Just in Tyne

by Sam Long

First published in Gunputty 1, edited by Sam Long

It was a dull, wet day in April and the clock was striking 10 when I left Henley station for Newcastle. First stop was Twyford, where the Henley branch meets the GWR main line; and there I was joined by the Blishes, with whom I was to journey. Jim and Judy were both looking well, and they had brought a small forest of twigs with them. '?' said I. '!' said Judy. And the talk turned to other things. At Maidenhead AMES (Andrew Stephenson) got on; and so we journeyed to London, Rather than wrestle with bags, baggage, and branches in the Tube, we took a taxi to King's Cross; but the traffic was horrible and the Eastertide masses in the station were hardly less frustrating. Being more mobile than the other three, I went ahead in search of our train and Rob Holdstock, who had booked seats for us. I found it and him after only a short struggle, and waved to the others to hasten, which they did; and we found both our car and our seats in good time before the train pulled out.

The five of us sat in the smoking compartment--a trial for me who does not smoke -- while in the nonsmoking compartment sat Banks Mebane, Danny Platcha, the Kyles, and the Russells to whom we sneered 'bloody Yanks'. The ride north was fast and smooth, but the train was very crowded. There were other fen about: Peter Egg Roberts and Leroy Kettle stopped by for a chat. Conversation went well early in the trip: I learned about Valdivia and Ozimov and held forth about Osteen... But a good part of the trip was spent just looking out the window into the wet grey mist, or listening to AMES and Rob and the Blishes rehearse their skit, or dozing.

We arrived in Newcastle on time, extracted our goods and chattels from above and underneath, and made our way slowly, loaded down as we were, to the Station Hotel. There was, of course, a revolving door, difficult for burdened-down fen to get through; but we managed, and behind the registration desk in the nice warm foyer we saw welcoming smiles on the true fannish faces of the Balls and Ian Wms; In short order I was registered, told that I was in the Con-hotel, and not an overflow (my info had been equivocal at that point) checked in, and installed in my room. When I got back downstairs I saw Lars Strandberg, Brian Hampton, some undifferentiated Northumberfen, and Brian Aldiss, who remembered me well from our last (so far unreported) encounter after the Bristle Bristolcon;

I dined that night about 2000h with Lars and Brian Hampton in a Chinese restaurant. We fannishly discussed interplanetary travel over the sweet and sour pork: how enthusiastic can you get? Back at the hotel we milled about and sat and watched people arrive: Ratfandom...Gerbish...Lisa Conesa and the Turners (Lisa, dear Lisa, the first thing she said to me was 'Sam, you've lost weight!', as indeed I had -- about 20lb -- but how sweet of her to notice)...Jhon Brunner... ½ r Cruttenden and his girlfriend Wendy Ellis... Jhon Piggott... Simon Joukes, the oddly-monickered Swede John-Henri Holmberg and many others. Much good chat had I that evening, and once again I was pleased that so many of my friends were so happy to see me. To bed about 0100 - it was only Thursday night.

Up 'early' Friday. I breakfasted about 0930. Dave Rowe had arrived, and I cornered him and tried to get him to do me some illos for Q. It was a great pleasure to see Pamela Boal come in, all game, wreathed in smiles. Her family (her husband is a Geordie) came to Newcastle to see relatives; she, to see fen. Pamela is mostly wheelchairbound, but her spirits are irrepressible, and she's usually to be found surrounded by a group of fen discussing SF and having a delightful time. She was apparently not put off in the least by her first experience of fandom en masse at Bristol -- to fandom's good fortune.

There I was, standing there talking Friday morning, when I saw a familiar face at the main door. It was -- believe it or not -- Mary Mushling Legg, returned to Confandom after several years in 'exile'. (Mary's a Geordie too.) Churl was still in Hunts, which was a pity, but it was good to see Mary again, tall and majestic. Later that morning Melica Smith, editress of BLUNT, and her parents Rob and Mary, arrived. So did Peter Spec Weston, the Pardeaux, the Mearae, Brum femfem Hazle Reynolds and Pauline Dungate (you've cut your hair, Pauline), 'Gray Boak' and his fiancee Mheg Palmer, the Skels, Michel Feron l'hannutois, Hartley Son of Patter, the Burnses, the Walshes, Jhim Linwood, the Rogerses, Julia Stone, B-ro, Vera Johnson the filksinger, Brian Burgess the caterer, Mherv Barrett, Rambling Jake, Anne McCaffrey, Freddie-poo Hemmings, 'Smiling Vernon' Brown, and many more. My camera was kept busy.

