Jim and Carrie go to Loncon 3 – The 2014 World Science Fiction Convention
It’s a mistake, I feel, that when you’re writing a convention report you wibble on endlessly about the trials and tribulations of your journey. Down with this sort of thing says the weary reader. I came here for a convention report, not some meandering monotonous grind along the track of despair we know as the M11. However, we had planned a fannish diversion on the way to the convention so I insist upon inflicting a little of our journey upon you here.
We loaded several million tons of equipment into the rental car including three trays of hecto that were piled on top of visiting TAFF delegate Curt Phillips (for it was he) who we had folded into one of the back seats. We set off from Cambridge and in just a hop, skip and a confused last mile wiggle we were outside Roy Kettle’s door in Hitchin. The Kettle man himself flung open the door of his mansion and beckoned us inside. We made our mighty trek along the corridor to reach a dining room kitchen of cavernous, measureless to man proportions where our hosts bade us sit. The Kettles were delightful company and the calm and beauty of our surroundings cast an almost siren like spell upon us. The time pressures to reach the Worldcon, the deadline for returning the rental car to somewhere in London were all allowed to float away as Carrie, Curt and I just relaxed, happily chatting to Roy and Kathleen. They coaxed us out into the town of Hitchin and forced us to eat delicious food at a delightful local pub. Oh such absolute fiends they were.
I then got a reminder on my phone that the rental period on the car was shortly due to expire. The phone also helpfully told me that I was an hours drive away from the place where I needed to deposit the car. If it had spoken to me I suspect it would have used a disapproving tone. We hurried back up the hill, bade our farewell to the Kettles and were soon pointing toward London and the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention. An hour and something later after the tortuous agony that was a very small but frustrating chunk of the M25 we arrived at the hotel. We flung Curt Phillips upon the mercy of the Ramada hotel, emptied out the contents of the car and hurriedly sped off to take it back to the rental company. It turns out that we took it to the wrong one. Who would have thought there would be two branches of Europcar within 15 minutes walk of each other?
It’s Wednesday and officially the convention has not yet begun. However there are many friendly faces around in the Ramada hotel. Dave and Sarah Haddock are there. Jonathan and Sharon Lewis-Jones who have brought the casino equipment for us (I could have got this to fit in the car but it would have probably meant throwing out Curt Phillips and leaving him at the side of the road. I felt this wasn’t the sort of treatment that one should be dishing out to visiting TAFF delegates). Carrie busily started unpacking stuff and sent me off to the Excel Centre to register. I got there just before the eight o’clock closure time despite being waylaid by a wandering Tobes who seemed to be going somewhere but wasn’t entirely sure where. I registered and also picked up Carrie’s registration pack. All went fine and smooth. Good to see that registration is all geared up and ready to go. There’s certainly going to be no problems there then. Meanwhile Carrie had joined Fran Dowd and various other folks for a mass watching of the television programme, The Great British Bake Off. My wife often baffles me. She’s a creature of many strange habits and enthusiasms and this one for watching competitive baking is one of those for which I have no comprehension or understanding. I went off for dinner alone to a nearby pub (The Fox Connaught) and ordered a club sandwich. Around 80 minutes later I received my club sandwich but the intervening period had not been too fraught. I’d been drinking some decent real ales and reading the second of the Cormoran Strike books (Silkworm). They’re a damn fine read and I heartily recommend them. I was also joined by Sharon and Jonjo who regaled me with tales of the trials and tribulations of being involved in MIMO. They had thankfully been doing the Move In part of the Move In Move Out Process. If they had got confused and done Move Out it would have thrown the whole convention into chaos. They can’t have been too tribulated by the process as they seemed very happy and were chatting away merrily. I had more beer and figured I should try and seek out Carrie to check that she’d finished with this competitive baking nonsense. Carrie was still in the Ramada Bar knocking back the Margaritas with Fran and John Dowd. My appearance coincided with Fran yawning and staggering off to bed. I shall try not to take this too personally. I got in another round of drinks and when I mentioned to the person at the bar that I wanted a bottle of Speckled Hen that ‘hadn’t’ been in the fridge she knew immediately who it was for. “It’s him isn’t it.” she said glancing conspiratorially toward John. I had to admit that it was indeed for him. John was in a fine mood. He was more relaxed and happy than I’ve seen him for a long time and we merrily discussed Doctor Who and the many incarnations of the doctor. John had a theory (well actually several but it was late and my memory is a poor sad thing) that the modern series contained much less science fiction than classic Who. He said that even the Sarah Jane adventures had contained more science fiction than current Doctor Who adventures. This all became very animated and veered off into discussion of the alienness of the Doctor or rather not enough alienness of some incarnations. We all agreed violently with each other but eventually tiredness o’ertook us and we staggered off to bed.
Thursday will be remembered by many as a day of queues. The registration queue wound around the Excel lobby area, up the ramps and off into the corridors between programme rooms. It was a thing of wonder indeed. For the people actually in the queues it provoked entirely different emotions.
