I went to Precursor the weekend before the WorldCon, met some of the Americans who'd come over for the big one, and listened half-understanding to enthusiastic groups talking about the Internet - probably Precursor's No.1 topic. I did, however, meet for the first time Peter Roberts, fan extraordinary of the late 1960's, bibliographer, etc etc. I also started my jaw muscles moving again - living on my own, sometimes a couple of days go by without my talking. Also a major motive in going to Precursor was going over a sort of rough script for a WorldCon interview, where I was to be questioned/prompted by Geri Sullivan. Came back from that with half-a-dozen queries on things I couldn't remember - and which, although I'd found out the answers meantime, weren't ever used. Oh well.
At home on the Monday I found that the air-tickets had arrived -cutting it fine- and the next couple of days more or less went at supersonic speed, planning what to take and packing it. Came Wednesday, and a flight to Glasgow. I hadn't been in an aircraft for 40-odd years (I don't go on holiday to them furrin' parts) but everything went smoothly. I was met at Glasgow airport by Stephen Glover before even picking up my luggage. Efficiency.
My hotel, the Moat House, was anything but an ivy-covered manse as might be inferred from its name. Sixteen stories high and glass-covered, the only signs that it might have been erected in a ship-building district were grand murals of sweating shipyard workers decorating the main dining-hall, and various Cunard and other shipping-line posters framed in every corridor. Those days seemed a long time past.
I had what seemed like a nice surprise from the Committee right away - a Norwegian girl was booked into my twin-bedded suite. Alas, it was all a mistake (of the hotel), but things got sorted out and I was guided by Stephen (I was treated like an old and delicate piece of china throughout - a peculiar feeling) to the right hangar to pick up my badge, book, etc.
Hangar? Yes, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, to which the hotel was firmly attached, was a succession of vast hangars, brutalist in design (pipes and girders exposed very high overhead) which would easily have housed a squadron of Zeppelins.
The puzzle of the vast amount of sheer space inside the main hangar had been partially solved by erecting some rather fragile 8-feet-high prefab partitions at various spots. No roofs on them, though, and various noises bounced off the distant girders and interfered with what should have been small and quiet meetings of fans. Most activities, filk-singing and the like, were carried on at various large rooms in the hotel itself.
In the centre of the conglomeration of halls and hangars was something described as the Main Concourse, which was a large alley (all roofed-in with the rest) with a sort of cafe, seats, and various tables - Information Desk, First Aid, Tours of Scotland etc. - and normally thronged with visitors. There were also Voodoo Boards on which were displayed the names of everyone at the Con. You stuck a small pin against any name for which you had a message, and then wrote the message on a card which was then indexed under that person's name. It became second nature to glance at the Voodoo Board every time you passed it. Elegant, practical and useful - but then, when you're dealing with up to 5,000 people, you can't have a succession of tannoy messages keeping them in touch. The idea had already been used in US Cons, and is a great one. (to be continued)
One of the few - well, let's say less happy notes about the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre - was that food and drink prices were extremely high. If you didn't want to pay 90p for a humble doughnut or 60p for a cup of coffee, you went without. There were even Food Police circulating to see no-one smuggled in a ham sandwich. They had us over a barrel - the nearest cafes etc were a couple of miles away in Glasgow proper. I felt like a criminal when I looked at a banana brought in on my hand-luggage from the plane. I ate it, though (said he, brazenly.)
So people paid or went without. On that first evening I bought a doughnut and sat down next to Forry Ackerman, one of the few Americans I knew without having to scrutinize the name badge. I never quite know what to say to Mr. Science Fiction (at the '87 WorldCon I'd blurted out that I liked VOM, his fanzine from the 40's!) but we started talking and everything was fine. I asked him about his Collection, and he said that for the last 15 years been trying to get rid of it to some city which would house it properly, maintain it and have attendants on hand to tell the crowds what they were looking at. Several cities in the USA, and even one in Germany, had nibbled at the idea; but the thought of housing about 15 rooms full of paraphernalia and associated costs - Forry said something like half a million dollars were needed - hadn't impressed them, and he was still searching. Odd, that one's collection should grow so big that even cities couldn't handle it.
I spent the rest of the evening studying the Pocket Programme Guide. This showed rather an excess of enthusiasm - there were up to 13 programme streams at any one time. I hadn't really comprehended the thing before I fell asleep.
After a hotel breakfast (they offered both black pudding and haggis - typical OTT) I wandered into Hall 4 where, amongst stalls selling Souvenirs of Scotland, sandwiches at œ1.75, frankfurters etc, there was a Fan Lounge, my spiritual home, an area outlined by armchairs and seats. I met Jenny Glover, spread out various historic fanzines and covers pasted on black card before her, and we stuck them on the shaky walls of the partition surrounding the Fan Programme Room. But my small display, though historically interesting, was overwhelmed by a huge pile of fanzines FOR FREE smothering the next two tables along. And Greg Pickersgill had brought scores of fanzines which he and I popped into folders advertising his Memory Hole. We were both willing to lend out stuff, but Greg was far more energetic, by about 30 years. He was also selling various fannish goodies, including a few copies of THE ENCHANTED DUPLICATOR apparently left over from the '79 WorldCon. There was also an excellent guide to fandom edited by Bridget Hardcastle, with marvellous D. West illustrations.
What happened next? I can't remember. Coherent thought more or less went AWOL. Next time I'll take notes. I do know I took part in the Opening Ceremony at 4.00 o'clock, sitting behind the stage next to Sam Delany, the Author Guest of Honour, where we exchanged spine-stiffening remarks (first time he'd been a WorldCon GOH, too) but if you gave me œ100 per word I couldn't now remember what I said on stage. That episode gave me a certain amount of fame-for-fifteen-seconds, though; and for the rest of the Con occasional foreign fans - Japanese, Croatian, Romanian etc. - would ask me for autographs or photograph me smiling inanely. I shall really have to brush up my 90's image. Grow more hair?
