Out side of the 13th Festival of Fantastic Films (2002) a small band of those at the heart of Warwick and Hatfield science fiction (1977-1982) met up to reminisce and enjoy early 21st century Manchester. The Concat editor gives a personal report of the reunion and Manchester beyond the Festival of Fantastic Films..
One of the delights of attending a convention in Manchester is Manchester itself. It is a great city and centrally located in the UK. Consequently, it is ideal for both a long weekend city break and a reunion after a quarter of a century for a handful of old friends from various parts of the country. (More on Manchester and its science fictional offerings later should you wish to skip the 're-union' section immediately below.)
It was therefore an absolute pleasure to renew relationships and catch up with a few old friends. Laura Wheatly was the first to get in touch, phoning and waking me from a nap following a late afternoon shop. Manchester is great to shop in. Don't get me wrong. I hate shopping, and though I spend much time in and around London, London is so vast that shopping is a nightmare. In Manchester virtually everything is within a half-mile square, not to mention slightly cheaper than London, and so is ideal to knock the edge of one's pre-Christmas shop. Anyway Laura woke me up, which is exactly what she did when we first met at Warwick way back in 1977 a quarter of a century ago. Frightening huh? (The quarter century, not Laura. Well... OK, let's not go there.) Laura has been to the Festival before but this year had her son's birthday to go to. However she was working nearby in Stoke and so drove up for an evening meal. Laura is currently a personnel management consultant and doing rather well. Graham and Donna Connor were the next to arrive. Graham was also part of Warwick SF 1975-77 but then moved down to work in the home counties and so was also active in Hatfield (now Hertfordshire University) PSIFA (1978-82). Graham's SF claim to fame is Warwick's Fusion fanzine (1977) and being a leading light on Hatfield PSIFA's Shoestringcon 2 (1980) science fiction convention committee. He has also helped out 1980s conrunning fandom in being a projectionist for a number of conventions (including the BECCON series) as well as came 2nd in the first Unicon short story competition and 1st in its second competition (which he doggedly claims should have been the other way around given the strengths of the other lead entries those years). Since his time with Hatfield science fiction, Graham has been building spacecraft communications systems. Specifically satellite microwave communications (if you have ever made an intercontinental call the chances are your voice has gone through Graham's circuitry - all very Clarkean). Anthony Heathcote and Elizabeth together with their daughter made the journey down from Hull. Anthony was one of Hatfield PSIFA's early stalwarts and did much for the early Shoestringcons (1979-81) and PSIFAn fanac. Back then Anthony had left Hatfield to become a school maths teacher but in recent decades he has been working at Hull University ensuring its library keeps up with the times and runs smoothly. Then of course there was yours truly, irresponsible for Hatfield PSIFA and... Well the rest is history. Chrissie Pearson (Keele University SF, 1977-79) was due to meet up with us but ill health prevented this. John Wilkes (also of Keele SF) and partner did make it to Manchester but to a different hotel. Messages were left form both parties at both hotels, and the Festival of Fantastic Films' reception desk was alerted to their possible arrival but alas it was not to be.
Keele University SF and Hatfield Polytechnic PSIFA had a close relationship in the late 1970s being then the two of the most active of UK student SF groups. While Hatfield PSIFA launched the Shoestringcons (well over a dozen of which were run), hot on PSIFA's heels (in truth paralleling Hatfield) Keele launched the Unicon series one month later. Keele ran the first couple of Unicons, but thereafter other university groups ran subsequent ones so spreading the workload which enabled Unicon longevity (Unicons are still going strong today, 2002). Members of both Hatfield PSIFA and Keele SF naturally attended major SF conventions of the late 1970s and early 80s which naturally included the Birmingham Novacons (which still take place today) and Eastercons (again still going today but arguably we witnessed their peak (which given the decline in numbers of those attending Eastercons there is some merit to this notion)). Finally, Charles Partington (Manchester and District (MaD) SF) made it for one afternoon of the Fest. Charles was Harry (the Festival of Fantastic Film's leading light) Nadler's life-long friend and business partner. Both Chuck and Harry not only helped Concatenation in its formative print days but also provided the first full-colour Eastercon (UK national convention) promotional poster (1987) as well as the printing of the Ken Bulmer bibliography and other material for the BECCON London region series of 1980s biennial conventions on whose committee Anthony Heathcote and myself served.
I wont bore you with the details of Thursday's reminisces save to say that much of these took place over a Chinese meal (traditional for first generation PSIFAns) in Manchester's excellent China town. Given that SF is a forward-looking genre, and that we were at the beginning of adult life when we were all active within UK SF convention fandom, it was a little strange looking back a quarter of a century at ourselves. Spooky even.
