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Epsilon 8 cover by Rob Hansen

BIRMINGHAM '80 (NOVACON)/NEWCASTLE '81 (SILICON 5)

A Tale of Two Conventions
(this time it really is, honest!)

by Rob Hansen


First published in Epsilon 8, 1981, edited by Rob Hansen




Financial considerations had led me to make the journey to Newcastle and SILICON 5 by coach but, surprisingly, the seven hours seemed to pass remarkably quickly. This may well have been due to the fact that I spent a sizeable part of the trip asleep, but I'm sure the time spent deep in reflection also helped. When the trip to a convention is a seven hour haul up the Ml you have plenty of time to think about earlier conventions, to compare what a has gone before with your expectations of what lies ahead. YORCON 2, the 1981 Eastercon held in Leeds, had been an enjoyable convention but it was curiously unmemorable leaving only a mess of inchoate impressions amid the background hum of snatches of earlier conventions that can't be formed into any meaningful whole. It was as if the convention had somehow been made of Teflon. However the convention that preceded it, the 1980 NOVACON, was something else. The experience of sharing a hotel room over three nights with Robert Holdstock and Greg Pickersgill provided a number of bizarre anecdotes that if have acquired an almost mythic quality among the Friends In Space. At the start of the con Greg stated his avowed intention to stay pissed the whole weekend, an aim he largely achieved. Unfortunately the consequence of this was that Greg stayed late in bed every morning feeling a Very Sick Boy Indeed, past the time that the hotel staff would come in and tidy things up with the result that the room was almost unfit for human habitation by Monday. The waste bin containing an unsavoury mix of empty baked bean cans and slowly maturing vomit was one thing, the overpowering smell of organic decay quite another, though I'm sure it was nothing a squad in suits sealed against biological contamination and armed with DDT sprays couldn't handle.

For undoubtedly arcane reasons that had little to do with the stare but much to do with spirits, those times I chose to hit the sack each night seemed to coincide with some new piece of lunacy. Like the night when drunken revellers Holdstock and Pickersgill fell into the room as I sat in bed picking my toenails prior to what I hoped would be a good night's sleep. Greg lurched over me menacingly, accused me of homosexuality, turned on his heel and collapsed face first on the floor between the beds. Holdstock hopped back and forth, a worried expression on his face, and we both jumped at the slurred but suitably Germanic version of 'Falling In Love Again' that abruptly emanated from the prone figure before us, though it did provide proof that I Greg was still alive.

The next morning we all awoke within a few minutes Of each Other and Greg listened aghast as he was told the things he'd been up to the previous night by Holdstock. Apparently they had been at a room party where Greg had been chatting up a certain young woman oblivious of the fact that her husband was sat almost next to him. Greg asked just what he had been saying.

'Well", said Holdstock, "you suggested that the two of you should go off somewhere where you could stick your tongue in her honeypot."

"Honeypot!!", yelled Greg, "Surely even in that state I'd have more class than to use a term like Honeypot?"

Rob confirmed that Greg had indeed used the offending term whereupon Greg, his hands clasped over his face, sank, groaning, beneath his bedclothes.Greg's memories of this incident have since returned and he now maintains that 'honeypot' is a figment of Holdstock's imagination, one Rob used because he knew Greg would be mortified. He has now revealed what he actually said and it really is too gross to appear in the pages of a well-brought up fanzine like EPSILON. Linda Pickersgill looked apalled when she heard.

Then there was the night I returned to the room to find Kath Mitchell and Chris Atkinson waiting for me within; Now, this is not the kind of thing that usually happens at conventions, at least not to me it doesn't, and I backed away from them suspicious as to just what they had been up to. They laughed, and it would be fair to say that they had been far from teetotal in the few hours since I'd seen them last.

"We're going to show you something that few other people have seen," said Kath, solemnly.

I raised my eyebrows at this, but since their men folk were slumped against the wall of the corridor outside, guzzling beer, I didn't expect too much. To my surprise there ensued a dance of a quite remarkable nature that fascinated me even though it didn't stop me from noticing that the beds had been tampered with. Instead of the mass of jumbled bedding I had grown accustomed to over the past few days the room now contained two fully made up beds. I walked over to examine my bed, Chris tried to stop me, and a half-pint of pale ale that had been on the bedside table was suddenly to be found soaking into my bedding, When I pulled back the sheets to dry them out I saw that the beds had been made up in a way that made them impossible to get into and which I later learned had led to a less than sober Greg Pickersgill spending the night on the floor after a valiant but frustrated attempt to slide between the sheets.

