? Only time will tell. Some of these facts have been changed to protect the guilty and pillory the innocent.
Friday was a day characterised by indignity -- some enjoyable, some not. The first, the football match, has been copiously chronicled elsewhere, so I will not add further comment other than to pose this conundrum "Does the writing arm of a newly professional writer achieve superhuman strength on the publication of the first novel?" My jaw took a long time to recover from being 'Holdstocked', and tended to leak at the seams on the attempted consumption of local brews. The second was the usual bookshop crush, compounded on this occasion by a sweaty neo-paw swiping the last copy of 'Fire Time' from under my nose, and Dave Cockfield blandly stating, "Did you see that first edition paperback of Vanc's 'Future Tense' that Mike Sandow had for £ 1? I didn't think it was worth it; it's gone now." Justifiable homicide!
The third was the meal. Neil Jones (co-writer of 'Durfed') and two other expatriate Welsh friends, Paul Williams and Josh Rawlings, and I, thankfully not having opted for full board, wandered down to the nearest 'Indi' for a curry. We were joined by a sartorially elegant Peter Roberts who had the pleasure of waiting with us for 45 minutes for a starter and an hour and a half for the main course. Paul was becoming agitated, concerned that we might miss the Introduction, the first official event. However, an extremely cheesed-off looking Silverberg sat opposite us, peering vainly kitchenwards in hope of food. As our first course arrived, so did Harry Harrison "The Con's been cancelledl" he yelled at the assembled fannish curry-consuming multitude. He then proceeded to have a shouting conversation across, the room with Silverberg something about someone having taken out a 'contract' on Ted White in the forms of a close range custard pie (a later retelling of this story, however, had Dr. Spook as the hapless victim). All this was carried on to the growing bewilderment of the restaurant staff.
When we did eventually get away, we only had time for a quick pint before the next indignity presented itself in the forma of "The Phantom Speaks", hailed as a film which was never granted a certificate! The concensus prior to the film was summarized by Harry Bell: "If you're not back in the bar in ten minutes, I'll assume it's rude and will join you."
Not only was this film old and extremely poor (which clearly explained why it never got a certificate) but after the first reel was complete, the scene changed abruptly. Now there was a large gorilla taking a prominent part. After few minutes no evident connection with the preceding twenty minutes of film was observed and then the words 'Mighty Joe Young' appeared on an advertizing hoarding; several hundred pennies dropped simultaneously and a derisive howl arose from the audience. This was swiftly followed by clumsy halting of the film, a frantic scrabbling in the dark for the correct reel, and at last, the audience was able to sit back as the familiar scratching and scoring sounds of the film leader being fed through the projector was rapidly followed by six, five, four, three, two, one scratch, scratch... "Mighty Joe Young" -- howl of joyous anguish filled the hall.
After this, patchy start, Friday continued until 5.50 Saturday morning and, for me, was most memorable for the sight of Harry Bell, amiably drunk, grinning like a slice of melon, casually holding what started out as a nearly full pint of lager, with one finger through the handle, gesturing graphically as he told me some story and spreading the booze in a thin layer over himself, myself and anything else within a radius of five feet.
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, to the disgust of the bleary-eyed, dehydrated, motley multitude which gathered in the washroom, splashing gallons of water over sallow, rubbery, unfeeling skin, in the hope of waking up sufficiently to stumble down to the prepaid breakfast. Alien odours and sounds of torment issued. from the six-inch gap at base of the toilet door as some unidentified Gannet attempted to void himself of the previous night's excesses through any convenient orifice. The few that did make it to breakfast were greeted by quite the most oleaginous collection of eggs, bacon and tomatoes that I have ever fallen into, all tapped by a mound of glistening black substance all that remained of once proud mushrooms... Eurrgh!... What a way to start another hard-drinking, hard laying-about day at a con.
The quiz followed fifteen minutes of frantic paper shuffling and was quite enjoyable, primarily because Malcolm Edwards, evidently struck down with a severe attack of the apathy which was already beginning to make itself felt, didn't turn up to answer his specialist questions on Robert Silverberg. He was replaced by Robert Silverberg who managed to get most of them correct. In the tremendously terse final lan Williams slugged it out with Mike Meara by failing to answer as many questions as his opponent. In the end, Ian won through, receiving the Pink Panther Bubble Bath prize with the careless ease of a seasoned champion. Meanwhile, back in the bar, Rob Jackson in a new, though equally ill-fitting tweed sports jacket, was orbiting the Guest-of-Honour like a captured asteroid, hastily sipped lager in one hand, clutch of vari-coloured Mayas in the other. Sometime later, the Guest-of-Honour was seen sipping a pint of lager and clutching various Mayas -- is this man Jackson infectious?
