Beach cricket at Seacon. Photo by Ned Brooks.



by Ned Brooks

First published in Skiffy Thyme, 1980

Ghad, what a trite title, right? Well, look out, it will probably get worse as we go on... I am not much of a tourist, and an even more dismal reporter. But I did go to both Seacon and the NorthAmeriCon and even took some b&w photos for publication. The photos will appear over there somewhere on a different type of paper and I will not attempt to integrate them with this text. I get bored after going over this stuff a half-dozen times, and I suspect some of the people who asked me how my trip was got bored half-way through the first account, so I will try to put it all down here and let anyone who can wade through it...

On August 17, equiped with a very few clothes, some money (about $1000 and a VISA card) and a pocket Instamatic, I left for Shannon, Republic of Ireland, via Baltimore and NY. I also carried (boy did I carry it!) a fifty-pound bag of books for the Huckster rooms. I got from Newport News' Patrick Henry Airport to Baltimore on a new service that has replaced Allegheny here, a Henson Shorts. This is a very boxy little high-wing commuter plane, seats 3O in a rather cramped, noisy, stuffy fashion. Still, not bad for the hour or so maximum flight time. Henson checked my large bag right through to Shannon with no problem.

The NY-Shannon flight was over-night, but I got little sleep, what with meals, the movie, and the continual noise. This was on the Republic of Ireland's national line, Aer Lingus, and compared to some of the 747s I've been on the service was excellent - I just don't much enjoy air travel. I got to Shannon around dawn and collected my large bag. I had no reservations or definite plans, but had been told that there was plenty of land transportation from Shannon to Dublin. Irish (and British) customs are split into "red line" and "green line" for those that do and don't have anything to declare. Since "commercial goods for resale" were supposed to be declared according to the sign, I went through the Red Line. There was one customs man on duty there, and I was his only customer. I had thought that the Irish might find my purple fake-fur table cover (for the Huckster room) or the VAUGHN BODE INDEX to be obscene or dutiable, but the customs man seems very uninterested, glanced briefly at the Middle Earth buttons, and waved me on. There seemed to be very little concern about terrorism or smuggling in the Republic. In fact, there was little police presence in general. No did there seem to be much need for it. Everyone I came in contact with was pleasant.

There were a dozen or so booths set up in the Shannon air terminal for car rental, so I went to the one that had advertised a discount rate on the back of the Aer Lingus boarding pass - they were out of cars, so I went to another. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had little inclination to spend much time trying to find the cheapest one. I told them that I wanted a car to drive to Dublin and leave there when I went on to England, and that it would need to be an automatic, since I didn't want to contend with driving on the left and shifting gears too. The man said he had one automatic left, and that I could have it for what amounted to about $50/day (hooha...). It was an old red Escort, seemed to run ok. I had my bags in it and was about to drive off into the unknown when it occurred to me to ask him for a map - he gave me a very primitive sort of map of the whole country and said I could get a regular road map at "any Shell station". This turned out to be untrue... Again I started to leave but he rushed out and asked if I would mind switching to a brand-new Cortina sedan instead of the Escort - turned out that a young girl had turned up to rent an automatic and he thought I was less likely to wreck his fancy new car... So I got in the Cortina and drove away. I went to Limerick by mistake, studied the map again and saw I should have gone NE from Shannon. I got tangled up in all sorts of strange narrow goat paths which, never-the-less, appeared on the map as principal highways. But it was a nice day end the scenery was interesting. Western Ireland is very poor, but beautiful. There were a lot of small vacation trailers about, not on the road much, but pulled off wherever the shoulder was wide enough, with a fire going and the wash hung out. Lots of people on bicycles and motorcycles. I was curious what was on the radio, but the car had none and I had very stupidly forgotten to bring my small portable. After a few hours, I finally found the main road to Dublin, and shortly thereafter picked up a hitch-hiking student. He was on the way to visit his brother, who was at King's College in Dublin -- which was fortunate for me, as he knew the right way into the city.