Since sleep would be impossible until the sheets had at least partially dried out I decided to stay up and went in search of fun. I found it, too.

Such thoughts were packed away as the coach pulled into Newcastle because I was here now and a new con awaited, a blank sheet yet to be written on. As someone with no accent to speak of, or with, I've always been fascinated by the curious distortions and abbreviations of the English language to be found in~ various parts of the country, and as the Geordie accent is one of the more pleasant ones I found myself listening intently to the conversations going on around me as I travelled by local bus to the Grosvenor Hotel.

Not many people had arrived by the time I got to the hotel But Little Ian Williams was there together with Not-So-Little Ian Maule and some kid who turned out to be Paul Turner, a l4-year old who tried too hard to impress at this con but who may well turn out to be an ace fan when he's got a few more years, and probably inches, under his belt.

The subject of Maule's alleged wishy-washiness came up and I made the comment that if he was a sadist he'd be into inflicting mild discomfort. This feeble attempt at wit amused him so much that I got embarrassed and went and had a game of pool. Since the Grosvenor Hotel is equipped with a games room that is domin- ated by a coin operated pool table (it's a small games room) pool figures large as one of the more significant pastimes of a SILICON but due to the general lack of talent of most con attendees the games often degenerate into what Greg once termed 'duels of ineptitude'. The worst of the these that I encountered was actually between Greg and myself. We had reached the stage where only the black ball and the cue ball were left on the table and what might reasonably have been expected to be a swift end to the game turned into a long drawn out conflict with neither of us able to pot the black. As time wore on I imagined the onlookers to be smirking and Greg was obviously getting embarrassed as well since at one point, as he stalked past me, he hissed: "For Christ's sake pot the fucking thing!" to me under his breath. By now the crowd were turning ugly; soon they would be revolting. As far as I recall it was I who eventually put, the black away but my only clear memory is of the embarrassment. It was at this same table that Chris Atkinson later bemoaned her inability to pot long shots. At this point, unfortunately, my mouth decided to operate before I'd put my brain in gear and I listened in horror as the words:"It's because you're a woman" emerged from my lips. I clamped my hands over my mouth, but it was too late. The words were out and I was being attacked with a pool cue by a woman whose thoughts had turned from pool to billiards.

Some games, though, are not a matter of fun to me and there is one in particular I regard with almost pathological loathing. Soccer is that game and according to the programme a fannish football match was to be played at ll-0am on Sunday and so, having been cajoled into playing in previous years, at l0-0am I went for a walk along Jesmond Dene, which turned out to be a remarkably pleasant park, and learned some facts about the behaviour of water rats that I'd not earlier known.

I've always found an hour or so of solitude to be essential at a convention and this one also had the useful purpose, I hoped, of removing the possibility of me being coerced into playing that dreaded game. Predictably those playing were late leaving and were still at the hotel when I returned so that I had to creep in, trying desperately not to be noticed. I hid out with Dave Bridges in what the committee laughingly referred to as the con hall, engaging in interesting conversation on matters fannish and watching the window for signs of the expected exodus. The biggest surprise on coming out of hiding was seeing Greg supping Guinness in the bar since he is usually one of the most energetic and enthusiastic of fannish footballers, even if he is one of the least graceful.

There is one final tale to be told before I finish this report and this too features Greg. Ritchie Smith and Dave Pringle were stood in the lounge talking while Greg, Chris, D.West, myself, and a few others were over by the reception desk, Greg making less than complimentary remarks about Smith. Ritchie was ignoring Greg, though there was little doubt that he could hear him. Chris suggested that we should go and sit in one of the alcoves, which we did. However while we all sat around a table at one end of the alcove Greg decided to sit at a table at the other end containing a plate of apparently abandoned ham sandwiches. Looking around to make sure that no one was about to come back and claim them he picked one up and stuffed it into his mouth. Smith and Pringle came and sat opposite Greg.


"Would you like a sandwich, Dave?" Ritchie asked.

I stifled a laugh, though Greg seemed blissfully unaware that anything was wrong and it was at this point that Chris went over to him and picked up his drink and the sandwiches.

"Stop being so anti-social and come and sit with us," she said.

Greg did as she ordered and proceeded to finish off the sandwiches watched by Ritchie who glowered but remained silent. Barely able to contain myself I left the room and when I later told Greg the 'abandoned' sandwiches he'd eaten had been Smith's he almost fell off his chair.

An ace convention.

-- Rob Hansen