Thursday was also retro Hugo day and for us it was a dancing day. Carrie and I do enjoy Lindy Hop and Swing music so we made it a priority to go the swing dance lessons from 13:30 to 16:30. That’s a long time to be dancing and we were absolutely exhausted by the end of it. We started with 6 beat, the second session was 8 beat and the last session was 1920’s Charleston. It was a delight to us as we are more familiar with 8 beat Lindy Charleston and so we had most excellent fun exploring some stuff we weren’t overly familiar with. We stumbled out of those dance lessons more than a little dazed and went off to sit down for a bit. There was food and then back to the hotel to prepare for the evening. It was retro Hugos looking back at the year 1939. In our own homage to the occasion Carrie and I dressed up in the style of the 1930’s. It was easy for me as my dinner suit would have been quite acceptable and authentic for the time. Our wedding was themed as art deco so Carrie dug out the wedding dress and wore that again for the evening. This was one of those rare occasions when it took me longer to get ready than Carrie. I had completely forgotten how to tie a bow tie and had to look up youtube videos. Now if any of you attempt to do this you will always find that there’s a magical point where they show you it going from one state to another “aaand then you just straighten it up” they say. Hang on says I. There was an important bit before that. There was some slight of hand behind the bow. So, it took me almost an hour to tie my bow tie and what with one thing and another we managed to entirely miss the retro Hugos. However, we were in time for the dancing and were very much looking forward to the band. When the band began to play we found that we were more than usually grateful that our dance teacher had taught us 1920’s Charleston. Everything was played at such a frantic pace that this was the only dance that was at all feasible. They tore through a variety of numbers from Hello Dolly to Tiger Rag at an ever increasing click. Their eyes were firmly fixed upon the finishing post where they could say they’d done their duty and bugger off outta there. Despite the band we did have a fine time. I danced with Carrie, Deborah Fishburn and Kylie Ding. Thank you all – it was wonderful to dance with you. Thank you also to the splendid dance teacher, Antonia Pugliese who persevered all day despite having been moved from the room we should have had to another room that was too small and in which the tech crew couldn’t figure out how to use the speakers. She kept smiling through the tears of frustration and counted us all through the steps to make up for not having the music. Back to the swing evening – the band finally finished and ran away. We went off to the bar, drank beer and talked toot as is traditional. There just happened to be a Tardis in the bar (of course) so I asked Carrie to stand beside it so I could take her picture.
We were thrown out of the Excel at 2 O clock and weary folks that we were took the opportunity to turn in for a reasonably early night.
First item I wanted to attend was ‘Fannish Agony Aunts’ but I just didn’t manage to get myself up and moving in time. I did however get to the ‘What Will Fanzines Look Like in 5 Years Time’? This panel had a fine line up of Carolyn E Cooper, Lilian Edwards, Suzanne Tompkins, Christina Lake, Kurt Erichsen and Jerry Kaufman as moderator. I was hopeful that this would be a very forward looking panel that would explore a few possibilities. There was a decent buzz to the panel and it had a good attendance of around 45 people. All the audience were keen to hear what the panel said and join in the discussion. Of course we didn’t have enough time to complete the discussion so we did what all the best panels do and retired to the bar to continue the discussion there. I heard about a nifty new plugin for WordPress that would help to create an apa and another piece of software from which you could choose articles and the software would bundle them all up into an epub for you. There are lots of possibilities for fanzines in the future but I’m still surprised that no one seems to be talking about video as a fanzine medium. For a TAFF report in particular a video documentary seems to make a lot of sense.
Thursday was progressing at quite a pace and the next thing on our list was a book signing. Roy Kettle has written a book with Chris Evans called ‘Future Perfect’. It’s a fine science fiction thriller with a delicious sense of humour. I’ve already bought and read it on my Kindle but Carrie wanted to buy a hard copy of the book and ask Roy and Chris to sign it. We go to the signing table and lie in wait. He’s cunningly managed to avoid us by not being there. We decide to go for plan B and come back 10 minutes later when the signings are actually due to start. We fill in the time by browsing around the art show. There are all manner of pretty things here. Carrie is intrigued by some of the jewellery on Claire Boothby’s table and I go off to look at the pictures that were donated to TAFF by Dave Cox’s estate. There were some delightful pictures there and we’re really hoping they will raise a significant amount of money for TAFF.
We returned to the signing tables and Roy was there with a queue consisting of Bill Burns. Bill may be small in number as far as a queue is concerned but he makes up for it in sheer enthusiasm. We joined the queue and were welcomed warmly into the throng by queue master Bill. Carrie then waved her book at the authors and they happily defaced it for her.
Now we had some sorting out to do for various programme items. We’d promised to give Dave O’Neil some buzzers for his panel on Technobabble or TechnoWhat. We’d also promised him some prizes for his pub quiz from the TAFF collection of goodies. A terribly frustrating time was had asking Ops and Programme Ops if there was anywhere we could leave stuff for Dave to collect. I’m going to try and stay away from the subject as much as I can but for now I’ll just say that we became very much accustomed to the word NO whenever we asked for any assistance. Eventually Green Room accepted our items and we sent Dave a message that he could collect them there. Side note here – there were a lot of frustrations that will have had a little to do with our lack of experience, a little to do with programme ops and ops putting people on their front desks whose primary purpose seemed to be to tell everyone to go away and leave them alone and a lot to do with their being so few volunteers available. I will tell a little of the frustrations at not receiving much help in this report but step back from a full scale rant as, quite frankly, I don’t think it’ll make for a fun read.
Our next big challenge was a programme item that Carrie was running called ‘Fanzines From The Time Before Photocopiers. This was quite an ambitious programme item that involved some serious logistics. Rob Hansen had donated his Gestetner so we could demonstrate that. Carrie had made up a whole batch of jelly duplicators that had been transported to the convention atop a TAFF delegate and Carolyn E Cooper had prepared a slide show presentation of the history of fanzine reproduction.
Carrie had gone to see the Escape Pod live podcast recording so I had the unenviable task of getting the Gestetner to the room for the start of the item. We’d spotted it dumped on a pallet in the exhibits space. We’d seen ops earlier in the day and asked if we could have help moving the item to a Capital Suite programme room. Someone nodded sagely and wrote our request in a book. Phew, we thinks. All is good. I had also asked programme ops if they’d be able to help but they’d said they didn’t have the equipment for such things. I pointed to the palette truck but they just shrugged and made inarticulate noises. I returned to ops a half hour before the item started and mentioned this prior arrangement for help with moving the Gestetner and am met with blank stare. OK, I says, maybe someone could come up into Exhibits with me to check whether it has been moved as Exhibits is now closed. I’m told “NO”. I went to try and check but the security officer wouldn’t let me enter the Exhibits area. I suggest he could go with me to check that I didn’t get up to anything rude or unpleasant with any of the exhibits. He says NO.
