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MANCHESTER '76 (MANCON)




TWEED ELEPHANT AT MANCON

by Rob Jackson

Original published in Goblin's Grotto 3, ed. Ian Williams, 1976

Every Easter convention in England recently has been the subject of intense scrutiny by people who consider themselves experts on the subject, often with some justification, as many of them have been partly responsible for Eastercons themselves in the past. This scrutiny and discussion builds up a kind of mythos about the character expected of the convention.

Ian Williams has just shown you how he felt before Mancon, and his feelings are typical. People were a bit worried, uncertain what to expect when they arrived. Partly this was because of the experimental aspects of the convention, particularly its siting on the Owens Park university campus... but this was not the whole story; there was, as Ian has mentioned, a lack of tangible evidence as to the competence of the convention committee as presented in the progress reports and their dealings with those who helped them.

When I arrived at Owens Park at ten1 on the Thursday evening, the bar was crowded, noisy with chattering familiar faces, but the floor, walls and furnishings were so spartan that first impressions gave the inescapable feeling: of having walked into a cheap gin palace or something. The hard wooden boards absorbed sound very poorly making conversation difficult, and even on the Thursday evening there were few spare seats despite the fact that half the con members hadn't arrived. (Later on in the con the bar facilities became sorely overtaxed - this lack of seats was made the more absurd by the fact that another half of the bar are was partitioned off and never used throughout the whole con2). The poor quality of the bar accommodation made relaxation difficult for the old hands who were used to something better, despite their usual pleasure at seeing one another again; this together with the enormous influx of newcomers who were naturally uncertain how to take all this, made for an atmosphere of anxiety compounded with uncertainty, only alleviated by concentration on one's own enjoyable concerns. (I wasn't the only one to notice this - others commented on it, and it seemed to be an atmosphere I was absorbing from those around me. Contrast this with what was reported of the atmosphere at Tynecon, where Peter Weston reported being swept upon a sort of wave of euphoria as soon as he entered the hotel; even neofans reported being caught up in the positive atmosphere then.)

This lack of confidence wasn't helped when I heard Pete Presford (who, after all, was the con chairman) had been heard to ask where on earth one could get some food in this place. Surely after two years dealing with the Owens Park management he should have learned where the canteens were?

Gannetfandom escaped to the relatively luxurious atmosphere of an Indian restaurant a couple of hundred yards down the road and ate the best curry any of us can remember finding outside Newcastle. (I wonder: did the Mancon committee deliberately play down the excellence of the surrounding eating facilities in their progress reports at the request of the Owens Park authorities who would naturally be as anxious to sell as many full board reservations as possible, or did they not even think of mentioning them?) ((Or possibly, they just hadn't bothered to find out what was available. IRW))

We got back to Owens Park at one o'clock to find the bar closed. We didn't feel like sitting around in an empty starkly furnished bar, so went to form a room party in an empty starkly furnished common room on our floor of the Tower Block instead. This didn't have any carpeting which doesn't make one's preferred occupations at room parties of sitting or rolling or lying on the floor as attractive as usual. The five or so seats were filled with bottoms very quickly, leaving the other fifteen or so people to squat on windowsills or stand. It was an enjoyable party at which I discovered that Joseph Nicholas and Rob Hansen are Good Persons - and that Jean Staves of the Sheffield SF Group is to be discouraged, unless you are absolutely desperate for a feel. (She must have approached a couple of hundred men at the con and felt them up.) I put her off effectively by mentioning that I'd just had a curry, which is evidently a good dodge if any of you want to avoid being molested in future.

On Friday morning I expended a fair bit of energy trying to find the Fan Room and the Art Show, both of which were 75 yards across a quadrangle from the main convention areas. They were dreadfully underpublicised, the Fan Room deservedly so, as all the committee managed to find to put in it was about fifty uncaptioned photos of the last three or four years conventions (very entertaining if you are a confirmed fan, but I thought the object of a fan room was at least partly to convert the unconverted and show them fandom) and a pile of old fanzines (again, entertaining if you know what they are about already3.) There seemed to be very little organised activity in the Fan Room.