(As of this writing, 'Gray' and Mheg haven't set a date, but 'Gray' has moved to Lancs. I have them wedding presents: a deck of apollo 14 playing cards for their wedding night -- and more seriously, a wallet for 'Gray' and a Skylab medallion for Mheg.)

Somewhat before noon I was sipping coffee in one of the lobbies and talking, when I was paged. I went to find out what was going on and found that the local BBC (tv) people were covering the con and wanted an interview. Why me? Probably because I was the best-known most visible non-expatriate US citizen conmember. There were about a dozen Amerifen there, including those like the Kyles, the Blishes, Anne McC, and Jan Finder who were resident in Europe. The fact that I work at Cape Canaveral may have something to do with it too. Anyhow I got dragged off by the BBC to a back room where they'd set up their cameras, and there I was interviewed. They asked such question as 'Why did you come 4000mi to a British SF convention?' and 'What's so great about Cons?' I was conscious of being on camera and so, as might be expected, I was a bit tongue-tied, going 'duh, duh,well' and such like for some little while before I finally found my speech and answered to the effect that:
    1) I joined fandom in Britain,
    2) I remain a British fan,
    3) I like cons and like seeing my fannish friends,
    4) Why not?

and that:
    a) cons provide a pro-fan interface that puts the sf writer closer to his public than most writers are, which is good for the genre,
    b) cons are a chance to meet (and remeet) people of similar interests,
    c) cons are fun: when you get a bunch of intelligent enthusiasts together, anything can happen.

The interview was to be screened at about 1800 that evening. I went up to my room and watched it. They screwed it up, of course. First there was Magic Roundabout (ah, M.R.), then about 5 or 10 minutes of news, then a 5-minute local news program. They gave the con about 2 minutes of that and to Ian Wms's chagrin, they didn't use the filmed interview of his at all. The newsreader mentioned the con, 'introduced' me, and asked the question (voiceover) 'Why did you come so far for this convention?' Cut to me, stammering and waving my hands: 'Well... er... well... ah...' The question I was answering was the other one, 'Why are cons?' I was on for a total of about 40 seconds, I guess. Chalk one up for the Beeb. But it was nice of them to come, and tho few fen saw the news that night (they were all in the bar, of course), I got a certain amount of egoboo out of it. Somewhat later (maybe even next day) someone else interviewed me, asking the same questions. I think he was from a newspaper.

To get back to the con: I attended the opening ceremonies Friday afternoon, having skipped the first film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. I had seen it before: the creature loses. The more I watch monster movies and such like, the more I find myself rooting for the poor monster. I even support the Klingons against James Twit Kirk! Convention photographs of an official sort were taken at the opening ceremonies, but I saw no great rush to buy prints when proofs appeared. I guess fen prefer to take their own pictures

Friday was a good day for program-going: discussions on selling sf, art in/of sf (chaired by Eddy Jones; I unfortunately missed this one) and the future of fanzines. Being more of a faan than a fan, I was interested in this one. I had supper in the restaurant downstairs in the hotel with Merv Barrett and Diane Ellingsworth. We were not impressed by the cuisine, the servings, or the cost. Is one ever, in conhotel restaurants? After supper I went to the fanzine panel and listened to 'Gray Boak' and Lisa Conesa and Peters Egg Roberts and Spec Weston, as they rambled on. I joined in from the floor, bheer in hand, in proper fannish fashion. The panel more than once mentioned color repro in fanzines. I've seen fen use different colored inks from time to time, but I have yet to see a fanzine that was really color-printed or that had color photos in it. (Then a little later in the summer, Lisa comes out with a beautiful color cover on ZIMRI and puts those of us who queried 'color fanzines' to shame.)

The next item was a lecture by Ian Watson on Linguistics in SF. It was just that, a lecture, of the University type, much too fast, and over the heads of most of the audience. Even (Look at that, now, 'Even'...thinks that just because he's in Mensa he can condescend)... as I was saying, even I was lost from time to time, as I've not read that much Chomsky, and I found the presentation rather boring.

