"If Joe Nicholas is coming at half-past nine," said the ever-solicitous Hazel, "we really ought to give him lunch."
"Har! No," I said: "He is young and healthy, he has the favour of Greg Pickersgill – he is above mere matters of food. Besides, we've no Cinzano and I don't think he accepts any other form of nourishment."
The doorbell rang; Joseph burst in and threw himself on a treacle tart. "He eats treacle tart," I diagnosed in a stage whisper.
"I drink coffee too." We gave him coffee, put him quickly in the car and drove to Wantage. There our second passenger, Pamela Boal, had escaped from her Dark Tower of Newspaper Editing: the four of us fled to Derby and freedom, with innumerable copies of Passion* and a bit of loose trim at the back of the car which went rattle-rattle-rattle and did Joseph's nerves no good.
Derby first manifested itself as a giant slum or disaster area; signs hinted of abattoirs and similar resorts, while decaying roofs and bricked-up windows seemed to be everywhere. The hotel car park was apparently a WWII bomb crater which had been allowed to fall into disrepair. The car stopped there with an air of finality and we groped for the luggage. Pamela's chair lurched sickeningly over humps and crevasses, battled with a John Menzies van for possession of the pavement, and collapsed at the sight of the revolving door as we reached the Clarendon Hotel.
The hotel was (in a small way) magnificent.
The bar was bigger than the One Tun; the rooms, instead of mounting as usual into dizzy six and seven hundreds, had cosy numbers like 12a; there was a pervading Victorian smell upstairs and (very soon) a healthy reek of beer below; and it was full of fans. I found the first-floor loo and recoiled in terror: the room was bright orange and huge enough for a snooker-table or two beside the usual appliances. No windows; but when you turned on the light there came the unmistakable sound of Concorde taxiing about the ceiling, as a gigantic extractor fan attempted to suck its hapless victim to his (your) fate.
Faancon indeed ...
It was 4.30pm on Friday, and I began a countdown to the end of Orthodox Reality. "Eighteen hundred, seventeen hundred and ninety-nine, seventeen hundred and ninety-eight ..." At five, the bar would open; meanwhile, we ate sedate sandwiches and drank tea. In these inauspicious conditions I met Dave Patterson of Cygnus fame and (only hearing his first name) placed him in Newcastle and London before getting it right with Northern Ireland. Other people had noticed his Bob Shaw accent, which 1 had always thought to be the characteristic intonation of Ulverston. You learn something every day.
"I," said Dave with obvious pride, "am doing a con report for Skel."
"And I," I said with obvious pride, "am doing one for – wait a minute."
Dave Rowe had passed the same curt orders to both of us, it seemed. Dave P. was worried about meeting Rowe the Android Master for the first time. "Tell him you're a friend of Greg Pickersgill." I suggested. "That always softens him up."
Later, the A.M. himself appeared and Dave P. said "You don't look the way I imagined you."
"Does credit to your imagination," I said, glad to use a line I'd been trying to bring off for weeks. How Dave – any Dave – replied has been lost, for already we were slipping down the entropy slope into Nebulous Time.
"Nebulous Time" is a term of art from Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. I'm not quite sure what she meant by it; for me it's that strange cloudy feeling which persists between first bar-opening and con's end, a time of swirling fog which parts sporadically to reveal –
Joseph holding forth to a group, crying "Corsets! Whips! Chains!"
Rob "Think Big" Jackson (he's just bought 100 Passions while others were content with one) babbling of Maya 14: "Sheckley?" he murmured. "Aldiss, Shaw, Weston! Thousands of words of Platt rebuttal in the middle of the letter column ... if he writes in, of course ..."
The terrible Games Machine, sucking in tenpences with vanVogtian inflexibility as Paul Thompson of the astounding reflexes hammers all opposition into the ground ... (Later the Machine paid for itself – no freeloaders at this con – and thereafter cost nothing, such was the benevolence of the Organizers.)
Rob again, disdainfully thumbing through the plush Outworlds 27/28. "Not too badly produced ...".
Me, with a sneer: "I don't trade with Bowers any more."
The Lucky House Chinese Restaurant, "mediocre" (Meara Tourist Guide) but beggars can't be etceteras. Saliva flying as Gra Poole tackles a spare rib ...
Kev Smith on a hobby-horse – "You're irritating, Joseph. You irritate me."
Joseph, explaining to the masses: "It's the drink, you see. He finds Cinzano-and-lemonade irritating."
Kev: "Not just that, Nicholas! You're irritating in lots of ways. You smoke. Your hair doesn't fall in your eyes when you lean forward."
Joseph: "Yours doesn't either, because you haven't got any to fall ..."