Similarly the Art Show. This was of poor quality, as both the people who were there at any one time found out, but again woefully underpublicised. The rooms were rather too far away from the main convention area to be found n spontaneous wanderings, yet I didn't notice anybody on the committee urging people to go over there. Instead of sitting, by the registration desk looking lost, as Mancon committee members always seemed to be doing, why didn't some of them get up and do something active by, say, announcing that the Art Show was open and worth visiting? Which it was. (Or organise something in the Fan Room.) There was the usual selection of competent book covers and potential book covers, and some good B&W stuff notably by Andrew Stephenson and Brian Lewis, contrasting notably with atrocities - often lacking in any sense of area composition or of physical proportion - by for example the Vector stable of artists. (I can't understand why Chris Fowler seems to like using the artists he does.)

The same apparent lack of drive and clear purpose was shown in the fan items, which we were told would be organised at the con. They wore hardly organised at all - or rather, it wasn't. Only one discussion group was rounded up, on fanzines. Pete Presford started this off by rambling on for a bit once he had rounded up some participants, but then the discussion muddled on without any clear objective in mind lurching about like a blindfolded duck dabbling at many aspects of the fanzine world but examining none in depth. When you gather thirty or so people, mostly experienced faneds, into one place, Pete, you have to shepherd the discussion a bit, otherwise they'll need about five years to cover their subject thoroughly and to everyone's satisfaction - indeed to come to any conclusion at all.

More important evidence of lack of thought and planning came to light when the official programme started. There were some films on Friday morning (where reels of the wrong films were shown together, but that wasn't the committee's fault) but then the first scheduled talk item was the TAFF discussion. This was idiotic, for three separate reasons. Firstly, why have a non-draw like a TAFF panel (totally unattractive to any but the most perceptive and friendly newcomer) at a time when those who have just arrived at their first convention and are looking for something to get their intellectual milk-teeth into need a panel of stfnal rather an esoteric fannish interest? Secondly, Presford had arranged with Eric Bentcliffe that the TAFF panel would be on the Sunday; but when the panellists had arrived and looked at the programme they found that Sunday had mysteriously transmuted intro Friday, and some of them - Roy Tackett (who had only just arrived) and Pete Weston weren't available. Finally, I don't think talks attended by fifteen or so people (as the rescheduled panel on Sunday was) are the best way to stimulate interest in TAFF. Pete Weston did a far better job as publicist with his slide show last Novacon.

If Friday was A Time Of Changes as far as the programme was concerned, the other days were Dying Inside. The panels were given dreadfully woolly subjects, again without any clear destiny, hindrances rather than aids to the sort of synoptic thought which is most instructive and entertaining on stfnal panels. Take the Sunday afternoon 'Emerging themes in SF' panel a good example of that woolliness. There were Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison, Michael Coney, Ian Watson, Chris Priest and James White all presided aver by Bob Silverberg4. A tremendous line-up, but they struggled to come up with some sort of synopsis. Bob Silverberg

was just marshalling the thoughts and ideas to come out of the panel into one meaningful whole, appearing to be winning the struggle in this mighty task, when a superb example of the other sort of hindrance to synoptic thought occurred (as opposed to the provision of subjects which resist synopsis in the first place). Bob was straining in thought over the microphone and looked up for inspiration - only to see instead the gruesome figure of Brian Burgess interrupting the panel by carrying one of Gerry Webb's pekineses down the aisle to 'Aaah's' from the audience. Bob stared in shock, was heard to whisper "Oh, my god," then smiled politely and said, "It's one of those Chinese lions!"; but the intellectual synthesis was lost.

If it wasn't the Mancon committee, it was Brian Burgess.

In the comparative absence of anything enjoyable organised by the committee, we were left to provide our own amusement.

Happily, we had already got something arranged.

A fortnight before the con Malcolm Edwards had rung me on Ratfandom's behalf to throw down the gauntlet and challenge Gannetfandom to a soccer match.

By the time of the match on the Friday afternoon Malcolm and Ian Maule had worked the Rats up to a tremendous razor-sharp mettle by hinting that half the Gannet team had had trials for Newcastle United in their youth, and describing Gannetfandom's star (or secret weapon, depending on how much you knew about him) Key Williams, as "like Greg Pickersgill, but with skill". Anybody who attributes the tempestuous forthright style of Greg's fannish writings to his footballing nature will realise how fearsome that makes Kev sound.