Lisa's poetry soiree was better than it might have been, but it went rapidly downhill from a fairly good beginning. Only some short verses by Brian Aldiss had any right to be called real poetry; and Jim Blish intrigued the audience with some snatches of Valdivian; but almost all the rest was merely pretentious, being much too 'serious' (there was no humour save Brian's and Jim's), and far too long. And there I was stuck up front in the audience just behind Lisa herself: I couldn't duck out. I might add by way of compensation that Lisa's anthology The Purple Hours (35p), which contains a good bit of the verse read at the soiree and some more besides, is quite a good little book, and I recommend it to people interested in sf-type poetry... or whatever.

After the soiree, I successfully supressed the urge to get up and recite some of my humourous fannish verse (I couldn't remember it well enough), and instead helped sound engineer Gerbish carry some of his impedimentia up to his room. We sat sipping whisky and talking until almost 0300.

Up early Saturday, about 0815 and to breakfast with Pamela Boal, after which I peregrinated the city trying to find some batteries for my flash and some splitrings for my camera strap. I was eventually successful in both these endeavours, and was refreshed and invigorated by my walk, for it was a bright sunny day. The afternoon passed slowly. I had a few bheers, sang some filksongs with Vera Johnson, sat in on the fannart panel (Eddie Jones, Dave Rowe, Harry Bell and AMES), adding my 2¢ -worth from the floor, chatted with Brian Aldiss a bit, then with Jannick Storm, a Dane, and his beautiful blonde bird: an enjoyable afternoon. The afternoon was 'empty' for only a few minutes. Mary Legg appeared again, this time to stay. I don't remember where I ate supper that night, or who with, but Bob Shaw, the GoH, ate. He was supposed to give his GoH speech at 2000, but when the hour came, he couldn't be found. People muttered, but even this hitch could not dampen the good humor of the con: and when he did appear, Bob profusely apologized and was forgiven; he eventually gave his speech at the Banquet Sunday evening, where it was well-received.

After the Saturday film The Omega Man, a discotheque was set up in the main hall with a draculoid disc-jockey, who, as is a habit of his kind, played the music much too loud. There was lots of dancing and good cheer, even if one couldn't hear oneself think: and slowly the room filled for the fancy-dress ball. I was there with my camera. One chap (who ought to have won a prize) looked like he'd dipped himself in latex to make him look like an alien; his costume itched abominably, he said later. Vera Johnson came as a singing 'nuss', with a very fannish filksong about how she was always ready to comfort spacemen back from a long, womanless voyage to the stars (great fun -- I wish I had the words. She literally stopped the show.) Vernon Brown came in the same robe he'd been using for two or three years now, but I don't remember exactly what he came as. Jan Finder, in armor, with a hexagram on his forehead and a sick look on his face was 'the Ill Starred Knight'. 'Gray Boak' swathed in white, was 'Virgin on the Ridiculous', but I thought he looked like, in the words of Flanders and Swann, 'a guru, a gnother guru...' Hazle Reynolds and Pauline Dungate came as interplanetary demimondaines -- but they had too much on for their costumes to be successful. Peter Spec Weston, all verdant and military, was 'a Green Recruit'. ½ r Cruttenden was an unconvincing tribble. Freddie-poo Hemmings came in what is, for him, mufti: a straitjacket. Howie Rosenblum found a foot-in-diameter model of an ocular organ and wore it on his back 'Big Brother has his Eye on You'. These were just a few of the costumes.