I go back to ops in despair. Fortunately I see Pat McMurray who is running ops and throw myself on his mercy. Please, please please says I. Do you have anyone who could help. Sure he says and gestures at Tommy Wareing. Tommy accepts the task with equanimity but no knowledge of what he’s let himself in for. Someone in a medium viz jacket is seen skipping across the floor. He’s got too much energy says Pat. Get him to help you. We three approach the security guard and the medium viz jackets work their magic. The defensive rope is drawn back and we are beckoned through. The ops guys look at the Gestetner and then at the rather rickety sack barrow they’ve brought and realise that it’s not going to cut it. Tommy however is not deterred. He begins to explore the Exhibits area and finds a York Trolley (a wired trolley device you’ll often find in post/mail rooms). We load it up with Gestetner and Gestetner cabinet and all the bits and bobs you need to make a mimeo do its thing. We traverse many corridors, narrowly avoid the manic mobility scooters and eventually arrive at the programme room. It’s just after 20:00 now and the item has already begun but we manipulate this mechanical monster into position and get it all set up and ready to run (only a few fingers are crushed in the process).
Colin Hinz starts to set it up ready for printing while Carolyn tells her tale. Unfortunately Carolyn (although telling a fine tale) goes on rather longer than the 10 minutes she was asked to do so Carrie had to step in and ask her to curtail the tale. Rob stepped up to the microphone and we’re face to face with the Gestetner 420 beast itself. Colin has it chugging along nicely turning out large numbers of mimeo masterpieces. Corflu (correcting fluid) is passed around and we all take a deep sniff. Everyone is entranced by this marvellous mechanical monstrosity that can produce such wonders. Surely nothing can trump this. Well, actually it can. You may remember that earlier in this tale we loaded up the TAFF delegate with a multitude of trays upon his knee. These were baking trays filled with a jelly duplicator mix. Here’s the method for making up these trays which you’ll find at: http://www.fell.demon.co.uk/steve/jelly.html
Turkish Delight Duplicator Recipe
Anyway, here’s Jenny’s recipe (as obtained from a friend of a friend of a ‘freedom fighter’ who apparently used to run across the veldt duplicating leaflets with one hand and scattering them with another …)
You will need:
1 large roasting tray
This needs to be big enough for a sheet of paper. It is going to be the ‘bed’.
Sheets of good quality typing paper laser printer or photocopying paper will do quite well. This is for the master copies. More or less any non-glossy paper will do for the copies
“Spirit Duplicator” carbons
One UK trade name is ‘Banda’. Ordinary carbon paper will not do. These sheets come in a range of colours, but purple seems to be traditional. You prepare your master by typing or printing (with an impact printer, not a laser or inkjet!) so that the carbon material comes off onto your master sheet.
From a reasonably good grocers’ shop or supermarket (look in the baking section)
From the tap is just fine…
Just your average White Death
AKA Glycerine. From a Pharmacist, Drugstore, or Friendly Chemist.
Preparing the ‘bed’
[This recipe uses gelatin, which can be produced from non-animal sources, but which usually isn’t. Somewhere we have an equivalent recipe that uses carrageenin gel or agar agar, but you will have to work these ones out for yourself by trial and error, as we’re not so practised with these ones]
In a large saucepan dissolve 100g gelatin in 375ml water then begin to warm it gently while adding 385g of sugar. When it has dissolved, add 715g glycerol and slowly bring the mixture to the boil. Stir gently for one minute while boiling to avert the wrath of the Foam Ghods.
Remove the mixture from the heat and pour it slowly into your tray (care! this mixture boils at a higher temperature than water — for the purposes of rug rats and house apes, treat it as molten fat).
Make sure that the tray is on a flat surface where it can be left for a few hours until the gel sets.
While the gel is cooling, the Foam Ghods can be further appeased by using tissue paper to remove bubbles, foam and ‘bits’ from the surface.
Using the duplicator
First, moisten the surface of the bed by swirling cold water across it and wiping it dry with a fine sponge. There should be no droplets of water left at this point.
Take your master copy and lay it face down on the gel, smoothing it down with the back of a spoon (or by hand), taking care to avoid bubbles and areas that are not in contact with the surface.
Leave it there for a few minutes to allow the ink to transfer into the top of the gelatin (care: the longer you leave it, the deeper the ink goes, so the more copies you can make, but if the surface was too wet, you run the risk of incurring the wrath of the Dhemons of Diffusion).
Remove the master carefully (it may be re-usable, depending on how many copies you need) — if it tears, never mind, the surface was too dry anyway.
Take a sheet of ordinary paper and slowly smooth it down over the right part of the bed. Peel it back, and step back in amazement! It works!!
Repeat 30-50 times, omitting the step back in amazement as the miracle becomes mundane. If you want more copies clean the surface (see below) and replace the master.
Cleaning the Surface
Cover the surface briefly with warm water. This will dissolve the ink (huzzah!!) but also some of the surface (boo! hiss!) so swirl it away quickly while using a separate fine sponge (which will soon become a fine fhannish shade of purple — and not one you would want to use to do your sensitive fhannish face with) to remove the ink. Wash the surface with cold water to help reset the gelatine, dry the surface again, and use a sheet of white paper to check for any leftover ink on the surface (ink below the surface isn’t often a problem). be careful not to damage the smoothness of the surface.