A few days before the con, Malcolm had even been so underhand as to gather his team together to say hello to a football for a few minutes; he then gave the Gannet team a false sense of security by saying that six of them had taken on a seven year old boy - who had won.

Bob Shaw bravely agreed to be referee, issuing the self-deprecating disclaimer that it would be the fourth football match he had ever seen; and we obtained a whistle for him by simply making Chuck Partington stand on the steps of the crowded con bar, call everyone to attention and shout: "ANYBODY GOT A WHISTLE?"

Ramsey Campbell's wife immediately opened her handbag and kindly produced one.

At about half past four on Friday afternoon an assortment of sixteen players, one referee and forty or fifty detract supporters set forth to walk the quarter mile down the busy suburban street to the playing fields. (Yes, we did dare. You can pull anything off if you're brazen enough and there are enough of you.) Nobody had been athletic or narcissistic enough to wear shorts; my only concession to the occasion was a different pair of trousers and a pair of worn gymshoes last worn when I rowed in Magdalen College, Oxford's second eight.

Peter Roberts was particularly fetching in hard high-heeled leather platform boots with slim-line orange trousers and purple knee-length gaiters. The thought of him being tackled by hefty Harry Bell or dumpy Dave Cockfield made me fear dreadfully for those spindly legs.

We placed our coat-goalposts at carefully measured equitable distances on the first bit of grass we came to, and after ten minutes of aimless milling around among spectators we were ready to start.

Or at least Ratfandom were.

Gannetfandom soon discovered to their cost how effective Malcolm's psychological warfare bad been, as Demon Roy Kettle tore into the heart of our defence and took the game by storm. (Hey, do you think I can get onto the back page of the Daily Mirror?)

After ten minutes we were losing 3-0, and wondering what had hit us. Then Gannetfandom's bacon was saved - by a Pig.

This policeman came along and said: "We've told you students time after time that you're not allowed to play soccer on -- "

"We're not students."

"You students. You know there are perfectly good pitches just over the stream there --" "We're not students. We're just at Owen's Park for Easter."

"Yet you students still don't bother going the extra quarter mile over there --"

"We're NOT students! We don't know anything about any other pitches. We're just here over Easter for a conference. Can you tell us where we can play, please?"

Eventually it sank in. "Oh... Well, we're always telling the students from Owens Park not to play here. There are some pitches over there."

So we trouped Over There and found a real pitch with very hard ground and enormous looking goals, and three small boys playing under one of them who cleared off with incredible speed after Roy Kettle said something I didn't catch to them. With misplaced generosity Malcolm and Roy suggested the score should be wiped clean, and Gannetfandom agreed with alacrity.

Bob Shaw thought being told to get off the park by a policeman was great - one of his best experiences in ages. Wait for it in a novel, everybody. (You may be interested to know that Bob's last-but-two-or-three contact with Gannetfandom inspired his latest novel, A Wreath of Stars. The curry he bad after a NESFIG meeting made him so ill that when Sadie was driving him home he saw two Roman Walls, one above the other. If you want to know how that fits into the book, read it when it appears.)

When the game restarted, Gannetfandom knew what to expect. Our defence was organised rather well, Ian "Kill the Fucker" Williams as sweeper, Dave Cockfield as left back and Harry Bell at right back, with me keeping goal.

The Rats attacked almost incessantly, with Roy Kettle being their most dangerous player with valuable support from Malcolm Edwards and Graham Charnock. We let Kettle and Charnock both through once, and I was at fault in not coming out to challenge them and they both scored - but we got our revenge in a couple of breakaway attacks by Key Williams ably abetted by Alan Isaacson, Brian Rouse, and Ritchie Smith. Their defence - when it did anything - seemed shaky, particularly Ian Maule and Joseph Nicholas, though Rob Holdstock made a couple of good saves. Greg Pickersgill lived up to his reputation at least once; he tackled Alan Isaacson by running straight at him on collision course - and Alan fell and claims he was knocked out for a couple of seconds. It just shows - Greg is hard headed.

We felt rather proud of ourselves on the way back - we'd done the almost unheard of and taken some Physical Exercise at a con. Ian Williams's little legs ached for the whole of the rest of the weekend, though. The two all draw was considered a fair result by most (i think) and we'd at least filled in a blank period of the con5.


