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LONDON HEATHROW '78 - SKYCON

Survivaconrep

by Paul Kincaid







First published in Wallbanger 1, August 1978, edited by Eve & John Harvey




Eventually you run out of excuses. When you've scraped the barrel and actually read the Programme Book, twice; when there is no immediate and urgent need to stare out of the window or perform some other such deed of daring-do, you finally have to admit defeat and begin writing. Such is the sad state into which conrep writers sink; though older and wiser heads than mine have fallen into the trap, I can but warn of the dangers. In particular I advise sobriety at Silicon, at least that way you stand a fighting chance of avoiding promising one of these things to someone disreputable enough to take you up on it, like John and Eve. (Thus it is written, on her Convention badge: Evel yn Harvey the middle bit, I suppose, indicates Welsh ancestry, as if we don't have enough of 'em already).

John and Eve are a formidable pair, comparing their stubbornness to mules must libel the poor mule. I finally gave up the unequal struggle of trying to squirm out of this at about 2.45 on Friday. Driven by motives of self-abasement that I shall pass over in decent silence, I had subjected myself to the Chairman's Welcome and the- Introduction of Celebrities. John happened to be sitting next to me, so with naive desperation I said: "How can I write a conrep, I've been here an hour and nothing's happened?"

"What a great idea, he replied, bubbling with nauseating enthusiasm. "'Nothing happening, so I go to the bar. Later I look around but there's still nothing happening, so back to the bar.' Make a great report."

"Ah well, I quipped, "there's not much point in me writing it now, you've just done it for me."

With his usual mastery of repartee and the bon mot, John responded with silence. A few moments later I got some slight satisfaction, a sadistic laugh as the Harveys were introduced and had to stand up to take an embarrassed bow. But it wasn't enough. I took his advice, though, and paid a visit to the two or three tables that made up the conbar in a small room downstairs. I should have known better. On the train down to London I had been reading scare stories in GANNETSCRAPBOOK 4 about lager in London costing 50p a pint, and on arrival at the Heathrow Hotel I sampled one of their meals so I had experience of their prices. Even so, 60p for fifth rate lager. I needed that first pint just to recover from the shock.

Alright, we go to cons to get drunk with friends. But if this is the shape of cons to come, then for anyone who would prefer to end a con without a visit to the bankruptcy court all I can suggest is that they either give up drinking, or give up eating. Preferably both, since that might just about leave them with enough for the room. For myself, I occasionally managed to persuade someone that they owed me a drink, otherwise it was my soberest con, and the only one since my first that I've been clear-eyed and clear-headed on the Saturday and Sunday mornings. Not necessarily a good thing considering the sight presented by some of my wealthier friends on those mornings.

Only one question remained: how in hell was I going to survive the weekend without the necessary dulling of the senses that alcohol imposes? Fear not, gentle reader, for help was at hand. A whisper reached me that an inn just across the road served the life-preserving beverage at something approaching civilized prices. That evening an expedition consisting of Boris Lawrence, Mike Scantlebury and myself set out to investigate this rumour.

I confess, maybe desperation made us a bit eager. Anyway, the hostelry was still closed when we got there. So we wandered along the road in the hope that we might find another pub that was open. We didn't, but we did find a bowling alley. About ten years ago I did bowl once or twice, Mike and Boris, so they say, have never bowled. I mention that only to explain how come, assuming our erratic scoring system to be correct, I won. And to prove that the universe operates a `system of checks and balances, I then went on to demonstrate my total inability to master the intricacies of a pin-ball machine and a three-handed effort at one of those blip-blip-blip TV games.

Eventually we got to the pub where they served pizzas and Kronenberg and played 'Denis' repeatedly on the jukebox, to Boris' evident delight. "Ooh that Deborah Harry," he drooled. I think we were on our second pint when Jan Finder lead a colonial delegation. Jan had apparently prepared a glossary of British terms in an attempt to educate American fans in the proper use of the language in preparation for '79. Unfortunately he had omitted to give the definitions of the words listed, so Boris took it upon himself to fill the gap for Bobbi Armbruster (she threatened to bust our arms if we mispronounced it, so I won't, honest). Funny thing about Boris, he of the "creamy, yielding flesh"- as Dave Langford would have us believe; it turns out he's shy. (Ahhh.. ) No, I didn't believe it either. But whenever we came to one of those good old English words like 'bugger' or 'crumpet`, I had to supply the definitions. Of course, it could simply be that he's illiterate.

The Heathrow Hotel obviously had, our best interests very much at heart. Not only did they encourage moderation in alcoholic consumption, but when they locked the toilets at night they realised that this might cause problems and thoughtfully closed the bar at one o'clock also. They must also have been keenly aware of the many valuable fanzines and photographs that festooned the fanroom, for, with security very much in mind, they had locked this also. It seemed that only the guardian of this princely collection, Ian Maule, was empowered to open it once more. However Ian, for reasons only known to himself, had elected to lock himself away in his room with Janice.