If you do damage the surface, all is not lost. Simply (if you are using a metal tray only) re-melt the surface and let it re-form, obeying the imprecations and instructions above re: the propitiation of the Foam Ghods. For serious damage, remove the gel from the tray, and redissolve in a little boiling water, bring back to boil as above and continue with the procedure as appropriate.
This file is sort of shareware: if you use this recipe, we’d like to see a copy of the zine, flyer or artwork you produce. Our address is: Steve & Jenny Glover, 3f2 (t/r) 2 Trinity Court, Trinity, Edinburgh EH5 3LE, Scotland.
This is a fine recipe which works beautifully. Many thanks to Steve and Jenny Glover who posted it online.
Carrie demonstrated doing a little copying and then struck gold when an artist volunteered to do some drawing for us on the duplicator carbons. Most of the audience gathered around the table all wanting to try out the magic of hecto duplication and carry off their own copy of the artists work. Unfortunately we didn’t get the name of the artist. All too soon we reach the end of the programme item. Jon Courtenay Grimwood has entered the room and he’s preparing to take centre court. We hurriedly usher people from the room but have to leave the Gestetner behind. Carrie and I sweep up the Hekto trays and collapse in a heap a few yards away. A Polish chap approaches us to tell how much he enjoyed the item and to tell us that in the time when his parents were younger their compatriots had produced revolutionary literature on trays very similar to the ones that Carrie had demonstrated during the programme item. It’s just remarkable technology and any government smashing its way into your home searching for a dissident printing press would find only baking trays, gelatin and sugar. All perfectly innocent kitchen items.
Several other people approach us to tell of their joy at seeing this wild and weird technology but eventually we decided we needed to dump it back into the hotel room. The short walk across to the Ramada hotel seemed to get longer and longer that weekend, the more stuff we had to shlep across that car park.
I received a text message from Deborah Fishburn. Ahrvid Engholm is looking for me.
The night was not yet over. We had another programme item starting at 22:00. I was particularly keen to see this one as it was something of an experiment. Jeanne Gomoll had mentioned in her Guest of Honour survey how much she liked The Moth Podcast. This lead me onto wondering about our trying to recreate a little of the format and making it into fannish storytelling. Much of our fannishness is based around telling stories, either about each other or about the material we read, watch, listen to etc. I wanted to try bring this to life but in a slightly competitive way with the audience being able to vote on the stories. We had some fine competitors. Jeanne Gomoll, Andy Hooper, Michael Abbott and Sandra Bond all told stories and Catherine Pickersgill cracked the whip, keeping them all in line. After carting all the stuff back to the hotel and being waylaid by so many delightful people (it sounds like I’m being sarcastic but actually I’m not. It was frustrating in that we couldn’t get where we were going but really nice in that we were perpetually bumping into people who were exceptionally good company) we arrived very late to the programme item. Jeanne and Andy had reached the final and were telling their second stories. Andy had already told his best tale about burning down some state or other so just generally talked about some Worldcon and some fans. Jeanne went into great detail about why she attended her graduation naked under her gown. Raised hands from the audience made the decision, Jeanne’s nakedness carried the day and Jeanne carried off the marvellous inflatable trophy.
Saturday I had great plans to get up early and go running. I never got around to downloading the Zombies Run app so used that as an excuse to laze around in bed for a little and forego the running.
When I got to the Excel Centre I heard that Ahrvid Engholm was looking for me.
I was also accosted by someone asking me how the Pork Pie Race would work. I told them that I expected people to bring along pre-prepared machines to transport a pie from one end of the tent to the other. He looked terribly hurt, said it didn’t read like that in the programme book and left. It all seemed very strange. I was to meet this gentleman again later.
Saturday looked like it was going to be a busy day. The first thing we had to deal with was getting casino practice kit, drinks and nibbles to South Gallery. We had many volunteer croupiers for the Fan Funds Casino but none of us knew much about casinos, roulette or blackjack. I’d arranged a private session where the volunteers could come along and gain some familiarity with the equipment before we went live that same evening. It turned out to be one of the most relaxed and pleasant moments of the convention. We put the blackjack, roulette and poker dice on some tables. There was wine, nibbles and Irn Bru on another and we all sat about eating, drinking, playing games and finalising the format of how the casino would work. The practice session wound down after a couple of hours and we packed it all up again.
The Whisky Tasting Panel was on that afternoon and they’d asked for water to wash their palettes in between drinks so our next task was track down some of this palette swilling stuff. There were many trials and tribulations connected with getting water but eventually Carrie and I were able to persuade the splendid Rob Jackson to give us a lift to Tesco to get the water and we got some pork pies too for the pork pie race. It was especially good of Rob Jackson to help us out as it meant that he missed the tail end of the meeting of the InTheBar crowd at the Ramada. There was Sandra Bond, Pat Charnock, Curt Phillips, Jim Linwood, Dave Langford, Rob Hansen, Claire Brialey and many more gathered in the hotel bar. Graham Charnock had not made it to the meeting as he was said to be indisposed. I hear that he did later make it to the convention but I didn’t see him.
We shlepped the water back to the convention, messaged the moderators of the panel that it would be in the room waiting for them. We slipped the water in there while the previous item was on hoping that the people using that room for wouldn’t have been driven insane with thirst and therefore leap happily upon our cellophane wrapped gift. I was told that Ahrvid was looking for me.