This questioning of self was reinforced by Greg producing with a flourish a box of snapshots which he'd found tucked away in fanzines he'd bought from Brian Burgess. They were all mid-50's photos, and in two or three I recognised myself. On the backs of some of them was a stamp of Peter West, whom I don't remember as active in other spheres but who did a lot of photography of Conventions in the 50's. I'd seen Peter wandering about - first time I'd met him since the WorldCon in '87. Later I met him again in the Fan Lounge, and told him of this discovery. He frowned and said that he vaguely remembered a batch of samples going astray, but couldn't remember where. I led him to Greg, who produced the snaps, which Peter identified as the missing ones. As they weren't very good examples of photography I suggested that Greg might as well keep them, and Greg followed this up with asking if Peter had any other photos or negatives from the relevant period. Peter said he'd find out - so there's the possibility of further additions to Fan Archives.
I had a quick look at the Dealers' Room. Old pals Ethel Lindsay, Ron Bennett, Ken Slater, Andy Porter... There were the usual arrays of fantasy brooches and whatever, though what took my eye was a genuine edition of the magazine (All-Story?) which featured the original Tarzan of the Apes serial. This was on an American dealer's stall - there were several over here, exhibiting stuff you'd be hard put to find at an ordinary Con. Prices were sky-high. (to be concluded...)
Sometime during the Con, a fan brought around the front page of a local newspaper, which had a decidedly anti-Con story more or less characterising the Con as a bunch of nerds being exploited by unscrupulous fabricators of trash. There were a lot of side-tables selling trinkets, but who can blame 'em? Incidentally, the paper was pinned to the shaky wall of the Fan Room and lasted about half an hour. Don't know who disposed of it.
During a lot of the Con I was playing squire to Chuch Harris, who like myself was meeting scores of American fans to whom he was a familiar name. He'd done a piece in the Convention Book lauding my expertise on duplicators, just because I'd extracted a dead mouse from Chuch's Roneo many years ago. Unfortunately I wasn't able to impress him at the Con - I'd been told there had been a scheme to import an ancient duplicator to the Con for me to demonstrate my skills (?), but this didn't materialise. Nearest I got to this sort of DIY fanning was to dictate a small article to an eager fan (shades of Walt Willis' picture of a wealthy American fan who could afford to send for his secretary and say "Take a fanzine...") and later I saw it reproduced in a tiny one-page "fanzine".
The work of all the Committee members and gophers was very impressive indeed; the Fan Lounge to which I kept most of the time was run by Jenny and Stephen Glover, and they really did little else but work through the Con. Jenny even produced a couple of tins of hektograph jelly and gave a lecture on hektography, the basic skill of the early fan - "Purple-fingered fan" was an early and justified description. I was also impressed by John D. Rickett, who'd given himself the task of clearing the rubbish from the Fan Lounge area. Every time I saw him he was engaged in this monotonous but necessary task. A worthwhile bit of dedication.
I met scores of US fans besides Ackerman - possibly most memorable was meeting Dick Eney (who edited FANCYCLOPEDIA #2 in '59) leading a blind fan through the place. This turned out to be Ed Mesky, with whom I'd been in correspondence in the '50s - he went blind whilst editing a much-esteemed fanzine NIEKAS, but has continued doing it, having LoC's read to him and making notes on a Braille typewriter.
There were large contingents of fans from most European countries, including Croatia; and there were three South Africans and several Japanese. It was surely the biggest multi-national Con ever held.
Amongst the many high spots, one of the most impressive and at the same time the stupidest came right in the middle of one night at 4.00 am. I was woken by the Moat House loudspeakers giving an alarming recorded message which, dimly remembered, went something like this: Attention! Attention! Will all residents proceed at once to the Fire Emergency exits... - followed by a whooping siren. I staggered across to the other bed and shook Chuch awake, and pantomimed that he should put on his outer clothes over his pyjamas, pausing when half-way through to write a transcription of the message, which was still booming over the hotel's intercom. We then went down the stairs (our room was right next to them) to join a motley collection of fans and more mundane folk trooping down. There was no panic - it was fairly well realised that this was a hoax - but it was sobering to see three fire-engines when we reached ground level.
We'd hardly joined the crowd when a live voice with a Scots accent came over the intercom, assuring everyone that it'd been a hoax. There was then the question of getting back upstairs - the lifts were overloaded and refused to start for some minutes. It wasn't a very funny hoax in the first instance, and in fact I felt quite annoyed when I met Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden amongst the crowd. Teresa suffers from narcolepsy, hadn't had time to take medication when they started down from the fourteenth floor, and was now looking quite white and hanging on to Patrick.
My chief impression of the Con was of too many things going on - I saw or took part in about 6 programme items, but there were several hundred events going on. Typical of the '90s, I guess - everything happening at once.
Did I enjoy the Con? Yes, thoroughly. There were things which could have been done differently (and better), but considering that they were dealing with 5,000 people, and most of them individualistic fans, I think the Committee did a damned fine job. This country, being comparatively small, hasn't the same facilities as the States for dealing with thousands of people coming into one location for a few days and expecting to work, play and sleep in the near vicinity, unless it was ruinously expensive - London's Earls Court, for instance.
Personally, I was grateful for the chance to meet many fans who'd only been names at the bottom of letters or in fanzines. It's something I'll remember.
[Up: Convention Index | Home page: Concatenation]
[Updated: 99.9.28 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]