Lincoln 2013


by Claire Brialey

Even those of us accustomed to SF conventions having explicit policies about weapons, corkage, crash space, harassment, or other appropriate behaviours might not expect to be greeted with this instruction on entering a hotel function room. Fortunately Cas Skelton was just talking to her dog.

We didn't actually need any policies, since we weren't officially at a convention. It might have been called Barcon, but it was definitely just a gathering - or 'reunion' as Ian Maule emphasised to the Holiday Inn in Lincoln when negotiating bedroom rates and hire of their Cathedral Room. The latter was our collective attempt to create a private lounge, in case the hotel bar was too loud and crowded; in practice the room alternated with the garden at the Horse & Groom as our social centre. The Cathedral Room particularly came into its own after dinner; we needed to split up in smaller parties to eat, but wanted somewhere to gather together and giggle afterwards.

There seemed to be a lot of giggling. Bestie the Westie might have been far too cute and on his best behaviour to need to be warned against weeing in the Cathedral Room, but given how often we were all helpless with laughter it might have been worth us writing it on one of the flip charts.

Or perhaps writing down all the things that made us laugh. There were moments at Barcon where lots of people were taking photos of the group - thus risking photos of other people taking photos - but I didn't spot much recording of anecdotes and bon mots. Maybe we will let them rest as one-time-only offers, maybe everyone's doing it on their phones now, or maybe everyone else's memory is better than mine. Rob Jackson was organised enough to spend some time in editorial mode, identifying writers he wanted to contribute specific articles to the next Inca; but for most of the time that we were all enjoying one another's company, we managed to avoid constantly scribbling down examples of what Rob himself once described as coruscating wit.

But maybe you just had to be there; if you could have been and weren't, we missed you. What did you miss? Well, the sampling of people's names, and of the consequent background commentary and cackling from the crowd, that Graham Charnock attempted on his iPad on Saturday night stands out as very funny - as attested by the way that even the people who weren't drinking the whisky Graham had also contributed seemed to be red-faced and gurgling along with the rest of us - but perhaps I was already in the mood to be amused. I started cackling nearly as much on Friday evening while on an abortive excursion to find somewhere to have dinner.

Eventually, when we'd established that the restaurant we were seeking was possibly still another mile down a road which didn't betoken thriving nightlife, that several people had already abandoned us to go to look for somewhere nearer the hotel which was definitely open, that the description in Pat Meara's guide to local pubs and restaurants indicated that reservations were essential and we hadn't got one, and that when Rob was able to pause to phone them they were definitely full up for tonight and tomorrow and closed on Sunday, we turned round. But it was somehow very funny. And instead Mark and I had an enjoyable drink and chat in the Horse & Groom, and then a very nice meal in the fancy restaurant (blue cheese pannacotta!) at the hotel next door to ours, with Rob and the Mearas and S&ra Bond.

John Jarrold visited on Saturday lunchtime, stood us all a drink at the Horse & Groom and then dutifully returned to work. Pam Wells joined us a little later, in time to see socially responsible Jim Linwood baffle the bar staff with his amazing disappearing broken bottle trick. We all got to see Graham being socially responsible too, firmly encouraging the group to make advance arrangements for three tables for dinner, so as not to find ourselves wandering the streets of Lincoln overcome with hunger or hilarity again. And consequently that evening we ate at a Greek restaurant - enormous plates of food, enjoyably mysterious Cypriot wine, chaotic booking and seating arrangements all dealt with, apparently, only by the manager herself - with Graham, Rob, and Ian and Janice Maule. Hilarity ensued without much wandering the streets. We got a taxi to the restaurant, in fact, having established that it was further away than we thought; I've become convinced that streets in Lincoln which have restaurants on - or at least restaurants that I specifically want to go to, since there is an almost overwhelming choice of pubs and restaurants otherwise - are very long with incoherent street numbering, and have restaurants at both ends while being designed to confuse in the middle. Possibly the citizens of Lincoln think there's still a war on, and visiting invaders need to be confused. Inevitably I found getting in and out of the kids' compartment at the back of the taxi funny. When we got the same taxi and driver on the way back, that was funny too. Maybe there's something in the water - which would explain why it tastes like that. It seemed much easier to stick to the wine and the whisky.

