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BIRMINGHAM '74

A Convention Report

by Roy Kettle


First Published in True Rat 5



"At this speed, we won"t feel anything," mumbled Greg around his thumb as he crouched, shivering, on the back seat next to me.

We were going all of thirty. Greg is motorphobic.

But soon he cheered up as Rob and Sheila Holdstock began one of their traditional travelling conversations.

"I don't know where we are. You're the driver." "If you'd given me some advice when I asked for it instead of messing around...." "Look, I don't know where we are. You're the driver. Women!" Robert glances over his shoulder with pitying-expression. "I'm sick and tired of your bloody chauvinistic attitudes, Holdstock." "Tell her I don't know where we are. She's the driver."

Tactful backseat chorus: "Dumdy dum. La la la. Whistle whistle." Looking out of the window. Nice scenery.

The wealth of one-way signs in Birmingham was the next cause of marital disharmony, coupled with the fact that the car-park we were looking for appeared to be more mobile than the car. However, eventually we reached it and, as coincidence would have things, parked next to another fannish vehicle - Simone Walsh's, with her Beano in the back.

In the hotel, the usual dregs of fandom hovered around struggling to remember the names of some people and forget the names of most. Chris appeared (having bravely driven herself from Keele) and was grateful for the interruption which gave her an excuse to leave the strange fat man who was fascinated by the idea of the convention and kept asking her if she had a "message for the future". She hadn't.

Then I had to hump her cases from some far away left-luggage hole while everyone else was having fun. No tip, either.

A few drinks came next, followed by a bit of Pete Weston's TAFF speech, of which the high-light was Rog Peyton contriving to melt the first slide into a blob of black plastic and then larfing loudly about it.

The meal we tried to get was about as successful with Greg leading a gang of us away from the hotel to the famous Greyhound Bus Station Chinese Wimpy which had been made into a boot shop since the previous year. John Lowe {what a little name-dropper I am} found his idea of a cheap Indian restaurant, but thankfully Sheila had the guts to walk out after seeing the menu and we all followed sheepishly. Back in the hotel we all ate omelettes and moaned. The convention was beginning to feel right.

The rest of the evening was fairly devoid of sparkle and flashing wit, and by the time John Brosnan did turn up we were all in bed.

The next day followed right on in there. Some amusing little cartoons were shown, including a rarely seen Telegoons' episode in which they flew the Albert Memorial to the moon. Peter Roberts soon pointed out that it was impossible. Just under this film in the programme booklet was a line with two mistakes in it. One was the advertising of something called "Star Trek Bloppers". The other (assuming the first was what I thought it was) called it "this ever-popular item". That's debatable, I suppose. I think it's a mistake.

Down in the bar we were visited by Howard Rosenblum, who checked the depth of head on his bitter with all the persistance of a Weights and Measures Inspector. He complained and left. The barman gave him a pitying look. "Maybe next year he'll bring a ruler," he said.

"Or an owner of some sorts." muttered John Lowe.

Later that day we ate again. Peter Roberts would not try the vegetarian pate de fois gras although it had been made from a goose which had never eaten meat. That was after all the trouble we went to findng the most distant restaurant ever, after following Andrew Stephenson's numerous shortcuts. When we got there Brosnan found his curry was too hot so Greg got to eat it free. As Greg had ordered it, Brosnan was a little suspicious. And hungry. Also, he'd got a hangnail on his big toe and was cold. His tonsils were playing up as well. He moaned quite a lot. Brosnan is not a well lad.

That evening, the fancy dress turned out to be quite a laff. Beforehand, the silly committee had given everyone a bit of paper on which to write things which were never explained with pencils which were never distributed. Perhaps they asked us to describe Brian Burgess in his cute little jockstrap without moving our hands or anything else. He went as a character from Glory Road. Robert Heinlein must have turned in his grave. {It was never any use to him, anyway.)

Various silly people went as various silly things. mainly involving old knickers and gold foil. Best idea was Little Malcolm's that Brosnan should cut off his nose and go as A Cure For Cancer.

Josephine Saxton. not specially clad but in a pleasant state of undress anyway, swayed up the aisle announcing that she was from Robert Sheckley's story 'Can U Feel Anything when I Do This?'. Immediately, she threw herself upon Brian Parker who was sitting in that area. Their lips touched with an mild explosive sound. Peter Roberts, in the seat next to Brian, slowly slid to the floor. He looked in my direction with an expression of horror on his face. "That could have been me," he said.