Next... ah, next came the skit. And a very fannish skit it was, too, put on by Thames Valley Fandom -- a hilarious take-off on 'Oz' called 'the Wizard of Oz-imov'. 'Dorothy', ½ r's girlfriend, Wendy, was the young neo embarking on her first con (it was in fact Wendy's first). She was bid follow the Yellow Road, and she soon came upon a scarecrow disguised as Brian Hampton, lacking fannish direction; a Tin Fansman (brilliantly done by Rob Holdstock), who lacked egoboo; and a Cowardly Lion (½ r, much more leonine than tribblelike), who lacked the nerve to ask BNFs for their autographs. Together they navigated the Deep Dark Forest, played with great feeling by AMES and Judy Blish (remember the twigs?). Once the threat of the Wicked Anne McCaffrey of the North was disposed of, they approached the dais of Oz, the Ehmerald City. They were turned away by Field Marshall Pete Spec Weston, no longer a green recruit, but they persisted, and Oz was forced to reveal himself -- as a cringing Jim Blish in a top hat and string tie. To each fan he gave a gift: fannish direction to the Scarecrow, a LoC to the Tin Fansman; and autograph to the Lion (he asked for and got the Lion's autograph to the Lion's delight, and stuck it in his hatband like the Mad Hatter). Dorothy received a propeller-beanie and the status of trufan, and they all lived happily ever after. Great fun, many horrible puns, very faanish. I was the cast's 'official' photographer, and got a goodly number of pix, tho Judy complained that I was getting in the way of the cast backstage. No matter, the pictures came out very well, and I got a nice letter from Judy thanking me for them.

It was well after midnight when all this was over, but the fun had just started. There was a party in ½ r's room, at which I arrived early, finding only Jim Blish and Anne McC there. We started joking and talking, and one of my best memories of the con was trading puns with Anne and Jim until Anne and I at least were weak with laughter, collapsed on one of the beds, giggling to beat hell. The party rapidly increased in size and conviviality. Peter Spec Weston drunkenly assured me that if he won TAFF he'd come down to Florida and visit me and would like nothing better than to launch a weather rocket from the Cape, having been in his youth, a rocket enthusiast of sorts. And a good time was had by all. About, oh, 0330, the party became too big for the room, and spread, in a quiet fashion, to the corridor and stairs. I remember joining a stairparty and having my arms around two femfen and having a great time; and then I remember sitting on a windowsill on the landing talking with Diane Ellingsworth. I don't remember how I got from the one to the other. Diane was in a long red dress, and in compliment to her dark hair, I had addessed her earlier as 'la rouge et la noire', an allusion to the French novel I rather stupidly attributed to Baudelaire. Diane had thought I was trying to be superior, but I protested that I was only trying to express how romantically attractive she looked, and she accepted my explanation, and we kissed and made up and thereafter got on famously. To bed, exhausted, about 0500.

Up Sunday (hmm, sounds like a good name for a TV show). Breakfast was a Wimpy with Mherv Barratt and Diane. Back in time for the Delta film competition. B.T.Jeeves, Esq (alas absent from the con due to his wife's illness) had a good cartoon, but the film '1 2 3 4 5', a collection of connected insanities a la Monty Python, won the prize by a small margin. The rest of the afternoon was spent in typical fannish fashion, dozing, sipping coffee, talking, and so on. I even managed a small nap before the banquet.

The banquet was rather sercon, but enjoyable nonetheless, despite the indifferent food and small servings. Bob Shaw finally gave his GoH speech, and John Bush handed out the cheques for the Gollancz/Sunday Times £ 1000 SF Competition, which is a Ghood Thing. There were four (not two) winners, none of whom had had any contact with fandom before (I wonder what they thought of it), as far as I could tell; and all but one of them were 'straight' or mundane. One was an employee of HM Prisons; another was in the RAF. But the last chap, bearded and casual, received his cheque from John Bush with a grin, and on his way back to his chair gave a big yell 'Yahoo!' whereat the entire audience broke up.

Quote cards were about; I was sitting with the Mearae and the Pardeaux, and jointly and severally we applied ourselves to filling them in; but it seemed to me that the quality of the captions was not as great as last year; plus there were only four distinct cards.

That evening I watched Slaughterhouse-5, an excellent film, and one which sticks fairly close to the book. The chap who played the hero Billy Pilgrim did a first class job -- like a good film shoud, it made me squirm. And the photography was sublime.