The footballers showered and changed back into their non-smelly (or less smelly) clothes, and Gannetfandom eventually got to the Owens Park canteen at 7.15 pm, half way through the allowed starting time for dinner. Lunch had been served with almost indecent efficiency, with one course arriving just as you finished the previous one - so we expected to be away by 7.45.

At dinner, all was different, though. We waited ten minutes and Ian Williams was starting to get rather huffed, and eventually became A Bit Cross.

After 15 minutes, someone came to clear the previous occupants' dishes. Ian Williams was Quite Cross by now.

After another 10: "Sorrythere'snosoupleft. Here's some grapefruit juice."

Dave Hutchinson asked: "Haven't you got any other soup? Couldn't you heat some up?"

Dave Cockfield (out of earshot of any waitresses) said: "Couldn't you heat this juice up with some cornflour and give us grapefruit soup?"

"No - no cornflour," Alan Isaacson said.

After another 5 minutes: "Sorry, there's no main course left. We're frying some beefburgers." Ian Williams was now Very Cross Indeed.

Then she brought two helpings of a beefburger with a fried egg, rubbery style, with some ancient razor-sharp chips. Dave Cockfield and I got them, being the nearest. The other six had to wait.

They did - another ten minutes. Steam was rising from the back of Ian Williams's neck. Then the rest got their beefburger, rubberised egg and chips - with peas. Lucky sods.

"Why didn't Dave and I get any peas, eh?"

"No peas for the wicked, Rob," Alan said.

Ten minutes later we saw that they had not only run out of peas again, but had also run out of beefburgers, and were serving two-rubberised-eggs-and-chips to the last people to come in.

I don't presume to know what went wrong with the catering that evening, but the waitresses (who kept their cool superbly under dreadful circumstances) told us that they were about 50 meals short.

Paul Skelton was in charge of Owens Park liaison, but I rather think it wasn't his fault - probably the canteen management's. Whatever the cause, the evening's meal, or lack of it, represented inexcusable incompetence; compounded, I expect, by a cheeseparing attitude on the part of Owens Park management. I say this last because by the end of virtually all the meals during the convention one or other of the main course choices, or the soup, had run out - which to my mind indicates a wish to get by on the very minimum of outlay without any real thought given to the quality of the service.

These meals were costing £ 1.50 a head, a price far above my estimation of their worth - I can go into a Chinese restaurant in the middle of Newcastle any lunchtime and eat rather better for 75p. If I'd known of the excellent Canadian Charcoal Pit just across the road - beefburgers, frankfurters, kebabs, etc from 20p to take away - I would never for a moment have considered full board. By the end of the con the Charcoal Pit had long queues at all sorts of odd hours.

The one saving grace of that particular meal - the waitresses' attitude - was not, unfortunately, shared by the staff at the bar. I hesitate to say they were looking after it, because although they were hopelessly overworked virtually all the time (evidently no-one had told them how much business to expect, or else they hadn't believed the Mancon committee when told) their attitude when business was quiet showed often that they didn't believe in their job; they were most unprofessionally slow to notice a new customer at the bar even if they were just standing in a corner of the bar chatting to their colleagues. The clearest indication of their feelings, and the most depressing indicator of staff attitudes I've seen at any con to date, was when the bar manager announced at about 2 am on Friday night (rather early for a con, and there were still a fair number of drinkers around) that they could close now.

To a person, the bar girls leapt in the air and cheered. They didn't care who heard; the customers could evidently go hang.

It took a rather long game of bar football to get over my feeling of disgust, and it wasn't much longer before I felt like going to bed. Had I known at the time that Dave Kyle had also reportedly had to get over a feeling of disgust - at finding cockroaches in his bedroom the previous night - I mightn't have been so eager.

Overall, the con made me think how Eddie Jones's programme book cover, showing Owens Park falling in flaming ruins - was uncannily, if only symbolically, prophetic, more so than Eddie could have realised - or did Eddie - like the rest of us, suspect something?

There were some good things about the con, though.

The convention hail was one of the largest and best equipped I have seen at any British con to date, and the book room in the campus library seemed to be an effective idea. The film programme was quite acceptable, though it went on so late on Sunday night that the bar had closed by the time The Man Who Fell To Earth fans had appeared; and the displays of advance book covers were well received on all sides, for there were many and varied exhibits by the various publishers.