Kev, to the masses: "See what I mean? Isn't he irritating? I quite like him, mind you: he just irritates me. Especially when he talks."
Joseph: "Suppose I stayed quiet?"
Kev: "It would help, but not enough. You're irritating when you're quiet, as well."
Joseph: "That does it, I shall make no attempt to avoid irritating you. I shall actively try to irritate you." (He puffs smoke and sips Cinzano provocatively, leaning his head forward the while, without any hair getting in his eyes.)
Kev (firmly): "No. No, you don't irritate me now ..."
And this was only Friday night.
Next morning we discovered that (a) the breakfast room was conveniently placed on the first floor (so we could go downstairs, ask where it was, find out and go up again); (b) the kitchen was conveniently next to our room. Following a warming-up session of hurling crockery at the wall, the kitchen staff settled to a steady programme of pile-driving and blacksmithery. It suddenly seemed a good idea not to miss breakfast.
There came a pale grey period, during which Hazel and I sought bookshops and found almshouses, statues of Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, a Joke Emporium where I refrained (just) from buying exploding cigarettes etc., and finally a 1937 handbook of Egyptian gods, from which Hazel later laid down the law to Chris Bursey.
Lunch in the hotel looked promising, with Gray Boak tucking industriously into jacket-baked potatoes. I asked for baked potatoes. "Sorry," said a cringing waiter, "we only had six." Seconds later, Gray came by and heartily recommended said potatoes. I suppressed a tiny snarl and retired upstairs to eat worms, no, cheese.
That afternoon, Faancon settled to serious drinking and nattering, interrupted only when Gray produced fifty thousand fanzines he was clearing out: my eyes suffered greatly in the attempt to sort through them, but I came away with all manner of goodies (copies of Twll-Ddu for instance ...). Further retinal havoc was wrought by the bar's red lighting; because of this Passion seemed to have no title at all (it being printed in red). And we thought Boris was hoaxing when he handed out blank fanzines – they proved to be SFD when examined by daylight.... So I dumped a wad of fanzines upstairs, and returned to find a ghost hotel. The bar was deserted; hollow corridors echoed dismally; valuables lay abandoned by those who had fled in nameless fear.
Then Doctor Who finished and they all came back.
Logistics of eating, Saturday night –
"This is the curry party," explained the Bells, roping themselves to the other Gannets for the expedition. I shuddered.
"I'm starting a non-curry party," said Dave Rowe soon after.
"Great! Where are you going?"
"Oh, I thought we'd look around for a cheap place."
"What sort of place?"
"Well," (with elaborate carelessness) "there's a veggy only half a mile away." I shuddered again, and slipped around the corner for fish and chips. Being too altruistic to fill the Clarendon with greasy wrappers, I ate it on the street and for my pains was called a peasant by Dave Patterson. Life can be cruel.
"You can't write about Faancon," Kev gloated by and by. "You spent most of Saturday playing D&D." Well, there is a certain fascination in the game, I nebulously recall ...
Ian Williams's D&D characters: "Maule the Mediocre" and "Cockfield the Queasy" ...
A trip downstairs: Rob Jackson is losing the Electronic Football championship to (surprise, surprise) Paul Thompson.
Dreadful laughter from Fred Hemmings across the room (Pamela, next door, had to ask him to desist around 4am) ...
"But it's a temporarily benevolent Purple Worm ..."
Chris Bursey announcing our new woes: "Hey Fred, they've met some Jesters!" To his victims: "The first one wakes a funny face at you!" – "So what?" – "You have to throw a twelve to save yourself from a Funny Face ... Now he starts to tell a joke ..." – And by and by, with a certain grim inevitability – "Hey Fred, their whole party's been immobilized by two Thighslappers!" So it goes.
I broke away and was led by Irene Bell to the solitary room party. Mike Meara lay despondent on the floor. "D&D has killed this con," he groaned. I groaned back and accepted some whisky. People drifted in and out, and the party tottered happily on until around 6.30am. We just talked; through all the con everyone talked (my throat's been in a sling ever since); there were enough good lines to fill ten fanzines, had I been sober enough to write them down. Mast be the first con where I spoke to everyone (and even they to me) – with the exception of the Pardoes, who spent all their time, it seemed, in the webs of the evil Hemmings. Also Ratfandom, who didn't turn up. (Unless you count Joseph.)
"You can't write about Faancon," said Hazel on the way back. "Nothing happened really." True ... yet it was (in a small way) a great con. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Pat.
*Passion is not what you might think. It is Pamela's newspaper-for-the-disabled. Go to your newsagent and demand that he stock it. Inducement: it contains Dave Rowe cartoons, and more fans are expected in future issues