There was a roomparty in Bob Shaw's that night. A couple of German fans, led by Helmut Pesch, came in with some Verguzz, a concoction from the Perry Rhodan series. It's about 140proof, smells like medicine, and in the words of Jan Finder, cleans out the nasal passages like barbed wire. It's definitely an acquired taste. Anyhow, Bob Shaw was persuaded to take a sip: he's an Irishman, you know, and you will not find an Irishman refusing any drink. He took a swig from a paper cup and! -- his fists clenched, his head snapped back, his eyeballs rolled up, and he became stiff as a board. Steam came out of his ears, the top of his head came off and whirled about, and he turned bright red. I kid you not. Bhy Ghadfrey, it was just like in the movies. He even came out with 'That's good stuff' after he'd recovered.

Twas a ghood roomparty: all the male fen were chatting up birds. Brian Aldiss was in an alcove in earnest conversation with a curvaceous but unidentified (by me) femfen; I was having a tete-a-tete with Diane; sundry other fen were squeezed all over; and nobody was talking about SF. I finally pooped out at about 0400.

I got up Monday about 1100 and had coffee and sandwiches with Diane, and Ian Wms, who was by this time exhausted. He told me that the con had more than 500 registrations (515, it turned out) and more than 400 attendees -- the biggest on record. Jan Finder reported later that the bars raked in some £ 6000 over the weekend. At 400 active drinkers (for ease in computation, that's £ 5 a day for three days on drink alone, and even at today's prices, £ 5 will buy you some 25 pints of bheer. I took a post-con photo that morning -- when they weren't asleep on their feet. It's odd, tho, that on most of the pictures I took, people weren't smiling; in fact, they looked rather glum. So they look, but in fact they all had a good time. Even 400 fen didn't seem to overcrowd the convention. Neos and BNFs and pros and oldfen and everybody mixed smoothly and well. There was little damage to the hotel: in fact, the manager of the hotel (so I'm told) was so impressed by our good order that he's helping with the arrangements for Seacon, and would like to have us back -- at better rates! 'Course, he's an sf reader.

There seemed to be an atmosphere of, well, peace and love about the con. The mixture of sercon and fannish was good. The art show suffered a bit from being in an out-of-the-way room, but it was see-worthy nevertheless. As an example of the peace of this con, let me tell you an incredible tale. It is said that due to a brewery screwup, the hotel ran out of Newcastle Brown about halfway thru the con (tho not out of beer of other brands). Ran out of the Broon in Newcastle??!! We had thought the concommittee were having a pipeline laid on from the brewery to the hotel! OK, that's incredible-sub-one. What's even more remarkable is that fandom was having such a good time, getting higher on the con itself than on the alcohol, that they hardly even noticed. There was no riot, no nothing! Absobloodylutely unbebhyghodlievable!

And that was what was so great: people preferred to sit and sip rather than yell and scream and get sick-drunk; I don't think I saw a really out-of-it person the whole four days. Freddie-poo Hemmings was teetotaling (!) for the weekend, but you'd not have known it: he was high on fandom.

There were lots of neos about, but few signs of fuggheadedness, even among Ratfandom. It was truly an international con: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the US, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France (I think), Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Japan (!), were all represented -- and there may have been more -- and I even saw a fan from the Indian subcontinent. I was happy to see old friends, happy to make new ones, sad not to see some folk I'd hoped to, like B.T. Jeeves, Esq, Ken Cheslin, Arch and Beryl Mercer, Ethel Lindsay, Ella Parker, Frank Arnold, the Bridjz, and many other good fan and true. I notice that at each con I change fannish conversationalists. I didn't (get a chance to) have a chat with, for instance, Hartly Son of Patter or Mary Legg, or Pam Boal, all of whom I'd meant to corner; but they were not neglected by other fen and I had good conversation aplenty.

One particularly fruitful conversation was with Jhim Linwood and Diane: we developed a scenario whereby a member of the Royal Family becomes a fan. Just imagine -- The RBSFA... cons in Windsor Castle during the off-season... Brian Burgess becomes 'Victualler by Appointment'... Jhon Brunner raised to the peerage as Lord Godd... Sir Brian Aldiss, Bt... knighthoods to successful TAFF candidates and con organizers... the Order of St Fantony becomes official... all fen receive the British Empire Medal (B.E.M.)... and so on.

And so the time drew on to when I'd have to leave. I took the 1340 train to Edinburgh to visit a cousin of mine at University there. I was, as they say, 'plumb tuckered out'. But my spirits were high because it was a damn fine con and I'd had the best time ever.

-- Sam Long