I never walked up any of the really steep hills in Lincoln, mind you, or even caught a bus. (One of them is actually called Steep Hill. You can't say they don't warn you.) We'd already driven up and down several of them when I got lost at virtually the last turning on the way to the hotel, and that had provided a useful warning. I quite enjoy driving on motorways and trunk roads, whereas town-driving makes me sing the praises of public transport; longer trips enable me to literally sing, as we work our way through the cassette tapes we haven't really played since the last time I had easy access to a car. And so we have our own little 1990s revival, including everything we played back then from the 1970s. Maybe it was a metaphor for Barcon.

The Horse & Groom (photo: Jim Linwood)

Barcon was in Lincoln partly because it offered lots of interesting things to do during the day (or indeed before and afterwards in the vicinity, for those making a more leisurely journey), as well as good restaurants and pubs. A scouting party last year had done the legwork in narrowing down a hotel, after a more collective effort in proposing locations and venues, and Lincoln was a popular choice. Most of the party got some sight-seeing under their belts during the day. But Mark and I were there for the company. We tend not to be good at tourism, and above all I was looking forward to the weekend because it really wasn't a convention and I didn't have to do anything except relax. We did explore some of the sloping streets and ancient walls of the town - although not, at that stage, Pat Charnock's Pigeon Poo Steps - while seeking The Guardian on Saturday morning; I even got to read some of it while we were there. And for all that I ended up dealing with quite a bit of Next Bloody British Bloody Worldcon email too, I also read books and managed to draft a letter of comment to BEAM before their deadline; so it was nearly all good.

And we went on a boat trip on Saturday afternoon, so that counts more than our occasional strolls along the wharfside in the sunshine while keeping a wary eye on the local gangs of swans. In the end, a majority of the party went for a fifty-minute jaunt along the Fossdyke navigation. A local choir performing on the wharf saw us off as the swans mounted a concerted attack on some small children unwisely holding food at the other end of Brayford Pool; and the sun beat down on the upper deck of the Brayford Belle and we spotted dragonflies and found various inconsequential things amusing until it was time to disembark.

We didn't even miss out on extra amusing experiences by not going sight-seeing, because whenever we all reconvened we found out what everyone else had been up to. Pat Mailer and Harry Bell returned with Brian Parker from Ellis's Mill on Sunday afternoon, all looking weary as they staggered into the Cathedral Room. Their excursion had lasted for longer than any of us had expected, including them; there was lots more to see whenever they thought they'd finished. They'd been to the top of the mill - itself, obviously, at the top of another hill. They'd been shown how it all worked. They'd seen but declined to buy (and thus carry) the resulting flour. Traditionally, we thought, when people are trapped in the old mill a clever dog comes rushing to alert rescuers. Bestie snuffled around the excitingly smelly carpet and tried to look as if he'd delegated the task to a bush kangaroo.

Later that evening Graham lay down on the same carpet to demonstrate a pilates move that had been defeating Pat C. Pat defied Graham to touch his toes. Everyone else looked at the carpet and decided to try it out only in the privacy of their own room.

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, while we were waiting for the Skeltons and the Mearas to navigate the car parks of Lincoln, Rob told us about his trip to the cathedral and Bishop's Palace that morning with Pat C. Apparently there had been a thirteenth century bishop called Robert Grosseteste, or Grossetete - Robert Bighead, in effect, which Rob thought was a soubriquet he might enjoy adopting. Rob also recounted his experience in obtaining a joint English Heritage membership for himself and Coral; having taken down Rob's details, they moved on to his wife. Oh no, Pat and Rob explained; they aren't married... It's a very British scandal: the day Rob Jackson went to an English Heritage property with a woman who was conspicuously not his wife. Maybe that's why they call him Robert Bighead. I don't know that any of us had actually watched Wife Swap, but Graham seemed amenable to continuing the experiment. Don't tell Coral.