I had driven on the left before, in Australia after AussieCon, and it didn't bother me out on the road, but in Dublin's heavy traffic, after two days with little sleep, I was glad enough to find a place to park it. The student, whose name was McNutt, showed me around the college a little and went off to find his brother. I wandered around a while and then went to see if I could find the famous Christchurch Cathedral, which has stained-glass windows by the great fantasy artist Harry Clarke. I found it after a while, but it was locked up all around, with no indication that it might ever be open. So I wandered some more... Dublin does not seem to have much in the way of used-book stores, but I might have been in the wrong place. Hard to tell when the phone directory has no 'yellow pages'. I did run across a few small shops which had a dozen or so battered volumes among the antiques and junques.

Well, I finally got tired of walking and got something to eat and began to think of some place to spend the night. I asked at a couple of small hotels, but they were full - it turned out I had managed to arrive in Dublin the day before a big rugby match. I finally wound up at the Royal Dublin at something like $40/day.

On Sunday I found that I had walked so much the day before that it was all I could do to move at all. I did discover that Dublin is not too lively on a Sunday, though the music stores are open, and the pet-food stores, and, oddly enough, the main cost office. So I wrote a pile of postcards and want to a movie. None of the big theaters on O'Connell Street was showing anything but US films and the only one I hadn't seen was AVALANCHE EXPRESS, so I went to that. Very elegant theatre, but they allow smoking and have no knee room. There were two documentaries and a cartoon, and then a commercial break to get munchies - the break included an ad for the latest DaiHatsu model available in Ireland, oddly named "The Charade", a little Japanese car that looked much like a Datsun or a Subaru to me. But what a name!

On Monday I decided that I had seen enough of Dublin, so I phoned Darroll Pardoe in Liverpool to say that I would come over on the Monday ferry instead of Tuesday as originally planned. I got the car out of the Royal Dublin's microscopic basement garage and drove it to a Texaco station out towards the airport which was where I was to turn it in. A cab that was there being washed took me down to the ferry in plenty of time for the 1100 AM sailing.

Neither Jack Chalker nor the local Newport News travel agency seemed to believe in this ferry service, called the B&I, but they run a large sea-going car ferry called the Leinster from Dublin to Liverpool and back twice a day, seven days a week. The crossing takes about seven hours. There arc cabins for the night crossing and three decks of lounges and bars, with slot machines in all the halls. And a duty-free shop.

The ship is well kept up, and equipped with roll stabilizers. I wandered about and read Fred Pohl's THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS and ate a sandwich. I rut a few 2p pieces in a slot machine and hit the jackpot - 200 2p nieces, worth about $9. Very much like having $9 in nickels! The weather was misty, with intermittent rain, so the view was not exciting.

At Liverpool, oddly enough, the ship had to be run into a lock and pumped up to a higher level before we could disembark. The Pardoes had told me to take the free bus to the Lime Street station. They met me there. Darroll and Rosemary Pardoe have been to the US several times and Darroll was at school in the midwest in the 60s. I stayed with them in Liverpool until we went down to Brighton on the train on Thursday. We went to a number of bookstores, including a political place where I got the new Ron Cobb book of political cartoons, COBB AGAIN. On Tuesday Rosemary took me on the Mersey ferry while Darroll went to work. We also went to the spectacular new cathedral, called the "Mersey Funnel" because of its shape. This is built on the foundations of an earlier and more grandiose traditional design for which the money ran out, so that there is a large paved plaza at one end above the original foundation. The Illuminati may have had a hand in the affair - the corners of the plaza are set off with large marble pyramids, an odd contrast with the modern reinforced concrete cathedral on one side and the old red brick of Liverpool on the other.

There was an odd contrast between Ireland, where there was no police presence and no feeling that there might be a need for any - the things people did which are nrobably illegal most places were - two come to mind - driving a cow to market (or somewhere) along the edge of a road using a truck to urge it along; pissing against the wall on the main street in Dublin (not me, but two ordinary-looking young men) on Sunday; beggars in the street in Dublin - and Liverpool, where there was a police check on the people get ting off the ferry, and the people were more like you would find in a large US city, and the Pardoes and I were assailed on the public street by teenagers they called 'yobs', apparently high on alcohol or drugs. Now there's a sentence for you... I had not seen such street beggars or men relieving themselves on the public street since I was in Chile in the late 40s and early 50s.