The main saving grace of Mancon's official side was its Guest of Honour, Bob Silverberg. He did everything one could expect of him, being available for the usual silly questions in the bar, hawkers of free fanzines, and a seemingly endless stream of regular Eastercon goers and past organisers apologetically explaining:

"It's not usually like this, you know..."

I know; I did it myself.

In one instance he did more than was expected of him; when Malcolm Edwards, who had the gall to choose Silverberg as his specialist subject in the Mastermind quiz, then had the further gall to fail to turn up to answer them, this nice American with the smooth white suit and the neat beard volunteered to answer questions about himself, get them all right, and was trapped into staying on for the general SF knowledge questions, and displayed occasional ignorance with excellent grace.

If I don't work in here the fact that Ian Williams won the quiz, after a close tussle with Mike Meara - beating those fabled brains P. Weston and R. Silverberg easily, he'll never forgive me. I don't know yet if he's forgiven whoever chose his prize, either - he got a Pink Panther bubble bath!6

As Bob Silverberg went through the con, it seemed to some that his eyes were getting wider and wider, and his demeanour more and more dazed, as if there was an air of "If-I'd-known-it-was-going-to-be-like-this-I'd-never-have-come" about him; but there were reassurances from those who know him from American cons that he always looks like that at cons anyway. Which is just as well; as a member of the UK in '79 bidding committee I wouldn't want someone as influential as Bob to go home and tell too many people how dreadful one particular English con was.

Bob made light-hearted reference to the accommodation in his banquet speech; he remembered the excessive splendour in which he'd been housed when G0H at the 1970 Heidelberg Worldcon - namely Franz Joseph's Imperial Suite with four-poster bed, and room after room with the walls covered with opulent drapes. Nature strikes a balance, he said, and hoped that fans would appreciate the spiritual values of the current accommodation.

Bob was one of the people who helped to make Mancon a worthwhile experience for me despite the poor quality of the convention itself; although I hardly talked to him at all personally, it's always worthwhile to be able to meet Important people. (The Rob Jackson Cliché Co. strikes again.)

But important people aren't always the ones you finish up with, nor the most worthwhile. Take Jim Marshall, for instance. During the fifties, he was part of the original North East group (Gannetfandom arose totally independently); he has been to more cons than any other North East fan. He goes to cons now to get plastered, tell outrageous stories and generally have a great time in the bar. He manages to do this o.k. Last year, at Seacon, he quite put Mike Glicksohn, Harry Bell and I off our beer with a gruesome little set of tall tales about an eccentric English peer who lay dead in a wing of his mansion for three years before being discovered. He had always been a recluse - people couldn't get near him for the smell, and when he died they couldn't tell the difference. His family used to hang up a dead pig as an air freshener. He wasn't the snappiest of dressers, either - when he got up in the morning he'd throw his underpants at the wall; if they didn't stick, he'd put them on again.

Jim tells these mad little tales in a voice almost falsetto in merriment, suggesting he's going to burst into a fit of giggles, which he in fact quite often does. However nauseating the tale, his giggle is so infectious and his comic timing so exact that he is regularly surrounded by small audiences hysterical with laughter.

He didn't tell quite so many mad tales this year; he was disgusted with the con's organisation, and on hearing of our tales of the canteen running out of food, his suggestion was that the con committee be fried up and served instead.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure I got from meeting someone at Mancon was from Walt Willis. This pleasure wasn't simply in knowing that a legendary fan figure of the fifties was around and interested (Ghod is alive and well?) but in the immediately evident warmth and depth of his personality, and his pleasure at renewed contact with other fans. Unlike the rest of us spoilt brats, he wasn't in the slightest dismayed with Mancon, and took our grumbles instead as evidence of bow much SF cons have improved in twenty years; in the fifties, the programme was quite often simply abandoned altogether in favour of parties if it became boring or anything went wrong. He was rather impressed with the provision of free coffee and tea by the committee on each floor (an excellent gesture: God knows how much the concom spent on this instead of other facilities though); but most fascinatingly, he feels that fans as a breed have improved over the ten years of his absence, that we are now more interesting to talk to, and, that there are a smaller percentage of fuggheads now. (If we're now better than fifties fans, what on earth were they really like? It's not surprising that they got into trouble with hotels, among their other escapades.)

