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Novacon 41 – I Was There

Pips09_html_7bed5c9eIt’s on the same day as the ZZ9 AGM

Obviously the Novacon committee are trying to usurp that fine old institution, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha by scheduling their convention on the same day. I’m sure it was that way around. Most definitely.

I arrived in Nottingham on Saturday at around lunchtime. The trains had done their thing and transported me from Cambridge without a hitch, mishap or screaming mental torture. Well done, train thingies, more of this kind of behaviour please.

I find the tourist information office and enquire the way to the Park Inn. He looks at me strangely, I know not why. I ask again and we flail around for a while trying to establish some context. Eventually he realises I wish to walk there and so points at a road. ‘It’s up there’, he says. Excellent, says I. There are many fine buses says he. Not for me says I and depart with a friendly wave and a cheery smile and my knapsack on my back. It sounds like I should be singing at this point but out of deference to the people around me I refrained from such extreme cruelty.
About 40 minutes later I arrive at the Park Inn.
Noel Collyer is outside the hotel, reclining on a bench and mopping his brow. This is probably the right place. I reconnoitre the area checking out local supermarkets, Lidl and Tesco. I note several restaurants including a cool looking kebab shop and spectacularly fail to visit any of them during the weekend. I return to the hotel and Eve Harvey awaits just inside the door ready to offer such delights as a badge, a readme and a booklet containing writings by
the guest of honour, John Meaney. I collect 2 of everything and enquire at the reception desk about my room. A very flustered but delightful receptionist attempts to uncover this jealously guarded information and eventually tracks down the facts. It’s a no, try again later, situation. This bothers me not a jot. I know there’s beer and conversation in the bar. I shall be content.

Pips09_html_m26b9441Doug Bell is in the bar so I wrestle him to the ground (metaphorically) and force my fanzine upon him. My fanzine is actually a podcast of interviews with Taff candidates, Jacq Monahan, Warren Buff and Kim Kofmel but I had it transcribed, shoved a few pics in it and made a paper zine. Doug accepts the zine and moments later Christina Lake appears. Christina has been steeped in fanzine fandom so long now that she can smell a fanzine inside a bag from the other end of the room and is drawn inexorably toward it. Some might say she was drawn toward Doug but I’m sure it was the zine what done it. Christina’s arrival marks the end of a program item and a wave of people surge into the bar. These waves sweep back and forth across the building all weekend like the sea washing up and down upon the bar. The single program stream creates a very predictable movement of people. It’s quite comforting really to have some idea of what’s happening and to get a handle on times, events and places. An Eastercon, for example, will have many moments for me where I feel quite lost and disoriented, flailing about in the dark. This latest wave fills up all available spaces and increases our social group at the end of the bar. Pat Meara is here and Ron Gemmell appears, flourishing his first fanzine in twenty-five years. Now that’s impressive procrastination. Eat That Duck 3 contains a tale of, accumulating knowledge of Swedish written by Lucy Huntzinger, an island hopping, Eurocon attending, travelogue from Ron Gemmell and a goshwowohboyohboy piece about Cornwall from
Christina. The fanzine in précis says, learning Swedish is hard, a Swedish Eurocon is fun and Cornwall has some jolly nice walks. There’s also a duck and a ship on the cover which you can colour in if you should get the urge and almost everyone did get that urge but
there were no colouring pens to be had in the building, not even for ready money. How tragic life can be sometimes.

It was then that Flick accosted me, demanding to know why I wasn’t at the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha AGM. I have my excuse all ready. Carrie is attending the AGM and will bring back information about the proceedings at midnight. Surely if Carrie is there then I don’t have to go too. She decides that this is sound reasoning and so allows me to live. Flick is looking particularly good and is wearing a long flowing dress that looks astoundingly elegant. The room is, in fact, bookended by 2 very elegant women with Caro being the other, over by the conservatory in a similarly beautiful dress. I am delighted by this penchant of the ladies of fandom for bringing out the posh frocks for conventions. It adds a real touch of glamour to the proceedings.