Now rumour had it that this self-same Maule was due to bring a great wealth of booze into the fanroom where a party was due to take place. Consequently a modest gathering of the more knowledgeable fans was filling the corridor in anticipation of the event. Of course he didn't appear, so Greg Pickersgill somehow managed to get himself locked in the fanroom along with the cleaners.

Now we all know what a strange and wonderful place the fanroom is, and what weird attraction it holds for all trufen, and I will not begin to guess at what arcane practices Greg performed with the cleaners behind that locked door. But whatever it was, I swear that when that door was again opened some time later more people emerged than had ever entered. Among them our mighty chairman, Kev Smith, making a noble if futile effort to look like he had the faintest idea what he was doing.

If you're lucky the programme doesn't intrude too much upon your con. Nevertheless, once or twice, it does pay to put your head around the door of the convention hall and there is one item when such a potentially lethal position is almost de rigeur. In fact, careful to reserve myself a seat for Mr Shaw, I even risked the latter part of the preceding panel. A lacklustre effort I must say, missing on the fireworks because Greg Pickersgill was sitting at one end of the row, and he wasn`t speaking! But then, maybe it was my non-hungover state, since even Bob Shaw seemed less sparkling than usual. With his World Con committments coming up next year, perhaps he should be allowed a rest next Easter.

At lunchtime that Saturday Rob Hansen, Joseph Nicholas, Gra Poole and I decided to favour the Air Hostess once more. I'll re-phrase that, we decided to have lunch at the pub across the road. It was, perhaps, a mistake. The place was practically empty, and Rob had no trouble getting his beer and two pizzas, the last the pub had. Only then the barman wandered off to serve another bar leaving us standing there, empty handed. Rob took himself off to a corner table where he could stuff himself and have a good laugh at our expense. Somehow Gra got served and joined Rob, but it was half an hour after we got there before Joe and I got our pints of lager and put in an order for toasted cheese sandwiches. These, of course, didn't appear. We made a couple more trips to the bar, propped it up a while longer, and finally, finally, after waiting for an hour or more, we got to eat. Naturally one of my sandwiches turned out to be cheese and onion. I hate onion.

And through it all Gra was scribbling industriously away in a huge notebook. I must admit, hard though it is to believe, that there are a few perverts, masochists all, who actually enjoy writing these things. Dave Langford is another. His deafness is caused by the curious phenomenon of everybody falling silent whenever he comes within range, just to be on the safe side. But the disability does have its advantages; I've long suspected that it is a convenient excuse for carrying around a miniature tape recorder disguised as a hearing aid, one specially tuned to pick up only indiscretions. Well, it saves all that tedious note-taking. Myself, I make no notes during a con, hoping I might not remember enough to make a conrep. It works, this is all fiction.

But I digress. At one point, while I was at the table nursing my lager and Joe was standing guard at the bar I saw him talking with Dave Wingrove. Recently Dave Wingrove has taken to bombarding me with free books, and I thought that if I went to the expense of maybe buying him a half of something it might encourage him in this desirable activity. But the next time I looked round he'd disappeared and, naturally, I didn't see him again that weekend. The Heathrow Hotel seems to be a great place for not finding people. Steve and Helen Walker are good friends of mine, and we had arranged to meet as early as possible at the con. Well I saw Steve for about a minute at the foot of the lifts as I arrived on the Friday, after that I couldn*t find either of them until the showing of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN on Saturday evening.

That, of course, was after the GoH's speech, my own totally uninspiring appearance on a panel in the Fan Room (Fannish Brain's Trust, would you credit it?) suitably interrupted by a false fire alarm, and dinner at a Chinese restaurant with a girl who revealed incredibly detailed knowledge of the laws relating to exposure and peeping toms. Funny things, cons. The film was followed by the Fancy Dress parade wherein a large number of people clambered unsteadily onto chairs to obtain the best view possible of the usual collection of girls intent on displaying their wares. (God bless 'em). And then there was Brian Burgess. Did you everů (No, I must restrain myself, hysteria can't be good for you. Ha,ha, ho ho, he he, guffaw guffaw...)

Somewhat recovered, I then went up to my room to watch MASH on television. Well, even at a con we're allowed some enjoyment.

When I rejoined the festivities it was to find the disco in full swing. Just outside the con hall a small group that consisted at. various times, and among others, of Hazel Langford, Janice Maule, Gra Poole, Ian Williams, Mike Scantlebury, Joe Nicholas and myself were having what, considering the time and the location, was a reasonably sane discussion. Suddenly Joe Nicholas thrust his ballooning finger towards the ceiling and declared, ringingly: "I'm going to dance with Helen McCarthy!" Remembering the abortive escapade of last Eastercon it was generally agreed that this would be an event not to be missed. So we all bustled into the con hall and found a spot near the small dancefloor. The floor was quite crowded, there wasn't even room for Malcolm Edwards to do his I usual backwards run, and it took us some while to spot our quarry. Daring this interval I do believe that Joe was having second thoughts. "There she is." "Ah, she's dancing with someone." "Then break in." "Oh, what a pity, the music's stopped." "Now's your chance, then." "But she's talking to someone." "They're not dancing, though. And the music's started." "I've lost her." "She's over there." "Ow, my finger's hurting again." "That doesn't stop you dancing." By main force. Gra Poole and I had pushed him so far forward that one foot actually touched the wooden floor, but that was as far as we got before the disco shut down at 11.30. Joe took a very deep breath. This time he can't complain of the dangers produced by his plan leaking out - they didn't leak and there was no danger. So Novacon...