By this time, most people had realised that they didn't understand why they were holding bits of paper, and when Malcolm Edwards (chairman of Seacon) made a paper aeroplane and we had a competition, everyone else joined in. Something approaching total confusion occurred with aeroplanes thick in the air, and the committee thick on the platform struggling to stop people from enjoying themselves so that the blank pieces of paper could be marked to find the winner. Brian Burgess chose that moment to return wearing A a long grey coat. To a loud and remarkably harmonious chant of "Off. Off." he prodeeded to display his godlike form to view once more. Eileen Weston rushed from the room clutching the older and more impressionable of her children. Brian has a lot to answer for.

The judging followed, which resulted in the committee winning all the prizes.

Afterwards it was party time.

"Your husband," complained Peter Nicholls bitterly to Sheila Holdstock when she was on her own, "is never more than six inches away from you."

A bearded head popped around the corner. "Hello," said Rob.

Peter Nicholls sighed and wandered off.

Actually, it turned out that Peter had paid Josephine Saxton £ 5 to seduce Rob thereby giving Peter time to make his evil bid for Sheila's affections. However, Josephine was several degrees proof by then and forgot. Rob was free to return home, a lucky man. (This was printed without permission and with definite malice aforethought. egged on by Greg Pickesrgill and Nalcolm Edwards}.

Greg and Peter Weston, self-confessed top British fans, sat at the end of a drunken corridor waiting for the fannish crowds to congregate around them when they would congratulate themselves and move to another spot waiting for the fannish crowds.... Greg eventually left this vast source of egoboo and disappeared. Peter (Mr Evil) Weston collected together a bunch of drunken henchmen and gathered them outside Greg's room where they chanted "In Out In Out" and similar witty things, but to no avail. {Later it was discovered that, in fact, Peter had been remarkably accurate in his estimation of Greg's timing, which makes you wonder about the two of them as they wait at the end of corridors for fannish crowds....) Anyway, Weston and his gang then followed Chris Priest and lady friend but once more there was no response. Finally, someone noticed Peter Roberts and John Piggot wandering into a room. The gang staggered forwards and began their chant. The door burst open. "Oh, piss off you bloody cretins," shouted Peter Roberts. Mr Roberts and Mr Weston are running the 1979 Worldcon together.

Overheard in a room party where naughty substances were about to be indulged in.

"Someone get the dope out."

"Presford, leave the room."

Who did Robert Holdstock show his naked chest to? Who indeed? None other than -- aaargh. On to next day then, typing with one hand.

Chris and I awoke to some idiot shouting, "This one doesn't want to be disturbed."

As it was a single room, I sneaked out, but before Chris could leave a member of staff came up. "How many of you are there in this rocm?" he asked.

"0h, just me." she replied, with amazing quick-wittedness. "But we'll be gone soon."

Breakfast was a slow affair, and, true to tradition, not very good. One of the good ladies serving approached Greg who was swallowing kippers at the time. She wanted to know his room number so that she could add money to his bill.

"This is discrimination," he said. "It's only because I've got long hair and I'm not quite as tidy and clean as some people that you're charging me more."

He went on and on.

The woman looked at him for a while, eyes wide. Then she spoke. "Kippers," she said, "is extra."

Later in the day, Ian Williams arrived.

"You've missed the best part of the con," he was told.

"Why? what happned?" he asked.

"You weren't there."

Eventually Ian made his way to the book room where he commenced selling his entire collection of science fiction to finance divorce proceedings for the girl of his dreams who has since left him. There's a moral in there somewhere.

To conclude this unfeeling and harsh section on Ian Williams. the following exchange was heard:

Fan, on seeing one of Ian's big boots sticking out from under a table.

"Look, Ian's got a seven inch heels."

Other fan, "Yes, inside his shoes."

A reporter found an eager interrogee in Rob Holdstock. Rob, who thought the fellow was from a provincial newspaper, was making disparaging remarks about Ratfandom, conventions, professional writers etc. Then Malcolm Edwards pointed out the big badge which said, "I am from the Observer". Immediately, Rob informed the reporter that he was an up and coming pro (that's Holdstock, H.O.L.D.S.T.O.C.K) and that he, with well, perhaps one or two others, was running the next convention, and that...

When the report actually appeared, everything Rob said was in it, but credited to Malcolm Edwards. Now there's a moral for you.

The bar was getting quite full by then. Bob Rickard, small economy size bag of fun, produced a book which showed that the Earth had an 800 mile diameter hole at the north pole but people are keeping it quiet. Bob knows lots of things like that. He and Peter Roberts have esoteria competitions. Bob then produced a bit of paper, for some reason which escapes me, on which was written "Fly posting is illegal". Malcolm Edwards, taking off a few seconds from spilling Carlsberg Special down his leg, said, "Then you can forget the ZIP code." This was Malcolm's second joke of the evening. The first one concerned W.E.Johns famous SF epic, "Biggles and the Giant Algae from Outer Space", but I can't remember the joke itself.