Another program item begins and the bar empties out once more. I enquire about my room. Reception are more practised now and can fire back the answer almost i immediately. No, not ready, try again later. I have to console myself with another beer and a pleasant chat with 2 more people notably absent from the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha AGM, Ian Brown and Helen Cross. Helen is making a sock with the aid of 3 pointy sticks and some yarn. It all looks mighty suspicious. The process looks far too complicated to be just a sock. Obviously strange voodoo rites are at work here and I watch quite fascinated to see who is to be struck down by the sock of doom. They’ve ordered pizzas and once I’ve wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth I realise that I’d quite like one too. Then the hurricane that is Lilian Edwards whirls in upon our tranquility and regales us with semi coherent tales of current events. I adore Lilian and am always pleased to see her but this time it feels a little odd. I’ve become accustomed from her Facebook updates to picture her at some continental pavement cafe with the sun shining down upon her while she samples interesting and amusing foodstuffs. She will either have just given a lecture somewhere exotic or be about to do so. Lilian in Nottingham doesn’t feel quite right at the moment. She’s moving too fast for my mind to focus. Probably best if I try not to figure out what’s going on in my head. It’ll only confuse me. The pizza is magnificent and seals the deal on my bothering to track down food without. I eat, drink, chat and am content.

Later I begin to feel weary and investigate once more the possibility of gaining access to my hotel room. This time I get a keycard and some esoteric sounding instructions for putting said card in a lift and performing arcane rites. Helen and her many pointy sticks may be up for such things but I make for the fire escape steps instead and am inside my room moments later. I lie down and am soon fast asleep. I awake a couple of hours later feeling quite bright and refreshed. I arm myself with pen, paper and coffee and begin work on a LoC for Ron Gemmel’s fanzine. The flakmoppe mentioned on page 7 has caught my

Pips09_html_m64f1b2f8attention and I feel that I must explore this further. I duly explore
it, finish coffee and head back into the convention to give Ron his
LoC. Then as if to underline what it says in bible, ‘he that giveth
unto the zine writers shall not lack’ I receive two more fanzines:
Procrastinations from John Coxon and iShoes from Yvonne Rowse. As with my zine, both of these are A5 and without staples. This is obviously the shape of things to come. None of us can be arsed with staples anymore. John Coxon also gives me a computer. Very generous thinks I until he tells me that it actually belongs to Dave Haddock.
Apparently he borrowed it to go around North America with him on his Taff trip. He obviously felt sorry for the computer and felt that it needed a holiday. What a nice and thoughtful chap. BTW does anyone know why the hell Chris Garcia refers to John Coxon as ‘The Rock’. I don’t think he looks particularly like a rock. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to be asking this. Do I really want to know what happens inside the mind of a Chris Garcia? I take the computer and promise to give it back to Dave.

Procrastinations 9 has some interesting moments in it. The Taff cadidates are all in there, writing about their heroes. I enjoyed Warren Buff and his bunch of philosophers but found it a little more difficult to connect with Jacq’s painters and Kim’s librarians. Other writers in the zine included Dave Haddock who wrote about Iain Banks and his war upon factual inaccuracies, Chris Garcia paid homage to 2 fannish heroes and a wrestler and John Coxon wrote of the late Steve Jobs. The letter column has far too much of comics and films based upon super heroes for my liking but still nice to see some familiar names in there.

iShoes is a different beastie altogether. It’s mostly a collection of Yvonne’s blog writings and short book reviews but in this zine we do get that very human picture of the Yvonne that we’ve come to know and love. Her anxiety for her family, the anger and frustration caused by what we’re doing to the planet and her delight at finding something decent to read. What is missing from this issue of iShoes though is Yvonne’s playful sense of humour. She’s delightful to talk to and has a whimsical sense of humour but the playfulness didn’t really come through in the fanzine.

I wrote my LoC for iShoes but couldn’t come up with anything for Procrastinations and still haven’t. Hopefully inspiration will strike soon.

