SPHINCTERS AT DAWN...
a NOVACON report with a distinctive air
by Leroy Kettle
(first published in Epsilon 9, edited by Rob Hansen)
Here I am in Hansen's fanzine, so I might as well tell you a few things about him. It's all very well these personalzine editors producing page after fascinating page about what colour underpants they wear on Tuesdays and how Mrs Smegma next door buys her cockroach powder at Tesco's, but the poor reader never gets a glimpse at the mundane side of the editor's life that is as Valid a part of the person as the stolen quip and witty grammatical error that tend to bring him to life in print. You have to live with someone, and I mean really live with them, to understand that life is not just the enviable succession of wet bus queues and spilt cups of tea you're led to believe from reading the cream of the personalzine writers. Yes, there is a boring side to Ian Williams' life, although you'd never believe it from his fanwriting.
Take Rob Hansen; I really lived with him for two days.
Kath had decided that she didn't really want to go to this Novacon and so I arranged with Rob to share a twin room. We'd done this once before but on that occasion it had ended in tears after Rob's entire drink supply leapt down my throat one evening when Rob was out cavorting and the bar was Shut. I certainly didn't see the colour of his underpants that night. Things got patched up between us when he got Harry Bell and Jim Barker to sit on top of me (and that was in the days when Jim had to have rooms on the ground floor) while he helped relieve the pressure on my wallet.
Rob has two problems which don't help anyone unlucky to share a room with him. His problems are not mutually exclusive they fall into the unfortunate pairing category; like Andy Richards' driving and his car, Rob Holdstock's lifestyle and his credibility, Maloolm Edwerde' alcoholism and his drink problem. Rob, as you will know, has a diet problem. Most people have diet problems which mean either that they can't keep to one or that they can't eat certain foods for health reasons. Rob`s problem is that he can only eat baked beans.
It happened like this, He was standing way back at the end of the queue when God was handing out diet sheets for life and He wes beginning to run out of them. D,West had just gone out of the door clutching a bit of paper which read 'Bits of old fish-skin and half-chewed chips from other people's plates, bogey pie, etc' when Rob came up and God looked at the two bits of paper He had left.
'Well', He said to Himself in an awesome voice, 'it's either a diet of Puberot, an obscure dish from the Sahara that gives you perpetual boils on your groin and makes you vomit a lot, or baked beans.'
He shook his head when suddenly Brien Parker danced his way into the pretty holy Presence, said 'Sorry I'm late but Terri wanted swiftie and we were out of courgettes, snatched the nearest diet sheet, and set the seal on his health forever. Rob, not knowing how lucky he'd been accepted his own fate with equanimity. But on the next queue, when personal problems were being handed out, and D.West was just leaving carrying a sheet of paper so long that if Brian Parker hadn't been behind him he'd have set a record, Rob got given farting.
Well, a lot of us got given farting, but for most of us it's one small part of life. For Rob it's vital to his existence. Had he been given a diet of beans without the safety Valve of farting he wouldn't have been at Novacon to share a room with me and lull me to sleep with rippling renditions of the Trumpet Voluntary, rearranged for anal sphincter and gas mask. No. he'd be lying somewhere, a corpse with a heavily perforated rectum and an unpleasant odour. But I get both crude and ahead of myself.
Rob unpacked quickly on our first day there, still trembling from Mad Atkinson's frenzied flight from reality down the motorway. He took from his tag the belongings of a man with a $20,000 mortgage and a $2,000 salary a brownish toothbrush, either too old or too long next to his cleanest under- pants, those same underpants three cans of deodorant, and a combined knife, spoon, fork, and device for getting drinks out of Rob Holdstock. He farted a couple of times while I unpacked, noting how accurately the creases of my nylon bag were reproduced in my shirts, and then we wandered off to have fun in our separate ways. It was the usual sort of Novacon fun, the only differences being that Paul Turner took over from lan Williams the mantle of fandom's most unpleasant dwarf; and Brian Parker was sick even before he started drinking or had chance to look at his groin in the mirror.
Later that day I saw Rob guzzling beer in vaster quantities than either his slim frame or slimmer bankroll seemed capable of coping with and surreptitiously lifting a buttock off his seat for a SBD or, if unlucky, a particularly noisy one. Not having the savoir faire of Ian Williams; who leaves the room before releasing the rectal rasp as though no-one could then hear, or the uncaring malhommie of Harry Bell whose occasional odorous offerings of anal art shift the conversation several yards. Rob tries to pretend he hasn't got a great personal affliction and struggles to lead a 'normal' life.
I didn't see Rob again until I went to bed and saw his blanketed form silhouetted against the tastefully lit bed console. I immediately peeked under the bed to see what had died before realising that Rob either had gangrene or was breathing out of both ends at once as usual. Unfortunately the bedroom window didn't open so, turning the air-conditioning on to overload, I tried to hold my breath all night.
The next day we got up and dressed. Rob used an entire can of deodorant and pretended to arrange his underpants but, I noticed very casually, merely turned them inside out, a ruse that I wondered if he thought could he tried more than once. We had breakfast with Date and Hazel Langford, which was an unexpected treat. Dave was talking as though we needed the hearing aid so Rob and I left him lecturing his egg on particle physics while we talked to Hazel about everything except knitting and farting.
The rest of the day and evening went as they do at Novacons; Harry Bell discovered the swinging sixties thirteen years too late, Linda Pickersgill discovered that even Jan Howard Finder can be pleasant if you cover him with fur and shut your eyes; several people (notably Chris Priest) discovered they'd trod in Paul Turner; Malcolm Edwards discovered, yet again, that he knew more about scientifiction than anyone in the world; and I discovered I Could beat John Brosnan continually, and most other people frequently, at one particular video game called Beetles From The Void, with a giant cockroach lurching across the top of the screen hurling offspring downwards, just as though I was watching TV at home. (The video game which offered a free muckpan for every thousand points unfortunately broke down before I discovered what one was.) And Rob Hansen discovered that while you might look like Jesus you don't get much of a following unless you learn to break bread instead of wind. It was all jolly fun.
