Langford Meets Swamp Thing

I didn't keep a terribly detailed diary of my FanHistoricon Fan Fund trip to tropic climes, but it went something like this....

6 November 2000

With large chunks of Britain flooded and the railways in disarray, it seemed a cunning plan to travel to Gatwick a day early and stay in nearby Horley to make absolutely sure of the flight to Tropicon XIX in Florida. The state of play at Reading station was suitably indicated by destination boards resolutely claiming that each and every train was headed for FIRST GREAT WESTERN CUSTOMER INFORMATION SYSTEM. In due course, as it continued to piss down, I arrived at the porch of a B&B in Horley village so early that I passed an hour there damply doing a crossword while mine hosts were out walking (or more likely immersing) the dog. When told I was off to an sf convention, they wondered if this was why I'd chosen to stay at the Vulcan Lodge Guest House. I crept away for a curry before my ears went all pointy.

7 November

Taxi to Gatwick; high drama at check-in as Continental Airways rep offered me large cash sums to leave my overbooked Miami flight and go via New York. I nervously stood firm. Gatwick's visual aids were every bit as good as First Great Western's, with displays escalating through WAIT FOR BOARDING CALL to BOARDING to GATE CLOSING, while at the gate massed Virgin staff continued to repel boarders, and the loudspeakers apologized for unintelligible which had been caused by inaudible, until the official flight time was long past. Business as usual, then. After a brief tussle with the other holder of a boarding pass for seat 37c (mine, cabin crew telepathically divined, was a typo for 39c) and the normal insanely long interval, I was in Florida and feeling dizzy. Reading Ulysses in one continuous session had been a deeply disorienting experience. Well, nearly continuous – people in uniforms kept interrupting to force food and drink into me through a funnel, and I eventually reached the head of the interminable US Immigration queue with ten pages of Molly Bloom still to go, yes I said yes I will Yes.

Good old Joe Siclari was at hand to load my inert form into his borrowed car, and I gaped at the insistent tropicality of this alien region: I'd been braced for the occasional palm tree, for example, but not miles and miles of them along all the freeways and beaches. Having prepared for the coming of Langford by hastily moving from nearby Boca Raton to New York, Joe had installed me and himself in the nearby home of his kindly Aunt Madeline. Out in the garden there was a cactus three times my height; inside, a vast TV screen was going on about some local election which of necessity would be all over before the night was out....

8 November

Time for touristy stuff. Kennedy Space Centre was three hours away and my plane-ravaged bum still ached, so the fallback decision was to take in an Everglade or two. Joe drove for ages alongside an endless drainage canal, passing sparse one-storey buildings and occasional egrets, and regaling me with horror stories about alligators and giant cockroaches, until we attained the low-budget Everglades Holiday Park and its flocks of loud, dark-blue, evil-beaked birds which turned out to be the legendary grackles. The next step was to board an airboat, a mild surprise because Hazel's lack of enthusiasm for all boats has relegated this aspect of holidays to realms of the normally unimaginable. Airboats are broad, flat-bottomed, shallow-draught affairs like aluminium punts on steroids, which (sharply contrasting with my notions of poling idly through misty, miasmal swamp channels) are driven by bloody great fans and even while carrying a load of tourists can happily roar along at 40mph. The show began with the clearly well-rehearsed gesture of driving this craft at speed into an apparently solid bank which proved to be all water-lilies and sawgrass, folding neatly though not silently out of the way. After various showy turns, crosswinds and stomach-challengingly bumpy bits, disembarkation at a floating jetty led to a fake Native American village comprising a handful of stalls that offered alligator heads, cheap jewellery, feathery dream-catchers, fragmentary skins of small furry animals (faces, I noticed, cost more than tails), and tasty bites of real alligator tail. None of the party fancied the last. Besides the official attractions there were some wondrous op-art butterflies flitting to and fro; peering at them could actually hurt your eyes, tweaking at the retina like an animated Bridget Riley.