There are a number of fannish institutions that I haven’t yet experienced and I have a mental tick list that I’m working through. Last year I went to Corflu at Winchester and tried and failed to do the Astral Pole. This year I decided I would finally get to see a Sorensen production. I mentioned this to Doug Spencer and he looked worried. ‘This one will be your introduction to these things?’ he asked. I answered in the affirmative and he shook his head sadly. ‘It’s not one of our best’ he said. Thus encouraged I turned up all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to appreciate the action. Ian wibbled a bit about records that had been number one at some time or another and apparently that’s what we would have won if he’d done that but, in fact, they’d done something else altogether so we watched that instead. The whole thing was seamlessly (ahem) held together by stunt Peter Weston (sometimes spelled Hari Seldon) appearing every 10 years to tell us what life should be like in that decade. This Novacon was the 40th anniversary of the very first one and we tracked through the years to see just how far we had deviated from the psychohistory Weston plan. The answer was very far indeed. There were no fanzines on cassette tapes or flying cars and jetpacks. Where did we all go wrong? Julia Daly sang of the Little Brum Con. Doug Spencer was part of a skit in which he played a stuffy old professor called Professor
F J Mendelssohn and we saw a return of the miming Wilkettes not so much jiving as quivering a bit. All jolly fun and topped off with the famous hit, ‘Grumpy Brummy People Running Cons’. Another fannish tick box well and truly ticked I ambled back to the bar to get myself rat onna stick or whatever other late night delicacy might be available. The readme had promised late food and I was very much looking forward to wrestling some of it down my throat. Unfortunately, of the food there was no sign. I enquired hopefully
and my hero went off to find a bacon sandwich for me. I decided that I loved her fervently, although I felt a little guilty when seconds later I spotted an Alison Scott and many other hopefuls being refused such delights as I had just experienced. The food had been available from 2300 until midnight which just happened to be the time that the
program item ended. Much unfortunateness and much wailing and gnashing of teeth was there. I was inclined, at first to blame the hotel but looking at the readme there was no set time for the late food. It merely said late. It seems likely that this was a detail
that wasn’t nailed down and so slipped away from view. It’s a tough life for a conrunner.

Twas then that Carrie arrived bringing the latest exciting news from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. David Haddock had been voted in as president over Robert Newman and Richard Gray. David is 42 years old this year so had decided to celebrate by making a bid to become either President of the Galaxy or President of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. For better or worse he has landed the latter role (the galaxy might have been easier). We pass the information on but few are interested. Preisdents, schmezidents. Who needs ‘em.
It’s a fun little group we’re in consisting of Doug Bell, Christina Lake, Ron Gemmell, Clarrie Maguire and Timothy Maguire. Myself and Carrie are starting to become more than a little tired by now and I struggle to remember who said what, to whom but I do recall that Doug
has developed something of a fascination with the concept of the “Mexican Road Trip”. Apparently “Mexican Road Trip” always has to have quotes around it as that makes it more dangerous and exciting. There needs to be fast cars involved in this road trip and
maybe some smuggling. Doug muses on the idea of smuggling something across the border in Pinatas. What could we smuggle? ‘I know the very thing says Doug. We smuggle sweets across the border in Piñatas. No one would ever expect that.’ He has an ingenious mind that Doug Bell. The conversation takes a turn for the weird as someone espouses the wonders of Iggy Pop. He is described as ‘undead but fit’. Hmmm, he does look as if he died some years ago but as for fit…

The conversation goes on but at around 3 o’ clock or so Carrie and I are flagging somewhat. True Blood is being discussed and referred to as undead gay porn (now there’s a category I haven’t yet seen in the library) but we’ve had enough and bid everyone a good night as we totter along to the fire escape and then up to the room.