Even terrible tourists like us can be enticed from the hotel to have dinner or go to the pub. We didn't quite manage to have dinner with everyone, although we did at least have breakfast with brian a couple of times, and nearly with Jim and Marion Linwood - although they're generally much earlier risers than us as well as being much better at sight-seeing (S&ra, leaving at the crack of dawn on Sunday for band practice and thus also avoiding the later logjam in the breakfast room, reported that this was the earliest she'd ever had breakfast at anything resembling a convention; that really became meaningful when she clarified she was there before Marion and Jim).

On Sunday night we achieved a good group compromise, managing to have dinner together and go to the pub. Two tables had been arranged at the Horse & Groom and thus the remainder of the group wasn't separated even if we couldn't converse across the tables. Indeed, it was relatively difficult to hear down the length of an eight-person table, but it still meant that Mark and I got to have dinner with Pat and Graham, and Pat and Harry, and Keith and Wendy Freeman (Pat and Mike were on the other table, or else I'd have had to bow to the trend and change my name - go Pats!). And I was able to eat duck for the second time that weekend. The composition of the tables, although not our individual menu choices, mostly followed the results of a draw conducted by Graham: another incident in the Cathedral Room which provoked more giggling, however serious Graham intended it to be.

If there had been more of us at Barcon, there would have been more and smaller dinner parties and it might have been easier to get tables. But we wouldn't have come close to eating with everyone there, or even managing to talk properly to everyone. It would have been a different sort of gathering - not necessarily better or worse, but nonetheless we were conscious of the people who might have been there.

Six others had originally signed up to attend from the UK, with occasional rumours that others might be able to find the time / money / motivation to join us too. Life intervened in a way that was no fun for anyone who couldn't be there and meant we all missed them too. We'd also been encouraged early on by the prospect of Exotic Foreign Visitors from the US, all of whom also fell by the wayside as time went on. We missed them all. We drank toasts to absent friends with Graham's very smooth, softly caramel Glen Moray. We signed cards to those who'd been kept away by illness, beautifully lettered by Harry once he'd chosen the right pen. And we talked about them, and about other gatherings and conventions and times we'd spent with our friends, and we laughed until we stopped. Fortunately before anyone had the sort of accident which Cas would abjure against the next day.

The car was fuller on the way home.

After the boat trip on Saturday Pat C had declared a preference to try to find the Lakeland Limited shop. I seconded this preference. Mark made a hasty retreat to the hotel, but Keith nobly came with us on the basis that it could be an enjoyable walk. Keith succumbed and bought a little something in Lakeland. Pat filled two small bags. I came away with a very large bag (all things we needed, naturally) and a feeling of retail satisfaction. Afterwards Keith treated us to coffee, while we reposed in café seating on a quiet pavement near Lakeland and, joined by Rob and his large pot of tea, felt in the mood to discuss the Next Bloody British Bloody Corflu. Maybe we should hold it in a town with a good Lakeland shop.

Keith had subsequently transferred a couple of boxes from his boot to ours, for the benefit of the BSFA. Pat and Mike Meara had handed over a beer of comment from Paul Skelton - an imperial lager, at 11.6% - since at that stage the Skeltons hadn't yet arranged to drop by; it didn't take up much space, but seemed to warrant careful packing. And I'd bought a print of one of brian's pieces which I've admired for months, 'The Block', which needed some careful packing of its own; Mike bought another print, depicting an Underground station that several of us, nerdily, tried to identify.

Barcon had been planned collectively and, despite all the different things that people did over the weekend, it felt like a group endeavour all the way through; so I reckon everyone deserves some credit for all the things that we enjoyed. As we got closer to home, my phone began to buzz with emails reporting the return of those Barcon wanderers who weren't extending their trip. But we were still at a service station before braving the M25. Because you can't wee just anywhere.

Bestie the Westie (photo: Graham Charnock)

This article was first published in Raucous Caucous 3 2014 edited by Pat Charnock