I rushed down to the Fanac Tent for the Pork Pie Race. I was a little worried about this item. I’d been trying to whip up enthusiasm for this event as it seemed to have the potential to be enormous fun. It was also celebrating a little piece of fan history as we commemorated Brian Burgess and his pork pies in a suitcase. I’d received little news about any potential contestants other than Rob Jackson. The moderators of the item, Smuzz and Ahrvid hadn’t mentioned getting any more contestants so I was afraid that it might be Rob competing against himself. Ahrvid Engholm was in the Fanac Tent. “I’ve been looking for you”, he says. “I heard” I reply. I show him the pork pies that I’ve brought and he seems to be happy. I’m looking around for potential contestants but see only Rob.I’m also looking around for Smuzz and there’s nothing but an empty space. Crowds are beginning to gather in the tent and they’re expecting some kind of entertainment.I check with Rob – he has two machines all ready to go. The chap who had accosted me earlier is there with several other people looking a little bit manic. He asks me again about the rules and I tell him that there really aren’t all that many. It’s just a matter of constructing something to transport a pork pie from that one end of the tent to the other. Points are then awarded for ingenuity, comedy value and some degree of pork pie transportation. He then starts rummaging about scrounging up parts for a machine. I am slightly relieved in that it looks like we may now have some competition for Rob if only we can spin things out long enough for these people to build a machine.
I take the microphone and greet the assembled throng. I see that Sandra Bond is around and I reckon she’d be the perfect person to tell everyone about the history of Brian Burgess and his pork pies. Sandra does a fine job of telling the tale of how Brian would bring in pork pies and long life milk in a suitcase and sell them to needy fans at for close to cost price at 4 o clock in the morning. The microphone is then passed to Ahrvid who tells of the Pork Pie Race itself and how Scandinavian fandom morphed it into something called The Great Peanut Race. This involved transporting a peanut for 2 metres and became hugely popular until The Peanut Defence Initiative created the ultimate peanut carrying device in the their Maglev Peanut Train and it was felt that after that there was nowhere else to go.
After the tales are told I see that the competitor is still not finished but Ahrvid tells me he plans to enter. He doesn’t seem to have a machine and looks as mad as a box of laughing frogs but I figure I have nothing to lose and give him a pork pie. I make an announcement and beckon Rob Jackson to show us the first of his creations. It seems to be a lampshade with a small motor in it. It makes its slow and relentless progress along the tent and reaches the finish line to mighty cheers. I look around. There’s still no sign of the competitor but I do see Smuzz approaching. He apologises profusely and says I can carry on if I wish. In one way it seems a bit of a shame handing over the microphone in that I’m quite enjoying fronting the event but I know SMS is excellent entertainment so I explain what’s happened so far and give the show over to him.
Rob is encouraged to run his rolling lampshade again and then Ahrvid shows us his entry. He produced the pork pie, ate it and then rolled himself from one end of the tent to the other. It was a very erratic movement and he bumped into all manner of obstacles but eventually made it. Smuzz then asked him to produce the pork pie again and Ahrvid said he’d work on it. We then got another entry from June Rosenblum who would have won the prize for the most fannish entry if there had been such a thing. She placed the pork pie on the floor, produced a large fan and thwacked the pie all the way to the finish line.
The improvised entry was still not ready so Rob was asked to send his second entry on its way. This was a large unwieldy meccano tower propelled by gravity. A large weight was connected to a bunch of gears which transferred automotive force to the wheels. A fascinating contraption which lurched somewhat menacingly down the course and didn’t quite reach the finish line. According to Rob it was undone by the evil of carpet. It was designed to travel 20 metres but on a surface which had rather less friction than this one. It was now that we found there had been another improvised build happening at the rear of the tent. A ramp was constructed and a wheeled thing was placed upon it. Atop these was a pork pie and they were then launched at the finish line. Trolley thing did reach the finish but the pork pie was left far behind. This process was repeated several times with the help of a safety harness for the pork pie and eventually the whole thing was persuaded to cross the line with all parts intact. The final improvised construction was also a trolley type affair that managed to travel 3 or 4 yards on the first attempt but eventually made a good show of itself. This was the chap that accosted me earlier about the programme description. He later enthused greatly about the event and asked when I would be doing it again. I retreated faster than a French tank in the face of a blitzkrieg. Oh, no nothing to do with me. He persisted and I promised I would drop a note to whoever is running Eastercon programming requesting a Pork Pie programme item. There was thumbs up voting for all the machines and it was found that both of Rob’s entries had come joint first. Rob Jacksons marvellous machines were then requested to run again, competing against each other this time. The relentless lampshade romped home and Rob was presented with the marvellous inflatable trophy. It was all most excellent fun.
Carrie and I then nipped of for a bit of dinner before changing into our casino attire. Carrie wore a long blue dress with sparkly straps and I didn’t. I was actually wearing the same tux as I’d worn for the Thursday evening swing dance. It struck me as being the right attire for our Fan Funds casino. Well before the start of the programme I’m bustling about collecting up roulette wheels, baize cloths etc. Deborah Fishburn and Ron Gemmell are putting out tables for me in the Fanac Tent. Janice Gelb, Jerry Kaufmann and Suzle arrange a barrier at the entrance to the tent and our fine croupiers, Sarah Haddock on blackjack, Pete Crump on roulette, Carrie on poker dice, Julie McMurray on poker dice and Ulrika O’Brien on Blackjack are setting out their tables. The wonderful Doug Spencer appears with the fan funds money that he’s created, hands it over and rushes off to do his next good deed elsewhere. Kylie Ding appears dressed as sexy cigarette girl carrying her tray of fan fund goodies that she hopes to sell to the multitudes for the funds. There are trip reports, ribbons and all manner of things in there.
