Decadence in Birmingham

Editors' introduction: Most people know Dave Langford through his personal zine Twll Ddu. He is instantly recognizable in any crowd as the tall one who wanders around cupping his ear at people and saying 'Pardon?' (He is a trifle deaf except when someone is buying drinks or being indiscreet.) Dave's fannish activities are too numerous to mention but at the moment they include being British Administrator for GUFF and Hugo Administrator for the 1979 Worldcon. He has published several short stories in Andromeda and New Writings.

Once again Novacon gave us an opportunity of acquiring material for Matrix and so we pounced on Dave and demanded a convention report. Here is Novacon through Langford eyes.

Novacon 8, 3-5 November 1978 at The Holiday Inn, Birmingham. Dave Langford reports:

'Bullies kicked sand in my face, until I went to Novacon 8: now I have thirteen Hugo awards!' (This is true.) (Unfortunately I'll have to pass them on to less worthy persons at Seacon next year: meanwhile, leave me alone with my glory.)

This year, I cleverly missed the Guest of Honour speech (by Anne McCaffrey), the banquet with its BSFA Award presentation (to Ian Watson) and a wide variety of other items. Learning of this ignorance, your editors realized I was the man to Tell All ... creative genius, they said, must not be shackled by humdrum facts.

The Holiday Inn was definitely decadent: swimming-pool in the bar, bed-space sufficient for a respectable orgy in every room, and on all sides a fetishistic motif of ropes, cords, exotic knots a-dangle – a vista of bondage in the guise of nautical decoration. Even the Fan Room (which was in an obscure and unlikely position) was called 'The Back Splice' (doubtless an obscure and unlikely position). Stunned on arrival by all this, I tottered to the bar amid 140-decibel shouts: 'Hi there Langford, you deaf cretin,' and suchlike fannish endearments. This bar was crowded, everyone having been driven from the con hall by the Official Opening & Introduction of Celebrities – save for Rob Holdstock, who awaited his accolade only to discover that the celebrity-introducer did not know him. Meanwhile Greg Pickersgill told me, 'This is Ian Garbutt,' and thrust a bottle of whisky into my hands by way of palliative. 'You owe me a drink,' said the secret master of Tangent, ingratiatingly; with a false smile I backed out of his presence and was overcome with amnesia at 44p a pint.

Most of the 'organized' events I remember were in the Fan Room. The free party, with Joe Nicholas limp-wristedly dispensing 5cc helpings of a nameless potion; the fanzine reviewers' panel, with D. West tearing up a carefully stolen copy of Maya before going to sleep; an auction, including computer-written H P Lovecraft and soft-porn stories featuring noted fans, who were quick to buy up the evidence; and mumblings on the Meaning of Fandom, which were merrily stagnating when one Alun Harries shouted that this was all nonsense. 'How can I get into all this?' he cried disconsolately. 'You fans are such an in-group'. 'Have you tried asking?' said Greg Pickersgill after much head-scratching. 'I'm too shy and nervous to ask,' he bellowed. 'You should be asking me to join you instead of sitting here talking rubbish.'

Alun kept very close to the door, even when informed that fans were as morbidly introvert and neurotic as he could possibly be. The sequel was almost too ghastly to relate. Suffice it to say that however strong your prejudices, incautious questions in the Fan Room can lead in mere hours to a hideous aftermath of chatting and drinking amid the vile elitists. Take heed.

Saturday night was clotted with events, crowding together like the clichés in Star Wars. The Nova (Fanzine) Award Committee convened by the swimming pool to disallow ballots bearing Hugo Gernsback's name in D. West's handwriting, and after several recounts was reluctantly forced to admit that through some quirk of statistics the award would have to go to Alan (Gross Encounters) Dorey. The pool edge later became a dance-floor; either everyone danced very carefully or the management successfully smuggled out the sodden corpses in laundry-bags. In the Fan Room, the Astral Leauge [sic] initiation was under way, a secret ritual requiring great agility and a long stick not unlike a steel shower-curtain rail. It was here that famed artist Jim Barker – inspired by evil Graham Charnock – lovingly created the cardboard Peter Weston Moustache. Soon this Führer-like symbol was affixed with Blu-Tak to scores of upper lips, and scores of clenched-fist salutes were given – to the dismay of Chairman Peter. (Some loyal Westonites found it difficult to adopt the new insignia: Kev Smith, for example, discovered that he already had a moustache with which Blu-Tak could become irretrievably intermingled. In a burst of lateral thought, he compromised by wearing his Peter Weston Moustache on the end of his nose. (Who said the sense of wonder was dead?)

Further upstairs, Cathy Ball and Andrew Stephenson hosted a party which lasted until nearly breakfast-time – it may have continued longer, but I left early. Here Peter Roberts said dreadful things which I'm not allowed to reveal; nor may I tell the dreadful thing that nearly happened to Peter Weston. Exhibitionistic girls wandered round, secure in a belief that stripping to their underwear had converted them to sex goddesses or Star Trek characters. D. West, mysteriously supine, attempted to fondle one such saucy and manifestly available lady, who screamed until her husband reached her. Even I, a happily married man, must confess that I was not alone on the chair which collapsed beneath me.

But what of science fiction? It was mentioned. 'I say, Peter, how about *hic* filling the next Andromeda with stories by me under ten different pseudonyms?' 'No.' An sf quiz on the works of Anne McCaffrey foundered since only one person knew enough about her work to qualify. (Rumour has it that this paragon was none other than Anne McCaffrey.) And what could be more cosmically significant than the Fan Room decorations? Incriminating photographs of further fans (the caption to a photo of Rob Jackson began 'Millions of underprivileged people suffer from this condition ...'); and the amazing rejection slips from Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, which must be seen to be disbelieved. But for me the finest moment – besides raising much money for GUFF, which John and Eve will mention elsewhere in this issue – was my supreme science-fictional sense-of-wonder encounter with legendary Ian Garbutt. Next time I must buy him that drink.