As well as doling egoboo out to fandom in general, Walt was most generous with the substance for one of my contributors to Maya. I gave him some copies of issues 8,9 and 10 on Thursday evening; on Friday morning I was standing around looking for somewhere to sit down and eat my trayful of breakfast when he beckoned me over. I had just sat down and hadn't said anything - even Walt Willis doesn't come between me and my breakfast - when he said:

"Hey. This fellow Edwards writes excellent fanzine reviews."

Later I told Malcolm about this. The response was tremendously gratifying. A foolish grin spread rapidly across Malcolm's face, to be followed more slowly by a suffused glow of pleasure. Little electric lights the approximate size and shape of torch bulbs went on in his eyes, and a cloud of air blew itself up under his feet, upon which he sailed merrily over to tell Roy Kettle, Greg Pickersgill, the Charnocks - in fact, anybody who would listen and some who wouldn't:

"Hey. Did you hear that? Wall Willis says I write excellent fanzine reviews."

He drifted back again on his cloud, followed by Roy Kettle on more mundane transport (feet). "Can you say that again, Rob? What Walt Willis said."

So I told him again. The foolish grin widened, if possible.

I reckon I've delivered Malcolm enough egoboo to last at least until he writes his next fanzine review column. I hope so!

Some other egoboo was delivered later on in the con, on Sunday night; Ian Williams was charged by Peter Presford - in his capacity as last year's winner - with the presentation of the Prick of the Year Award, Manchester fandom's lighthearted donation of a phallic candle on a wooden base to someone who has been a minor thorn in their backs over the last year.

Ian reports that as the Manchester group couldn't seem to agree on a suitable winner he argued persuasively with Pete for the right to choose the winner himself, as it also didn't seem right that such an informal award should be given to someone chosen by the con chairman. It took quite a while to round up sufficient audience for the presentation to be worthwhile, Ian even had to hunt around for Presford to be there for the donation of the award he originated; audiences for informal presentations which don't happen, especially in bars, but eventually the awarder and the unknowing intended recipient were present along with a quorum of spectators. Ian made the award - to Pete Presford himself.

As Pat Charnock was heard to say later, "Perhaps now its vanished up its own arsehole, it'll stay there."

We'll see. Perhaps after this con report, I'll get it next year.7

Apart from films, the Prick of the Year Award was the event of most interest and enjoyment for me that night; there was a duel - banana whips at five paces - between Pete Presford and Jan Howard Finder: but Pete even managed to make a mess of that. (A banana-ey mess to be sure, but a disorganised banana-ey mess.)

The lack of any striking event on Sunday night contrasted sharply with the superb dance at Seacon, where a combination of a well-run convention behind everybody and a band (Gray Charnock's group, the Burlingtons) very competent for the job at hand made for the greatest night of what can most simply be described as mass euphoria I have ever known at a con. The atmosphere at Seacon was indescribable.

At Mancon, however, there was nothing. I felt no particular emotion at all on Sunday night except my usual bland bonhomie and goodwill towards all men even Don West. This was not so for some, though: Irene Bell was so depressed by the whole convention that she was on the verse of tears. I don't think she was the only one who felt that way at least a little.

The whole convention reminds me very strongly of something George Bernard Shaw once said, grumpily, at a party given by a feverishly effusive society hostess. She approached him and sweetly enquired:

"Are you enjoying yourself?" - to which he replied:

"What else is there to enjoy?"

Mancon was like that... but a bit different. There was, George's comment notwithstanding, something else there to joy.

Other people.

So. Mancon was an event at which I enjoyed myself and the other people I met, (dozens of whom aren't mentioned above - they'll just have to bear with my lack of space and time) but I didn't enjoy the convention.

If Irene's reaction, and the long faces I saw on some of the newer fans at the con, especially on Thursday and Sunday nights) are any indication, there were some for whom even the above could not be said: for whom the ambience of the convention actually stunted the growth of the pleasure people normally take in each other's company.

I can think of no greater indictment.




Notes:


1. Daves Hutchinson, Cockfield and little ole me had only arrived a few minutes earlier despite setting off an hour sooner and taking a shorter route. This was because we spent an absurd length of time trying to find Owens Park on map which seemed to have a scale that varied from inch to inch.