All this time Jan Howard (pissed as a newt) Finder was chatting up Simone Walsh with such gems as, "From a writing point of view it was well written, and "I can't remember much about it, but it was fucking good."

I decided to visit the toilet then and who should be there but Peter Nicholls, pissing away happily. I wandered out, leaving him to set emergency sewer control procedures into action. I pointed out to the local John Brosnan that Peter pissing did not sound unlike twenty baths running together. John, tactful as ever, immediately repeated this to his Australian buddy who laffed merrily as his fist sought my face.

Brosnan then wandered off to the toilet himself and came back ages later. "God," he said. "Don't go up there. I exploded."

It appeared that he was the unlucky recipient of germs which produced the repugnant Black Shits. This manifested itself as an intestinal malfunction of great and evil magnitude, resulting in a dismaying quantity of revolting faecal material being deposited in an incredibly short time. Harry Harrison, says John, was one of the unluckier poorlies being some distance from a handy receptacle during a mild attack. All in all John spread his disease to about a third of the members of the con. He is always the first to admit that cons take a lot out of him.

Some little while later, John, relating his exploding Ratfan anectdote to another male member of the party. said proudly, "Have you heard about my diarrhoea yet?"

Sheila. always ready for some juicy gossip, said. "No. I haven't heard about it."

Brosnan, gallantly embarassed said. "It wasn't meant for your ears."

"There are better places," replied Mrs Holdstock, wrinkling her nose in disgust, while Andrew Stephenson (on whom the News of the World will shortly be calling) stroked her naked feet, watched closley by John Jarrold who wanted his 10%.

Sheila, by this time slightly off-sober, said to me, "If you buy me a bacardi I'll do that thing you were on about. Began with a T."

"Troilism," I said hopefully.

"Yes," she said, sipping the bacardi. "What is it?"

I explained and drank the rest of the bacardi myself.

Slowly people left the bar, sometimes encouraged by filk~singing, sometimes through the unfannish habit of tiredness. Some few of us played on what was left of the bar billiards table after the Shorrocks' kids had been using it.

Malcolm, whom I knew I could beat as he was staggering around drunk, beat me several times. Is there really nothing he isn't good at? Creep.

Robert walked in clutching a sheet of green shield stamps he had got somewhere.

"He1lo," said some notable moron, "Sheila's giving stamps," and was promptly thumped. In fact, he might get thumped again for printing this.

"Mr G," said someone, naming a reasonably well-known fan, "can't come because he's having trouble with his wife."

"What's wrong," quipped Malcolm Edwards. "Won't she start first time?"

Later on in the evening, after someone had demonstrated the advantages of knowing how to work untended pressure pumps at the bar (from which shameful deed I gained some beer and really felt very sorry about it later. Things like that get fans a bad name etc etc} John Brosnan discovered that he no longer had a room key in his little pocket (in the leather coat which I'm not supposed to mention used to be mine).

"All right," he said, "which silly cretin took it."

Peter {Hercules) Roberts then took over. "I have gathered you all together," he said, in a French accent, "because one of you is guilty. Before this evening is through I shall name the one who stole the key."

He proceeded to interrogate his Guinness bottle and fall over.

John searched his pockets (his own pockets} once more. He discovered that another silly cretin (or, more probably, the same one) had squirted soda water into them. This struck almost everyone as highly amusing as the wettest pocket also had in it John's supply of yeast tablets which were foaming and expanding and almost conquered the world before he found his key lying in the corridor. He rushed upstairs to sulk.

All this time I had been writing down lots of uninteresting things that people had said and done. Several times this had been noticed. Some fans were getting tired of it, not unreasonably. However I was determined to continue. Suddenly, there was an outburst of intense and incomprehensible Flemishness from some Belgian fans.

Sheila Holdstock looked at me. "Write that down," she said triumphantly.

All too soon it was time to leave. We had only stayed on the Sunday because we believed Peter Weston was going to have a party. He didn't, but we had a good time anyway. An excellent con all round, despite the impression given above. Good programme as well. It was with the usual sadness, and a little more, that we left to return home, going several miles in the wrong direction out of Birmingham. We had to return, ironically, as though we were just coming into the city. As we ate stale buns, listened to Greg dying on the back seat and ran out of petrol, we knew things could only get worse. Until the next convention.

-- Roy Kettle