It’s 10pm, we decide it’s time to go and start funelling people into the tent. We have Fan Funds money at the entrance and ask people to donate real money in exchange for the FFunda money. We exchange at a rate of 4 to 1. They then go to the tables and FFunda money is exchanged for game chips. The tables are soon full and we have a large number of people waiting for space. I’ve been thinking about this recently. I reckon I made a few mistakes in the running of this item. One day I’d like to run it again and see how it goes. We exchanged the fan Ffunda money at 4 to 1 for real money and I left it up to the croupiers what exchange rate they gave on chips. Most were keen to give people plenty of chips to play with and some gave 4:1 in the chip exchange. This did mean that people got a long game for their money but there were other people waiting quite a long time to play some of the more popular games such as blackjack. I think I should have insisted a chip exchange rate of 1:1 so that there would have been a faster turnover of people playing the tables. That would have enabled everyone to have a turn and those people who were really enjoying themselves and could afford it might donate to get a few more chips and so raise the amount we took in for the fan funds. I also think we’d have fewer roulette tables and more blackjack. Without doubt, blackjack was the most popular game. People liked roulette but adored blackjack. We did run a raffle too so that there would be prizes. The way it worked was that anyone sat at a table when a raffle was announced could take part. I would ring the bell for the raffle, someone ran around distributing tickets and then the prize was drawn. Frankly I think this element could be completely removed in future. The players seemed to find the raffle more of an irritation than a fun addition. Later in the night we got our first virtual player at the casino. He deposited some money in the GUFF account online so we gave him some chips and let him play at the roulette table. Gillian Polack (the GUFF delegate) helped Brad Templeton out with the actually moving chips around the board bit.
Looking back it wasn’t a great earner for the fan funds. We were fortunate in that Loncon3 paid for the hire of the equipment (TAFF also bought some of the small items such as poker chips and poker dice) as if that had been part of our costs we would have made very little money indeed. We took around 480 pounds and that was split between several fan funds. However, we massively raised the profile of the fan funds and brought a lot of previous fan fund winners together to work on the casino. More importantly we ran an event that was very much enjoyed by everyone who took part. It was really a gaming evening in a similar way that lots of fans might gather to play Fluxx. It felt really good to have been part of the team that created such an excellent piece of entertainment.
Two O clock in the morning was fast upon us and I started trekking backwards and forwards to the hotel packing the casino equipment away. Everything was stripped down and put away and the team all congratulated each other on a spectacular night.
Carrie and I staggered back to the hotel room and were asleep within moments. An exhausting day.
Sunday was the fan fund auction day. It was my last major commitment of the weekend and I was very much looking forward to seeing it come and go. Carrie and I were shepherding through the fan programme and even that was slowing down a bit with the bulk of our stuff having already been and gone. We were looking forward to having the opportunity to relax a little. However there was much hustling and even bustling before the fan auction to get everything out of our hotel room and across to the auction. There was also a large amount of donations that people had brought along nestling peacefully in the secure store and a few more oddments in the ops tent. These were all rounded up by myself and everyone I saw along the way who looked like they might be capable of doing a bit of fetching and carrying. We rushed into the allocated room as soon as we were able and started to adorn our high table with the collected booty. There were many fine donations such as a crocheted shawl from Kylie, a Doctor Who goodie bag from Carrie, a knitted brain from Ulrika and …
It was Martin Hoare who first planted the feeling of dread in my stomach. “You have got the Bob Shaw stained glass that David Langford donated haven’t you?” I was sure that we must have as we’d scooped up everything from everywhere. A chap on the front row reinforced the dread when he said he was here primarily for the stained glass but felt it would probably go for more than he could afford. I started to rummage among the donations looking for the stained glass. It must be here somewhere. Over and over again I traversed the table rummaging ever more frantically but finding little in the way of stained glass.
The auction had now started and Justin Ackroyd was thoroughly enjoying himself as he began his customary auctioneer performance. Claire was at her station adminning away frantically as the money started to flow her way. Bill Bodden, Mary Burns and Carrie were scurrying up and down the rows of people, collecting money and showing off the various items for auction. Curt Phillips was stepping in to do some auctioning as was I. Eventually I had to admit it to myself. The Bob Shaw stained glass wasn’t there. It wasn’t lurking under some pile of stuff to be revealed later in the auction. It was actually missing. I checked again in the secure store. It wasn’t there. I went back to ops. Christine Davidson was there and gave me a torch so I could explore some of the darker corners of the tent. I crawled on hands and knees ferretting through everything and disconcerting quite a number of ops volunteers but there was no sign of the stained glass. I knew now there was no option but to go back to Dave Langford and fess up that somehow his magnificent donations had gone astray. Of course David is a little hard of hearing so my attempts to communicate discreetly with him were not entirely successful. Appalled and worried looks were focussed upon me not only from Dave but from everyone on the first three rows. David immediately left to try and find the glass. I wasn’t hopeful as I felt I had searched quite thoroughly. Dave had the advantage of knowing what the plastic bag was like and having seen where they put it when he delivered it to the ops tent. It was, fortunately, in exactly the same place and he returned only moments later with the stained glass. I began to breathe normally once more and was able to assist with some auctioneering. Justin even got me to sing while auctioning some Japanese zombie DVD. He then seemed incredibly keen to pay me to stop singing. Goodness knows why.