Next came 'alligator wrestling' by a chap who explained without great conviction that this was no mere entertainment but a scientific demonstration of terrifying educational value. He then waded into a pool full of alligators and hauled out a smallish specimen, holding its jaws carefully shut. Pointing this at the audience without even checking whether it was loaded, our man wrenched its mouth open to display teeth, tongue and (several times) the mighty snap of closure. Even more scientifically, 'Alligator eyes retract to protect themselves from injury. as you can see when I poke this one repeatedly with my finger.' Audience: 'Yuck.' And onward by airboat, with the captain bellowing assurances that Everglades alligators really do live out in the wild like that one there, which when stimulated with flung pieces of bread put on a fine show of snapping the dread jaws, lashing the side of the boat with its tail, etc. Not believing these creatures are naturally excited by fragments of hot-dog bun, Joe and I speculated whether the performers were once in a while fed a small tourist to maintain their level of interest. Further examples of local wildlife included blue galleons, suspiciously reminiscent of coots in colourful make-up, and a heron that looked quite remarkably like a heron.

The next treat on offer was Joe's cautious promise of manatees in a secret body of water somewhere in Port Everglades, a low-rise coastal expanse of storage tanks and light industry that all seemed curiously clean and white. This being Florida, even the industrial estates had palm trees. Alas, the manatee pool and its shoals of stripy tigerfish could only just be glimpsed through a huge new eruption of wire fences and signboards carrying dire threats to trespassers. We retreated for authentically American lunch at a rough-hewn eatery called Ernie's or (Joe's emendation) Dirty Ernie's. Despite my seafood prejudice, the little round rissole things called conch fritters seemed OK apart from odd white gristly lumps which I discarded and which – as Joe eventually used all his tact to convey – were the conch. Onward, hastily, to a platter which caused my idle questions 'what exactly is barbecue beef?' (copious sliced beef in spicy sauce, garnished with more beef and more sauce and more and more until at last the mighty-thewed chef's wrist gets tired) and 'will I like it?' (oh yes) rapidly gave way to 'can I possibly finish this without physically going pop like the man in the Python film?' It was a near thing, but fortunately no one insisted on feeding me one final wafer-thin mint. The menu had rightly advised on etiquette, thus: 'Butch sez, If you're gonna eat BBQ, carry a big handkerchief.' That's enough about the wonders of US fast food for this particular trip....

Evening came earlier than seemed possible after brilliant sunshine and temperatures peaking at 85° Fahrenheit ('No twilight within the courts of the Sun'), and Joe led me along moonlit beaches chatting alternately about fan history and conservation projects involving artificial coral-attracting reefs. Sudden flash of Greg Pickersgill's Memory Hole fanzine project as equivalent to the loads of old tyres or ship hulls sunk offshore by Floridans in hope that small coral-building creatures will attach themselves.... A sign chalked up on a lifeguard's hut recorded a temperature of 79°, which failed to make my jaw drop until I realized it meant the sea. I must have slipped accidentally across the International Season Line into summer, while the English floodwaters were still rising and mass UK evacuations even got a three-second mention on US news as light relief from the endless presidential election cliff-hanger which – however resolutely you tried – could not be ignored.

9 November

Joe's good lady Edie Stern had turned up after my collapse into bed. That is, Joe had again driven miles and miles to the airport to collect her, and was scheduled to repeat this process for every remaining Tropicon/FanHistoricon guest, all of whose planes arrived late. Who'd be a chairman? In the morning, with a pause to thank small but redoubtable Aunt Madeline for vast breakfasts and overwhelming dinners, we loaded and then overloaded the car for the fatal trip to the con hotel in Hollywood Beach. As we drove the final miles through the usual blazing sun I noticed elaborate traceries of wire strung around the palms and shrubs of the road's central reservation ... eventually realizing with a profound sense of WRONGNESS (see the Encyclopedia of Fantasy) that they were Christmas lights and, what's more, already active in these hot 'winter' evenings. Time out of joint, again. We reached the Clarion Hotel – ten storeys, bright pink – with a flat tyre, and things became complicated.

There was a pause for dumping luggage, memorizing the positions of as yet empty con function areas, and admiring each others' prizes. For the charity auction I'd successfully imported a bottle of James White Award presentation beer, as home-brewed by administrator James Bacon and conveyed to me by Mark Plummer: Joe looked long and lustfully on the coloured label with its JWA logo of serpents twining around a spaceship. Meanwhile Joe and Edie had brought their rare US monorail parts catalogues for the Fannish Antiques Roadshow event, the point being that these hardback volumes still contained many picture drafts and sketches stored between their pages by one-time owner Hannes Bok. Something to make collectors drool.