Regulars to the site will have picked up on some of Manchester's offerings from previous Festival reviews. So take it as read that Manchester has one of the best UK China Towns outside of London, and that the city centre sports a nifty SF media pub. However we could not resist a stroll through the new 'printworks': an old street roofed over and housing restaurants, a bookshop and cinema complex, all bathed in Bladerunner style spot lighting and projection screens. The IMAX cinema caught our eye and we decided to meet up the next day (Friday) to check it out. IMAX, in case you did not know, uses a 12 kilowatt projector to throw high definition film onto a screen eight stories high and wide enough to nearly encompass your peripheral vision. The film we saw was 3-D Mania which reviewed 3-D effects through the ages and put the latest IMAX 3-D effects through its paces. There is no point mincing words. While conventional cinema 3-D (both red-green and polarized light) have their limitations, the IMAX 3-D effects are absolutely brilliant. If they are a foretaste of high definition, large, polarized light screen TV then roll on the future. Stunning was the word. In fact we were so taken with 3-D Mania that Graham, Donna and I returned to see T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous in 3-D. It has to be said that this was a little cheesy. It seemed to be made for a US secondary school educational audience and starred a teenage lass in dire need of a good clearosil face-wipe and pore-cleansing sauna. This notwithstanding this the 3-D effects were as good as in Mania. Indeed Graham, Donna and I subsequently decided to hit the London Science Museum's (South Kensington) IMAX a few weeks later to see a 3-D offering on the International Space Station. (However the Science Museum's polarized goggles were smaller than Manchester's and scratched being stored loose in crates unlike Manchester's racked individually. It also has to be said that the International Space Station movie focused too much on the crew (charming people though they may be) and little on the view or the control panels and equipment (save for the space suits). The film's makers clearly did not recognise the station's occupants' habit of staring out of the window at every conceivable moment they had free. Well, we wanted to do that too. The film notwithstanding, sorry Science Museum, the Manchester IMAX is a more preferable experience: it's even marginally cheaper too.)
Manchester city centre also boasts a clutch of second hand bookshops that include science fiction. Because I needed to stock up on Ian Watson (for the 2nd International week of SF) I made a point of checking each of these out. The best of these was the Book Exchange on the third floor Paramount alternative centre, Shudes Hill, just off Piccadilly Gardens and I was able to pick up old Asimovs for Eastern Europe SF libraries as well as fill a few holes in my own collection. The range of SF books here was far better than in the first-hand Forbidden Planet 'book'shop that seemed to focus on comics and graphic novels: FP did not even have any Philip K. Dick, Graham found out, which was surprising given the recent launch of the Minority Report movie.
During the Fest we met up with Jim Walker who occasionally writes con-reports for this site (hence the mention), as well as a few other old friends and acquaintances, some of which with whom we broke bread.. Part of the pleasure of attending a Fest (or a convention) is eating out in the locality and away from the hotel. Some towns are better here than others. But Manchester has to be one of the best city centres for this. Aside from the Thursday night Chinese, we sampled the cuisine from Korea (my first time and it will not be my last), Italy (one of our party and the waiter seemed to rub each other the wrong way which was not a good move as this restaurant was immediately next to our hotel and so will sure to be a future pit stop), and Japan (I thought I had better expose myself to more of this in case I decide to go to the proposed Japanese Worldcon in 2007). All these restaurants were within 15 minutes walk of the hotel, and we barely began to scratch the surface of the culinary range on offer. Manchester also has a good range of bars. We did not explore many of these as there was too much happening at the Fest. However we did make a couple of visits to the Sinclair Oyster Bar (which serves beer and not shell fish (other than, I guess, at lunch times)). This Tudor style hostelry was originally situated to the south of the Arndale centre, but was moved brick-by-brick to near the Printworks as part of the post-IRA bomb renovation of the town centre.
As you probably now realised, what with the re-unions, Fest, and partying, the 2002 Festival of Fantastic Films was, this year, rather heavy on the old liver. Hence my apologies for not properly covering the Fest Guests in the review elsewhere on this site. Indeed having returned to London, before Graham and Donna headed back north to Bedfordshire and I south east to Kent, we spent a little while in Euston Station's balcony bar. A little excessive maybe, but it seemed appropriate to finish the long-weekend as we began it. After all, you only get 25 year re-unions once every quarter of a century. (At least, that is what they tell me.)
The next PSIFA re-union, if there is one, will be organised by someone else. So if you are one of the estimated 1,000 or so PSIFAns (yes, getting on for a 1,000!) and wish to have a go then please feel free to do so. Though we will leave you to get on with it, someone on the Concat team will be more than pleased to pass on details to our first generation PSIFAns. If you do decide to organise some sort of get together then we can say that linking it in the day (evening) before an SF event does provide added value. It helps if the event is more or less mid-UK, but we guess the evening before a Worldcon or Eurocon at one extremity of the country would do just as well. Of course one might hold it at Hatfield itself (indeed Hatfield House does a neat line in medieval banquets and there are several restaurants in the town), but our sources inform us that the current state of PSIFA is at an all-time (possibly terminal) low. Anyone with news, or anyone wishing to organise another reunion involving a greater span of PSIFA generations, might bear us in mind and e-mail info ATconcatenation DOT org. (Do allow a little time for reply as our webmaster is unconnected with PSIFA and has to pass on messages: we tend to bump into him only every two or three weeks and, strangely, none of the core Concat team uses home e-mail.)
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