Only hours later we’re awake again and tucking into those luscious bacon, egg and mushroom calories at the breakfast table. Helen Brown and Ian Cross are sat to one side of
us and Nik Whitehead, Richard Crawshaw and David Carlile are sat on the other side. Carrie has stuff to talk over with these people in connection with the last Eastercon, Illustrious. I reckon Carrie is in serious danger of becoming one of those conrunner peeps you know. She keeps getting drawn in that direction. I like Nik, Richard and David but this is not a conversation for me. For whatever bizarre reason, it seems I’m far more interested in the progress of the multi-coloured sock being knitted by Helen. It is a thing of wonder
indeed. After breakfast we enquire somewhat optimistically at the reception desk whether it’s possible to have a late check out. We’re gobsmacked when she says, certainly, no problem. We haggle and settle upon 14:00 as our check out time. We can now take it easy, showering and ambling downstairs in our own sweet time. It would have been nicer if someone had told the cleaner we were checking out late. She got rather persistent about wanting to get into the room but we finally persuaded her (with the help of an old Jedi mind trick I
picked up around the back of Tescos) that we were not the room she was looking for. Downstairs we went, to stash our bags around the back of reception and then did some more relaxing in the bar. All jolly fun. We join Dave Lally who tells us how long he’s been waiting for dinner and we order some of our own. Ours duly arrives and still there’s no sign of sustenance for Mr Lally who is fast wasting away. Dave singles us out for the ZZ9ers that we are and mentions that he has something special in the basement for us.
There’s a Dave Lally place down below, it seems and it contains flickering images in a darkened room. He tells us that Douglas Adams makes a brief appearance at the end of a tape about the 1979 Worldcon. This sounds enticing and we promise we’ll pay a visit later.  Our food then arrives and we devour it with vim, vigour and much delight. Dave looks on hungrily. He then explains at length to a passing member of staff that his food seems to have disappeared into some kind of time warp and that maybe rather drastic measures should be taken to retrieve it from whatever dark and hopeless abyss it may have descended into. The member of staff is thoroughly confused but takes the useful course of ignoring most of what Dave has said and just orders some more food. This does the trick and within moments he’s happily munching down upon a considerable amount of carbohydrates. We wander off but later we do descend into the bowels of the earth and sure enough there is Dave Lally and several other dark and mysterious figures watching a BBC video of the 1979 Seacon.
I’d love to watch this alongside some of the older fans as there are many faces I’m sure we should recognise and it would be fun watching it with people who could put names to the faces. That video is obviously part of a BBC science fiction night as it runs on into an SF version of some talking heads book show programme. Ian Watson is there as is Douglas Adams. This is the special exciting thing that  Dave was telling us about. It is quite a treat but, unfortunately the show ends before Douglas can get much of a word in. I was fascinated
by the footage of the 1979 Worldcon though so if anyone has a digital
version on file then I’d love a copy.

Carrie and I decide we’re going to view the closing ceremony, that isn’t actually a
closing ceremony because Novacons never close (no, I’ve no idea why). We particularly want to see the Nova awards so off we go and bag ourselves a seat. There’s a raffle, everyone and his dog is thanked for everything and much homage is paid to John Meaney, the guest of honour who seems to have had a very jolly time indeed. I suspect we may see him at more conventions in the future. Steve Lawson steps down as chair and there’s a new committee for next year which seems to consist of Tony Berry who has forgotten whether there’s anyone else running Novacon with him. We take note as we intend to pounce upon him later and ask desperately searching questions. The Nova awards are next and ‘Head’ by Christina Lake and Doug Bell takes first place as the fanzine of choice for Novaconees. My own offering, ‘Pips’ struggles into joint 14th/last place alongside ‘Plokta’ – hmmm.
After the ceremony we lie in wait for Tony Berry. We have a cunning plan we say. Next year wouldn’t it be a simply spiffing idea if we held the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha Annual General Meeting in the basement bar of the Park Inn Hotel during Novacon. He looked a little glassy eyed at us
but I’m sure we spotted a discernible nod so that’s that sorted then (well, as long as the committee sez aye). Next year the ZZ9 AGM is at Novacon. Seems a jolly idea.
More chatting and drinking and then we’re piling into a taxi which will whisk us away to the train station. Then there’s train whisking from Nottingham to Waterbeach and then we collect our bikes and toddle off to our village in Cambridge.
Convention done, mission complete.

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