Cons are great places for revealing things about people. For instance I've known Mike Scantlebury virtually since I entered fandom, and I was vaguely aware that he had been involved with fandom before that. Now, as people began drifting out of the con hall, 'Captain' Greg Pickersgill and Simone Walsh wandered by. "Good grief," quoth Simone, spotting Mike, "It's Dufe (Doof'?) Scantlebury from Bristol." Dufe? "Because he'd do fer anything," Simone supplied. They then wandered off into unintelligible reminiscences, and I was reduced to trying to emulate 'Head Boy' Roy Kettle's feat with used flash cubes. He would bounce a cube off his biceps and (try to) catch it again. The floor soon became rather crunchy under foot, so we withdrew.

That night a party in the fan room did materialise, though if there was any of that famed fannish punch available, I didn't get any. As soon as we got into the fan room Joe Nicholas and Helen Eling withdrew into the darkest corner and locked themselves into a kiss that must have broken all records; Some time later Stan Eling came in, noticed the couple in the clinch, and settled down on the other side of the room. Ten minutes or so later, since they still showed no sign of coming up for air, he wandered out again. Meanwhile someone had put a tape on, and the interrupted dancing started up again.

I had no sooner got through the door of the Heathrow Hotel on Friday afternoon than Rob Hansen accosted me and thrust into my hand Roy Kettle's NOT TRUE RAT TEN. That night I kept Mike Scantlebury awake by reading the thing, and laughing out loud. This night he got his revenge, he snored. What is the world coming to? Who can you trust when the fresh young innocent who wouldn*t say boo to a goose who you agree to share your room with to save money turns out to be a jaded long-time fan who snores?

Strangely the greater part of Sunday seems to be murky and unclear to me now. I remember getting up very early because this was the day THE FRONT was supposed to be shown on the television and I wanted to see it. But when I turned the set on they were still showing BRANNIGAN from the previous day, so I went back in bed. Later I learnt that THE FRONT was shown after all, and I missed it.

I remember hurrying away from the bidding session with Boris once the Leeds bid was secured for '79 in order not to miss BARBARELLA. Only to have to wait an hour before they started showing it. We knew the timing had been changed, but the committee didn't do a particularly good job of advertising the revised times.

I remember Steve Walker surrendering Helen into my tender, care to go swimming. She wore a bikini. I take my glasses off to go swimming. Doesn't it always work that way.

I remember the book auction with Chuck Partington bidding indisciminately for everything he didn't want, until nobody bid against him for one item. And the Call My Bluff with Roy Kettle proving himself the best liar in fandom, and the pros demonstrating that they know nothing about sf.

We ate at the airport, half a dozen of us; then returned to catch the aptly named DANGER: DIABOLIK while the wealthy banqueted.

The Doc Weir Award is traditionally an occasion for getting the fix in. This time the fix worked. I was next to Greg, leaning against the wall at the back of the hall, when it was announced he'd won. He turned his head a little to one side, smiled that tiny, shy, retiring smile known and loved by us all. Well, all right... but he didn't exactly jump up and down and scream and shout either. The problem is, the obvious choice for next year would be Simone, but I don't think she'd stand for two years cleaning the damned cup.

After that came THE announcement. Now, for the first time, there is proof that concoms are human, that they do have some spark of decency about them. "Free drinks," said Kev Smith. Free drinks; the only time I could afford the bar prices. We sauntered slowly downstairs at a stately, dignified pace; waited patietntly for our glass of lager; and retired yet again to the fan room. A strange thing that the fan room was at its most crowded at precisely those times when Ian Maule, fan room generalissimo and well known wishy washy person was not trying to attract business.

In exchange for a promise of a floor to sleep on at Silicon, I had agreed to let Ritchie Smith and Annie Mullins sleep on the floor of our room that night. However when, in the not-so-early hours of Monday morning, we finally completed the route march down all those miles of corridors it turned out that Mike hadn't yet decided to retire. So Ritchie and Annie took his bed, and Mike was left with the floor. That'll teach him to snore. It didn't stop me extracting his full share of the room rate, either.

Reality has been getting rather a nasty habit of intruding into the back end of cons this last year or so. At Coventry John and Eve had their car pinched. This year a dozen or so of us went to Terminal 3 for lunch on Monday. We'd just about finished when there was a scream and I looked around to see Chris Atkinson clutching something to her and staggering a little backwards. "We get all sorts," said the waiter, and winked. It turned out someone had rifled her bag, taking money and keys. Like I said, nasty.

Apart from that, though, John had it pretty near right. Nothing happened, so I went to the bar, only the beer was so expensive I couldn't even drink. Which is the big problem about getting saddled with a job like this what on earth do you write about?

-- Paul Kincaid




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