Graham's Convention

A Few Case Notes

by Graham Charnock
First published in True Rat 8

Some convention reports come over like country and western songs, glorifying the heartache, parading out the exquisite maudlin misery of a love affair which didn't live up to your expectations but it doesn't matter any ballad, and far less like some convention reports I've read. The bad times are surely bad and no amount of cosy nostalgic recollection can scrub you clean of that dirty feeling some bad times give you.

(Oh no, not another downer piece from Charnock, sometimes I wonder where that boy's head is at. Can't we have something jolly and ho-ho and tru-rattish, a parade of Holdstock follies, Kettlisms and Westoid dementiae?)

Well, I'm sorry but my head was pretty messed up at Owens Park and I can't in all honesty remember one occasion when I righteously lost myself in laughter and well-being; there was always an edge, an undercurrent. The nearest I came to mirth was a kind of strangled snigger when Ian Watson fell backwards off his chair. Greg Pickersgill for one is mystified at the liaison that exists between Ian Watson and myself. Sometimes I'm mystified myself, but when he fell backwards off his chair it went a little way towards clearing the matter up. We both like to laugh at each other, often in a callow cowardly fashion. Normally I would have made more capital of this incident, but I was in a strange state which the manner of the Watsons did nothing to temper. Watching Ian and Judy watson get progressively drunker or apparently get progressively drunker (all is shadow and mystification) is like watching two chameleons thrown against a rainbow, You are never quite sure of their true colours. When Ian fell off his chair he did at least, for a flash, for an instant, become just like any other human being who has lost his dignity. It was a moment's insight that was valuable for someone whose head was pretty messed up.

(Don't you think this is a bit directionless, Charnock? We want to know how you fared, sure, but not in the ovens of this Auschwitz of fandom. Give us your adventure and impressions, not a self-directed diatribe on your state of mind.)

We found a nice steak restaurant, the Rats, and ate there twice. On both occasions I came away in a mood of blank depressed melancholy, profoundly affected by the apparent depression of other members of our party. Why? The mood of others was not my fault, was not my concern. Why? I can't explain this without a diatribe on my state of mind.

Put simply, my state of mind was paranoid. Now paranoia is a jargon word I've thrown about with the best of them, usually using it as a clever-clever way to represent a fairly normal healthy fear. But you know it goes a little deeper than that. Until afew months ago I'd never experienced real symptoms of paranoia. I don't know why it suddenly started a couple of months ago, unless it was job-related. Most of my minor psychoses are. Anyway this, as I see it from my non-informed layman sufferer's point of view, is what was happening: for whatever reasons I was generating a degree of self-directed hate and anger. Unable to handle this I was externalizing it and projecting it onto others whom I visualised as resenting and conspiring against me. I would stand in bus queues obsessed for no good rational reason with the idea that people were plotting to push in front of me, going through scenarios and dialogues in my mind, finally pushing in front of someone myself and then brooding for the rest of the day about what that person was thinking about me. I would arrive home in a state of agitation and do nothing but anticipate the people downstairs making a noise with their stereo. If there should be some action down below I would work myself hysterically to the point of confrontation, then chicken out because ultimately I was afraid of what they might think of me. This constant brooding about how other people interpreted me, and the feedback effect of how I must modulate my behaviour in order that they should interpret me in a good light, was the underlyings syptom of my paranoia, the major abnormality of my state of mind. A healthy condition for a convention, eh?

(I wish he'd shut up. What about the convention programme? What about that groovy talk by Bob Shaw?)

I didn't see much of the convention programme. I was too busy trying to keep my profile not only low but well nigh invisible. My sole ambition was to cause offence to no one; I couldn't bear the idea of being a candidate for the cause of anyone's misery. So when Greg asked me if Bryn Fortey could sleep on my floor, I simply (but with a chill of apprehension) said no. Whereupon Greg said something scathing about my lack of charity and fannishness which crippled me and sent me away crippled to bed and crippled me for most of the next day when I came damn near to quitting and going home. This is a good example of how a fairly harmless remark can feedback in the drum of a paranoid's head and near shake him to pieces. For a reference point, this was the morning we were all in a peculiar mood and Malcolm Edwards failed to achieve glory and a possible future as the BBC's resident expert on Robert Silverberg by missing the quiz.

Yes, I caught Bob Shaw's talk. It was a safe moment for me, because it was a guaranteed good-time for others. There was no misery or ill-feeling in the audience for my paranoiac's nose to ferret out. By the same token I was unable to watch Gerry web make a fool of himself before Silverberg's panel. I had to leave. Do not mistake this for concern for others' feelings, but rather fear lest their despair and anguish should reach out and find a butt in me.

But there is a limit, it is true, to the burden anyone can shoulder and I never seriously believed the convention's apparent failure to delight was anyone's fault but the committee's. Their failure at least allowed me an opportunity of pure hate and anger that was not somehow self-directed. It seemed so obvious, in my more rational moments at least, that the convention was failing because the committee were simply not putting their arses into it, were not sweating, were not struggling until their nerves were shredded the way I had struggled at Seacon to ensure people enjoyed themselves. I hated them for that.

As far as the rest of the programme was concerned, I caught one reel of The Man Whe Fell To Earth and liked it immensely because its vacuous posing seemed in keeping with the character I was myself playing in the super-budget cast-of-hundreds movie the cosmic joker was making right there at Owens Park.

(I didn't even know this kind of thing went on at conventions. You can't help feeling sorry for the guy, I suppose. But I wish he'd fall to earth himself.)

Oh yeah, I guess I transcended paranoia for a short while during the infamous Ratfan v Gannets football match. Thank heaven for that blissful period of cortex death when my intellectual processes were suspended and I was snug and curled up down there in my brain stem, pumping blood and gasping air, trying desperately to kill myself with exertion. Damn near succeeded too. Afterwards I was afraid I'd gone too far and some blossom of disturbed blood would flower in my skull or heart, some aneurism or haemorrhage. He died that the sins of the convention might be forgiven. But that was generally a good time, so I won't dwell upon the moment I faux-pas-ed at referee Bob Shaw; "What's the matter with your eyes? Are you blind?" when he made an adverse decision. It later transpired that the Gannets had bribed him with offers of drink, which knowledge arrested this faux-pas in its slow passage towards my guilt centres. Yes we can forget that.

(You'd do well to forget the whole thing, Charnock. I'm sorry I ever asked.)

Just remember that you did. Next year I'm going as a schizo.

-- Graham Charnock

This text kindly provided by Roy Kettle

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