I was lucky with the British customs - when I got into Liverpool and through the police check (oddly enough, they seemed more interested in who I was and why I was in Liverpool than in what I had in the large heavy bag) I again went through the "red line" for the customs check, all prepared with an inventory of the books I had with me for resale. But the customs lines were deserted - Her Majesty's Customs Officers were all on strike!

The Pardoe's are vegetarians, and we ate at an excellent vegetarian restaurant in Liverpool. I am always pleasantly surprised to find anything good to eat while travelling, as you really have to have lived in a place a while before you know where the good food is. But I never had anything really bad on this trip either (once I escaped the clutches of the airlines). I did miss the large quantities of cold Cola drinks that I am addicted to - cola, like beer, is served at room temperature in England. The tea, however, was excellent. And Dublin and Liverpool both have good water. Brighton's is rather flat and tasteless.

The train ride from Liverpool to London across the middle off England was fascinating. Darroll pointed out the chemical plant where he works (I've forgotten the name - they specialize in relatively small quantities of exotic compounds). Another odd sight was a small group of cows in a field by the track - Darroll pointed them out and I thought "so what?". Then I noticed that they were oddly still - they were life-size statues of cows.

In London we ate in Euston Station and then took a cab across town to Victoria Station to get the train to Brighton. It had been raining on and off all day, but the sun came out for the few minutes that it took to cross Trafalgar Square. Another few hours on the train brought us to Brighton, where we got a cab to the Metropole, the main con hotel, where the Pardoes and I both had rooms reserved. I got checked in & registered in short order with no hassles, and dragged my large bag to the Huckster Room and set up my table - on one side of me was Ron Bennett, a TAFF winner of the 50s who would throw a Perry Rhodan pb at me at the drop of a quip; and on the other was Charles Platt, editor of NEW WORLDS, a rather mysterious figure. At least he didn't throw a pie at me... He did depart early, and left a loaded water pistol behind, but I resisted the temptation.

I got to looking at the Seacon pocket program and discovered that at seven that evening there was to be a dramatization of Theodore Sturgeon's SOME OF YOUR BLOOD - now that won't mean much to you if you haven't read the book, but it has been 20 years since I read it and I have not forgotten it. I won't try to describe the bizarre plot in a family fanzine, go and read it for yourself. So I took myself down to the proper lower-level hallway and found a goodly crowd already assembled. I saw a number of US fans I knew, and fell into conversation with Phyllis Ann Karr, who I had not met before. The play started only a half-hour late. Sturgeon himself made a few preliminary remarks. The performance was a two-man show with no props except for a vugraph projector. It took the form of an interview between a psychologist and a prospective lunatic, with the Rorschak tests, etc. and the patient's drawings projected on a screen behind them. The play had originally been presented in Dublin, and was put on four times during the con to accomodate the number of fans that wanted to see it. It was excellent, I mean to reread the book. I could hardly forget the general plot, but I didn't recall there being so many murders. After the play, Phyllis and I went out and found a place to eat - she had a large rare steak, I had a lambchop. And some Guinness, as I had been told that I 'had to' try it. All I can say is, it was no worse that any other beer I have tried. No better either - I am not a beer fan.

The Metropole is a large modern hotel, well-suited for a convention except for the long narrow hall and stair that links the main hotel with the exhibition halls and makes a bad bottle-neck when large numbers of people try to move through at once. The Huckster room and art show were spacious and well-lit. The main hall suffered from a fan-installed sound system with large Bose speakers on tall poles -- for some reason, these things were usually driven past the point of distortion. The hotel provided a continental breakfast. There were plenty of good cheap eating places near the hotel.