The first of the Bob Shaw stained glass pieces was shown around the audience. This was ‘Out of the Vortex’. This showed a rocket and a swirl of vortex behind it. It was unsigned but the bidding moved along briskly. I was expecting it to top out around 50 or 60 pounds but it kept going and at 140 pounds it sold. My ghast was flabbered. We sold a couple more items and then went for number 2. This was Twin Planets 2 and was signed BoSh 82. The signature obviously made a difference and this fetched the even more flabbergasting price of 250 pounds. For the last one I knew the gloves were off when Justin handed it to me to auction. He scurried off into the corner to check his wallet. The price zoomed quickly over the 100 pound mark and raced frantically toward 200. It seemed to stall around 250 and then more bidders stepped in and the progress onwards was relentless. As we reached the high 300 hundreds all noise in the room had stopped. There was a stillness as the two bidders suffered untold agonies as they wrestled between how much they wanted this item and just how hard it was going to kick their bank balances. Every bid seemed painful and fraught but they returned time after time until with a groan of despair Justin Ackroyd realised he could go no higher and the other bidder carried off the last piece, Twin Planets, signed by Bob Shaw for 400 pounds.
14 minutes before the end I’m looking at the massive amounts of stuff on the table and realise we aren’t going to sell it all and it’s going to take some considerable time to clear it all out of the room before the next programme item. I declare the auction closed but hadn’t taken into account folks desire to browse the rest of the stuff. They surge forward and start sorting through the unsold items. We take a couple of payments but I have to put out another announcement saying that we really don’t have time to do a table top sale there as the next programme item presses hard upon. I’m strongly urged to try and get another slot for another auction and I promise that I will try. I’m not entirely hopeful though as I’m well aware of how heavily programmed this convention is. All we programme heads spent some considerable time and energy fighting hard to get slots for our programme items. It made it a very rich and layered programme but allowed little leeway for movement or extra items.
A small group of us quickly gather up everything on the table and shovel it into some boxes. I need to rush down to ops and to find someone who will accompany me to the secure store so Carrie says she’ll look after my bag and waves me off. The fan funds boxes are stowed away and then I start to wonder how on earth I’ll find Carrie again. My phone is in my bag so I can’t contact her. I decide that she’s bound to end up in the fan village so I get myself a beer and wait there. It feels a little peculiar not having my phone with me. I am caught in some strange half-world where I’m not sure I can relax as somewhere there will be a Carrie wanting to return my bag but I know not where. I remain in this strange state of anxiety for some time and then find myself starting to re-adjust. I can’t find Carrie, or my phone. I should just try and forget these things and live in the moment.
I see Nesa and she tells me about the fun and games she’s had on the info desk. Apparently there were some people who wanted the convention to call the police as there were folks swearing nearby. I then see Kim Kofmel who I’d never met before but interviewed for the Pips podcast when she ran for TAFF in 2012. We talked of many things including her hats, TAFF and conrunning and then she went on her way. This is good thinks I. I’ve finished the auction, feeling relaxed and engaging with fellow Loncon attendees in a very immediate way. Meanwhile, unbeknown to me a storm is brewing. Carrie, who is far more logical and sensible than I, has spent some considerable time waiting outside the auction room for me to return and claim my bag. She has been left in even more of a limbo than I in that she’s convinced I will return for my bag and that she must stay there to ensure I can find her. My stupidity has obviously led my brain in an entirely different direction. Of course, I know nothing of this and I get another beer and grab a seat. There’s soon a fine group of fellows around including Bill Bodden, Rob Hansen, Rob Jackson, Dave Hicks and Randy Byers.
There are moments at a convention where everything is just perfect. There’s good beer, good company and the conversation is excellent. This was one of those times. The mood was relaxed and friendly and we all seemed very much engaged with whatever was being discussed. Unfortunately, it seems that none of us can remember the details of those discussions but all can remember the warm fuzzy feel of the moment. Such a loss – such a tragedy. We undoubtedly solved all the knotted tensions of fandom and possibly the universe in that hour or so in the bar but our mighty brains then burned out through exhaustion and the answer to life, the universe and everything just floated away into nothingness.
Thoughts of my bag then re-impinged upon my consciousness. Maybe Carrie has returned it to our room. I return to the room and sure enough there is my bag with phone. I contact Carrie and we are once again re-united. It’s just in time for us to start thinking about the next programme items. We’re not really too much involved in these but we want to ensure that they have what they’ve asked for and we’ve promised a very nervous Doug Bell that we’ll be along to be in the audience for his. There’s Dave Hicks, Fanartist. I check his room and find that there’s a sketch pad stashed in the cupboard at the back of the room. I put it out on the table. There’s a chap there doing the tech for the programme item before Dave and I ask if he’ll be doing Dave’s item too. He assures me that he is. It all looks fine. There’s a projector dangling from the ceiling so it looks as if he’ll have everything he needs.
We return to Doug Bell’s item which is called ‘Fannish Firsts’. This is an item I watched on a Ustream feed from Corflu. Michael Dobson gathered a bunch of people in a big circle and asked them to tell their stories about things like their entry into fandom, their first fanzines and one or two more risque firsts. Michael is a great showman and Doug is worried that he won’t be able to pull it off in the same way. Doug, however has a great warmth that I feel makes people want to share their thoughts with him. He started shakily but he’d done some preparation which helped him over the first few hurdles and before long everyone was keen to tell their stories. There were tales of how people had got into fandom and a passing reference to fannish mothers and fathers. I told the tale of my being hooked like a fish and thrown into the bucket of fandom by Steve and Jenny Glover. The hour is over all too quickly but I’m pleased and so is Doug. I think this is a programme item that would work well just about anywhere. It really gets people talking and sharing their experiences.
It’s around now that I start getting frantic messages from ops that there’s a woman who had stuff in the auction that needs to speak to me. There are no contact details though so I can take the matter no further.
We’re feeling more than a little hungry by now so we head off to the Connaught Fox dragging Doug Bell (but not Christina as she’s been booked for dinner by someone else) and Gary with us. We find a spot and are soon also joined by Pat and Julie McMurray. Food is devoured, drink is drunk and we are soon satiated. We sit and chat for a considerable time and then stagger out. We plan to return to the convention but Carrie and I are exhausted. We retire for a comparatively early night.