2. On the plus side was a reasonable choice of beers (though I doubt if students pay the prices we did) including Draught Guinness which ran out on the Saturday night, which was just as well as I'd gotten totally smashed on it the previous night by ten thirty.

3. See earlier. I'd suggested information sheets about various aspects of fandom and a fan in residence to act as an information desk, etc.

4. A lot of talent, but very large and unwieldy I thought.

5. Well, us Gannets thought it a pretty fair result, though Malcolm Edwards in his lengthy conrep in Stop Breaking Down 3, claims the Rats were robbed, but what can you expect from a poncy publisher from Harrow? In fact I think the Rats were very lucky. The Gannet team should have been able to steamroller the little weeds. We certainly outmassed them. I was the lightest member of the team tipping the scales at just under eleven stone (l50lbs for U.S. readers), Cockfield was about 14 -tone, Harry Bell probably similar, and I shudder to think how heavy Kevin Williams is. On average, each Gannet was about 50lbs heavier than the average Rat!

There was a fair amount of physical contact in the game. I took the attitude that if I couldn't kick the ball when I went in for a tackle, then getting the man was just as good. I also found that running, screaming at an opponent was a pretty effective way of demoralising him. Not that I didn't get my fair share of being tackled. In the preliminary game Roy Kettle crashed into me so hard I was hurled into the air, landed on my shoulders, but, incredibly (incredibly if you know how unathletic I am), managed to roll perfectly and was on my feet hs Kettle turned to apologise to the empty space where he thought, no doubt, I was laying in agony. I got part of my own back in the game proper when I tackled Ian Maule perfectly leaving him flat on his back with his legs waving in the air.

On reflection, the Gannets had the strength and some fair defensive skill. All we really need is more attack and a more positive attitude to our play, plus a little practise.

Next year, the Rats won't know what's hit them!

But my poor little underused muscles really did ache for the rest of the con. I could barely manage to walk from my seat to the bar....


6. "Just a laugh," said Pete Presford as it was presented to me at the crowded banquet, "Just good fun, a joke, eh?" Which, sadly, seemed to be his attitude to the convention he was chairman of.


7. The most frequent remark after making the award was: "A bit obvious, wasn't it."

-- Rob Jackson




POSTCONVENTION BLUES: an editorial postscript including material by Rob Jackson omitted by space limitations.

To put it bluntly: my buddies fucked up.
Or am I stating the obvious?

I'm still not sure how they manage to stage such an inept and incompetent disaster like Mancon 5. It's almost as if they had gone out of their way to put on a bad convention. They certainly didn't learn anything from the previous three Eastercons all of which showed the right and wrong way to do a number of things. Just to give an example: Tynecon showed there was a place for a dance at a con, Seacon showed how it should be done, and Mancon didn't bother at all. Could anyone tell me why not? They surely knew the importance of a friendly efficient bar staff. Couldn't they have emphasised that we weren't to be treated like students? Tynecon gave a packed., varied and balanced programme, Seacon' s underprogramming showed how they went wrong. Mancon's was badly arranged and badly organised and showed little imagination. Like the quiz: that is only effective if it is fast. Surely they could have chosen a more dynamic quizmaster than Kevin Hall, nice guy though he is he didn't even ask all the questions in the correct order which on one occasion made a question asked of me totally meaningless and resulted in the quiz dragging on to the 'close tussle".

It's really difficult to think of anything the committee did do right. The atmosphere was so bad that it carried over to the partying side of the con. Most of the evenings were spent in largely fruitless hunts for good room parties. Even the one we organised wasn't much good. Possibly the best of the lot was an impromptu one on the top floor of the tower block. I have a memory of climbing up the spiral staircase, in the centre of that floor's landing, following Kettle into the darkness when he suddenly began to shriek: "Help, I'm scared of the dark" and squeezed past me in an effort to get down. One light moment...

Rob summarised the thing like this: "The Mancon committee's first and fatal misjudgement was in assessing the civility, competence, and comfort likely to be provided by their chosen venue, and how likely it was to meet the needs of the average con-goer to help him enjoy not just himself and his friends, but his surroundings."

-- Ian Williams



(Thanks to Peter Weston for providing this text)



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