All I remember of the rest of the afternoon is Roy Kettle coming up to me a number of times and giving what I can only assume was some form of Masonic greeting - "I want some raconteurism from you." (Isn't that something to do with necrophilia?. As evening drew on, an air of desperation for food/enjoyment caused the accretion of a number of Gannets and sundry others, all keen to follow Jim Marshall to an alleged Armenian restaurant he knew of. Chaos descended upon the proceedings with fans milling about in utter disarray, undecided whether to walk or take a car, and as soon as some consensus was reached someone would have wandered off in utter boredom. Eventually we set off, everybody except Ritchie Smith, myself and a few others in cars. We had walked all of three hundred yards towards our destination when we were frantically flagged down by all the others returning from the apocryphal restaurant declaring it closed. After another ten minutes of compulsory milling-about, the group fragmented, those who didn't know better went to the Indian restaurant, and were not seen for the rest of the con.
Back in the bar, lan Maule bounced across, looking rather like a toasting fork with glasses, Neil didn't recognise him at first, so much had he changed from his more rotund Gannetfandom days. "Was that Mauler?" said Neil, as a stray draught blew him away. "I don't believe it -- he looks more like an unripe replica grown from a pod."
Saturday night was a real endurance test; the Committee, evidently possessed by the spirit of H.P.Lovecraft, saw fit to show both "Hell House" and "Zardoz". We stumbled out 4 ½ hours later, eyes like organ stops, blinking in the light, and with backsides like solidified sacks of cement. Stocking up on booze, we returned to the Tower Block, where the Gannet room party was going down like a deflated Zeppelin. People stood or sat around, desperately trying to enjoy themselves, but managing only to look frantically bored. Rob Jackson's head was swivelling about so much looking for 'names' I thought it might unscrew, Irene Bell, sitting on the floor, seemed to be the only person haying a good time. "Where is Everybody Else?" was the constantly asked question. "Don't know - in bed I 'spect," was the answer. Mauler was staggering around pissed, grinning owlishly, the colour of a poorly smoked haddock. "Hee, hee," he said, "I'm pissed" -- rather like a thin, rude Billy Bunter.
Sunday morning in the washroom was like a slower-motion replay of Saturday morning in sounds and odours. The only distinction was the quizzical "Good morning" Dave Kyle and family, smart and alert, gave to the silent, stumbling zombies of pallid complexion, who stumped past them to the washroom, while they were waiting for the lift. The breakfast, mushroom carbonese again, was as inedible as that of the previous day.
Sunday was a 'silent' day, the excesses and deprivations had robbed us all of the power of expression. Oddly, I'd just read a story called "The Wonderful Adjective Cellar" by Jack Finney in "Clock of Time" which I'd bought at the con. It concerned a charmed salt cellar which, when shaken over a piece of prose, removed all superfluous adjectives. When the cellar was full it was emptied and anyone passing would be immediately inflicted by an overkill of adjectives. Someone had shaken an adjective cellar over us. It was a little later when I realised who had picked them up when Rob came over and tried to tell us of his conversation with Walt Willis, but kept tripping over his words -- not unusual. Sunday night was a boredom trip. Monday was indistinguishable. Sitting here now, some three weeks after the con, the major impression which comes to mind is that of clumps of people milling about coming into the bar and looking lost or exiting the bar looking lost. There was no sense of even the most rudimentary continuity. If any event occurred it seemed by accident or only after every other possibility was exhausted. It's difficult for any degree of bungling to stop the basic social enjoyment of a con; seeing all the other inmates occasionally is good therapy, but for me, the icing on a con is the programme. What passed as an excuse for a programme wasn't at all bad, but the combination of the few numbers of panels, their tardiness and all too evident lack of organisation became unbearable by Sunday by which time I became resigned to my social vigil in the bar it was when the ambulances and fumigation squad arrived that I realised some thing was amiss.....
Kevin Williams, July 1976