It’s Monday and we have a very cunning plan. It’s a plan so cunning that Brer Rabbit would doff his little bunny cap in reverence. It’s got nothing to do with a briar patch but it’s a possible solution to our having to take home vast amounts of materials that were donated to the fan funds auction. Carrie and I ask if we can set up a table to sell off the stuff around the con. We are told that this should be fine and pointed up to the back of the hall, ‘over there’. Apparently there’s going to be a ‘fire sale’ so we’d fit in well there. We didn’t see any fire sale going on at the back of the exhibits hall but we set up there and soon folk are coming along to take a look. I find out later that the fire sale was at a different back of the room but all seems well.
We also hear once more that a woman who had stuff in the auction desperately wants to see me. It seems that if the stuff she’d donated hasn’t been sold then she wants it back. Apparently the person in ops who had spoken to her tried discussing the meaning of the word donate but their words did not fall upon receptive ears. I was assured that this person looking for me was most vehement.
We’d only been running our table for a short while when the exhibits hall begins to shut down. We then picked up our goods and moved them down into the fan village next to the library. We got a trickle of visitors here although most of the books from the library had gone and there was little to attract people into this corner of the village.
Then Eemoli comes along and suggests we move nearer to the bar. Excellent idea we reckon and move yet again. This time we are in the perfect position. We are also in the perfect place to be found by Miss Vehement. She’s escorted by someone from ops who throws her at us and runs away. “Hello” says I. “Have you sold them,” says she. The them she’s talking about are a collection of UK currency that is no longer in circulation. She called it a ‘Life On Mars’ memorabilia pack. While she’s there someone takes an interest in one of the packs. I sell it to them and Miss Vehement reaches out to take the money. She then takes the other unsold pack and leaves with that and the money. I suspect she thought this was an auction where people sell things for you and the auctioneers take a cut off the top. I suppose that’s more or less what a regular auction house does but the programme description made it absolutely clear that this auction sold stuff to benefit the fan funds. One would have to have a very myopic view to have interpreted it in the way that she did. The capacity for misunderstanding is vast indeed.
Constant streams of folk pass before us. Most are baffled at the weird eclectic nature of things on the table, from startled dodos, to signed books and bizarre t-shirts. There are many things to catch the eye and even more people keen to ask us what on earth this table is about. A perfect opening for my well rehearsed speech about the wonder that is the fan funds. “It’s a fan funds thing, raising money for fans to see other fans in different places an’ that”. I know, I know. I should have made my living as a public speaker.
Curt Phillips comes to sit with us for a while and helps to explain the fan funds to folk a little more coherently than I. It’s a very relaxing day just sitting there drinking beer, selling stuff and talking to people about the fan funds. It was a lot of fun. Eventually we’ve had enough and so pack everything back into boxes to carry back to the hotel room. We’ve managed to sell a decent amount of stuff, raised £157.48 and communicated the wonder that is the fan funds to many a recipient ear.
We return to the Excel that evening and yet again I’m doing my pack horse thing as I stagger around carrying trays of hecto. Carrie has decided we’re having a hecto party so we’re damn well going to have a hecto party. We have several trays containing the jelly duplicator gunk and we find ourself a table, a few friends and some beers. Not content with this wealth of wonderfulness Carrie goes off to find an artist. She returns with Clarrie Maguire who sets to work creating an image to imprint onto the jelly. She produces two delightful images for us and people keep returning over and over again to print out copies of Clarrie’s work. It’s a most bizarre party indeed. We’re chucked out of the Excel Centre soon after 2 and return once again to the hotel. I’m quite tired and retire to bed. Carrie is determined to see how many copies she can make of one image. She manages 157 before it starts to fade and even though I’m tired I’m just far too nosey to fall asleep. I too am curious to see how many copies she can make.
The morning arrives all too quickly bringing with it the hassles of packing up and going to pick up a hire car. I had arranged to hire quite a small car but this has all become complicated by the fact that Carrie and I are now intending to take home the Gestetner 420 that Rob Hansen brought along to demonstrate in the ‘Fanzines From The Time Before Photocopiers’ programme item. I’ve arranged to hire a Fiesta to transport ourselves our clothes, roulette wheels, hecto trays, fan fund donation,s a Gestetner and its cabinet. I am sceptical about our ability to fit all of this into a dainty little hatchback. I ask the hire firm if they have anything bigger, possibly a van. He can’t manage a van but does rustle up a Huyundai IX and amazingly enough we managed to squeeze everything into it once we’ve passed off the casino stuff to Jonathan and Sharon Lewis-Jones for them to take back to Cambridge for us (the casino hire firm wouldn’t deliver or collect from a convention centre so forcing us to shlep it back and forth from home).
So we’re home from the convention. We’ve had a remarkable time. We’ve run fan programming at Worldcon and survived. There have been many frustrations along the way but we’re proud of what we’ve done. When creating the fan programme we deliberately stayed away from panel items as much as possible. We wanted people to join in with stuff and become a part of the programme. Fan programming, I feel, should be the playful, possibly silly and frivolous part of a convention. When people think of fan programming I would like them to smile and remember the playful times they’ve had engaging with that programming. I hope we went some way to rekindling the sort of programming done previously by people that thought up such wonderful events as The Great Pork Pie Race, Fannish Firsts, Mattress Racing and all manner of demonstrations and workshop events. There’s a place for panels but it isn’t necessarily in fan programming. I think we did a fine fannish programme and we had an amazing Worldcon.
Letters of comment welcome.
Nova award votes welcome.
Faan award votes welcome.
Hugo award votes welcome.
Matchboxes full of poo – not so much.
Hope you enjoyed my Pips —- Jim Mowatt