As is usually the ease with worldcons, the whole thing tends to run together in my mind... There were over 3000 fans on hand. I met Ken Slater after all these years of getting catalogs from him. Finally met Frank Denton of Seattle, he and I and Laurine White were the only Slans there. Sang the old filk songs of the 60s with Ron Bounds. Had lunch with Jeremy & Fiona Morgan, he is editor of the British Tolkien Society zine. Bought a number of books and fanzines, which will be described elsewhere in this zinc. The current Dr Who was at the con, but I would rather have met Peter Cushing, who was not. Went to an AussieCon reunion party, which was combined with First Fandom's party that night and two other groups in a string of connected and very crowded rooms. Failed to meet Pete Presford, though he was there... Failed to be expelled from some very exclusive party with the other "American riff-raff", mainly because I wasn't there... Took photos of the Aussie/British cricket match on Brighton's shingle beach - I don't think I ever saw a shingle beach before. It would be a hell of a place for a riot, the beach consists entirely of loose water-rounded stones of ideal throwing size.

I brought a couple of them back to go with the one I brought from Tasmania in '75. When I went down to stand around before the banquet, I found a line stretching from the second (what we would call the third) floor foyer down the stairs all the way to the lobby - but these fans were going up, not down. Bob Tucker asked me what was so fascinating up above, and I told him that Superman was signing autographs in the second-floor foyer and it was going slowly because the pencil kept breaking, the table collapsing, etc. It was true too, at least to the extent that Chris Reeve was signing autographs in the second-floor foyer... I tried to take his photo later - he was still there after the banquet - but he must have used his super-speed or something, the picture is blurred.

I did not go to the Hugo Awards, which were separate from the banquet. I won't says anything about them, except that the only one I agreed with was the one to Vonda McIntyre for DREAMSNAKE. The banquet was somewhat above average for con banquet food, but too salty and nothing to drink unless you ordered wine. We did finally extort some water from the waiter. Just as well the awards were separate, the remarks from the head table were inaudible.

I wish I could have stayed in England long enough to see the Brighton Pavilion, which was said to be very impressive. And the big London bookstores. And Stonehenge, though I think I would find the barbed wire they have put up depressing. And the Typewriter Museum at Bournemouth. But the only flight I could get back was on Tuesday, so on Monday afternoon I packed up and went to London with Gerald Bishop in a car driven by his friend Martin Bullen. We never got to bed, but sat around all night sampling Gerald's Scotch and talking and eating pates that Gerald had made... It didn't matter to me, I had nothing to do the next day but sit on a plane; Bishop has the only toilet I encountered in Ireland or England that flushed normally... Bullen said that he had a $15000 Morgan sports car on order - to make up for the lack, he drove the rented Cortina to London at 90 mph... Quite as mad as the US variety of fan!

On Tuesday morning Bullen very kindly took me right to Heathrow to get the plane and I checked in and converted my pounds back to dollars. After about five assorted airline, passport, and security checks, including being patted all over, I finally made it to the final boarding lounge - where I learned that Earl Mountbatten had just been assassinated in Ireland. Lynne Holdom and Gene DeModica were on the same plane and had a paper with them.

The flight back was on a British Airways 747. They were supposed to show SUPERMAN, but as soon as we got on I noticed that the overhead reading lights were flashing in sequence and it turned out that something was wrong in the circuitry, as none of the headphone channels would work. So there was no movie, which didn't bother me. It was a day flight, so the reading lights weren't needed anyway. I read and talked to a young tourist on his way to the US, an insurance company efficiency expert. I had a cold that was getting worse, and some ear pain from the pressurization.

In New York I came into Kennedy and got through US Customs with no trouble - they didn't even look in my bag. I took the bus to LaGuardia to get the plane to Louisville, very hot and muggy. At LaGuardia I found a drugstore and bought some Nyquil, which made me feel a bit better - had a Big Cold Coke too!

-- Ned Brooks

Text kindly provided by Ned Brooks.(Editorial note: The remainder of Ned's article,as printed, deals with his adventures at NorthAmericon in Louisville).

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