Rob decided that the two of us should go out to buy some food as the hotel beans were playing hell with his guts and weren't very tasty. I swear I'll never follow Rob Hansen anywhere in Birmingham again; not for the reasons you may think, but because a sense of direction is to Rob what a smile is to Dave Pringle or a cultured accent is to Rog Peyton. His one rule about ravelling through Birmingham is Go downhill. That seemed difficult to avoid doing in Britain's most repulsive city, but it didn't help. After twice ending up in the sub-basement of Woolworth's (where I failed to per- suade him to buy another pair of underpants to wear for the next month) and several times in the decayed subways that run beneath Birmingham's streets like maggot holes in an already rotted cheese, we found somewhere that sold the connoisseurs baked beans (Ol' Pooteroonies). After he'd counted out a gross of tins dusk was reaching its delicate dark tendrils into the industrial sunset, and we humped both his meals back to the hotel along a street completely full of surgical appliance shops which I noticed Rob glancing into with a mixture of astonishment, apprehension, and perhaps just a hint of excitement.
That night was a night like any other at a Novacon. Drinking, lurching, laughing, spilling, ranting on at Lisa Tuttle about the social misfits who join the SDP to find that she and Chris had joined, seeing the hotel staff gazing in bewilderment at a heap of smouldering rubbish on the pavement outside the hotel and being told later that it had been the photographer who annoyed Greg by using her camera to take photographs, seeing Gerry Webb skip the light fantastic at the disco, all the time dreading the thought of that bedroom, its floor littered with empty cans, their contents rapidly being Converted by some chemical reaction that Langford could probably name loudly, into FARTS. Well, let me tell you, the thought went nowhere near the reality. That room was Hell. If you took the million monkeys after they'd written Hamlet, and put their armpits into a barrel and sat in it for a week, it would have been a holiday compared to that room. Seven hundred and thirty seven gallons of beer were consumed that weekend, reports Malcolm Edwards in A LESBIAN. I think that beer was a misprint for beans. And I think they were all consumed by the editor of this fanzine. I could have died that night (although waking up in Birmingham it's difficult to tell), if I hadn't had the foresight to put his head under the blankets to create a perfect, recycling, self-contained system for he of the poisoned bowels, while I lay softly wafting myself to sleep with my own slightly more restrained and pleasantly perfumed colonic conversations.
At one point I awoke, lying on the floor, choking, my skin an unhealthy flesh-like colour. An evil brown shape hung over me, coming closer and closer. There was nowhere I could go. Was I going to be suffocated by Rob Hansen's fartoplasm? Would I ever live to continue destroying my own bodily functions at conventions? Then I really awoke. It had only been a nightmare. By this time the room merely smelled like half a million overactive monkeys' armpits (that's still a lot of armpits, though).
The next day was not at all dissimilar to others that had passed at Novacons of previous years. We went home in Crazy Atkinson's car, vying for room in a mass grave with Daft Stevenson, both trying to prove that machismo wasn't just a word sellotaped to Rob Holdstock's bathroom mirror. None of us died, but then Rob Hansen had had to travel back by train as the car was full. No wonder British Rail sandwiches curl up at the edges.
Afterword by Rob Hansen:
Malcolm Edwards has got Dave Langford to do a NOVACON report for the forthcoming TAPPEN in which, apparently, he went out of his way to avoid mentioning Malcolm, even when writing about the Nova Awards. Leroy Kettle, as you will by now have realised, took the opposite approach, attempting to label me as the major source of air-pollution in the UKG. Bloody uppity contributors! L. Kettle's pieceis in fact pure fantasy, the Warped Outpourlngs of a fevered brain, since at NOVACON not a single bean passed my lips nor flatulent refrain my buttocks.
My experience of NOVACON was somewhat different to Leroy's. At the disco I bopped away to a few of the early tracks played by the DJ but it quickly became apparent that he was making no concessions to the audience, preferring to play the usual set that wows the sixteen year old crowd and, with the arrogance of his kind, ignoring all requests to adapt to the tastes of those present while insisting that he know best. At one point, for instance, he played a string of slow smooch numbers which are guaranteed to fill the dance floor at an everyday disco, as I'm well aware, but produce just the opposite effect at a con. Somewhat disgruntled I left to change into drier clothes, discovering on my return that the music had improved immeasurably, being a lot better to dance to. In my absence, so I'm told, a group-of people in the hall who also thought that the DJ was doing a poor job signed a petition and handed it to him. This said something along the lines of 'If you don't start playing some decent dance music we, the undersigned, are going to tear your arms off', and it was shortly after this that the music began to improve. Not wanting to get my only other set of clothes wet as well I sat and drank, becoming increasingly morose. This mood persisted all evening until I stumbled upon a drug-crazed Harry Bell in one of the alcoves outside the con hall. His peculiar antics and uncontrollable laughter worked wonders.
The Nova Award for best fanwriter went to Chris Atkinson, indeed it would have been a travesty if it hadn`t since she is producing by far and away the best writing to appear in fanzines in some time, and I would go so far as to say that if the fan Hugos bore any relation to reality she would be a certainty for best fanwriter. Malcolm Edwards winning the test fanzine Nova for TAPPEN completed a remarkable husband and wife double. Congratulations also to Pete Lyon for being voted top fanartist.
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