While stalwart artisans changed the car tyres, Joe and I dallied over lunch in a small fastfoodery whose distinguishing gimmick was the drinks list, there being nothing between the extremes of dire US beers like Miller Lite at $1.99 and a lovingly displayed bottle of Dom Perignon at $149.00. This may have started as a joke, but apparently they sell one every month or so to some reckless lad determined to impress his girlfriend by waving credit cards. Langford is made of sterner stuff.

Time was ticking away for me. Joe had reminisced with evil glee of how he'd lured Tony Lewis of the New England SF Association to the local attraction Parrot Jungle (est. 1936) and there caused this practising curmudgeon to be photographed in a pose of insane silliness with five huge parrots perching on him. Sure enough, I had been marked down for the same fate. We duly arrived at Parrot Jungle, where as well as a million parrots, cockatoos, toucans, flamingos and the like, there were highly rehearsed Educational Bits that echoed the previous day's alligator wrestling. The presenter demonstrated hands-on expertise with everything from insects, snakes and lizards to kinkajous, opossums, owls and eagles, unerringly zeroing in on the most squeamish onlookers as he bare-handedly fondled tarantulas, huge-clawed scorpions and – here is where even Joe flinched, for this in Florida is the Enemy – a gigantic, torpid cockroach. At one stage I'd convinced myself that a background prop, the Jungle's trademark albino alligator, must be dead and stuffed; it kept so still and the presenter stepped over its obese body with such unconcern. Then its little red eyes blinked.

Walking the Jungle's public paths again, I slightly disgraced myself by peering in fascination at the tiny, agile lizards that kept skittering from (almost) underfoot, or the apparent rabbit holes down which you could glimpse the twitching claws of land crabs. No, no, crimethink: these weren't exhibits at all, just boring natural denizens of Florida, like the grey squirrels that bullied the cockatoos something rotten and stole their seeds.

The penultimate attraction was a somewhat less educational extravaganza of performing parrots, macaws, etc., which variously roller-skated, pushed a scooter, rode a bicycle, pumped and carried water in a tiny bucket, solved simple shapes-in-holes puzzles, ascended on a model moon rocket to come down again by 'parrotchute', and allegedly talked. I couldn't swear to the talking part. Then, yes, I have to admit it, I got photographed with four huge parrots perching on me as I cradled a fifth which had a terribly knowing stare. 'I could have your nose off if I wanted,' its beady eye conveyed. At least, for the sake of solidarity, Joe suffered likewise.

After returning to Hollywood Beach and lavish Chinese nosh, I somehow found myself in the Clarion Hotel room that was due to become an art show. Immemorial sheets of pegboard and wooden uprights, handed down since the dawn of Tropicon, lay around looking temptingly easy to screw together if only you ignored all those fussy alignment numbers scrawled on them by past generations. Time passed and copious sweat flowed, until at last Mary Kay and Jordin Kare turned up to jeer at the toiling workers and insist on taking me away to the poolside Tiki Bar. The actual dialogue went approximately: 'For God's sake, insist on taking me away to the bar!' 'Oh, all right.' Healing beer was poured, Jordin waxed technological, guest of honour Vernor Vinge joined us with scant minutes to go before closing time, and all seemed right with the convention. Upstairs, presumably, the toiling workers were still at it.

10-12 November

Well, of course it gets a bit confused at this point, as one emerges from the Slow Zone into the Vingean Beyond of convention space, where drinking suddenly transcends Einstein's caution barrier and it becomes miraculously possible to talk faster than the speed of logic.

On Friday morning I got up hideously early, a mistake I tend to make at cons, and found that a semi-collapsed Joyce Scrivner had still beaten me to breakfast at around 7:30am, a feat achieved by having flown overnight from Minneapolis and only just arrived. Hotel explorations revealed a slowly emerging art show with many a canvas and print by artist GoH David Cherry (C.J.'s kid brother) and a book-rich dealer's room where my purchases ranged from the sublime, a signed copy of John Crowley's Demonomania, to the ridiculous in the shape of Master of Space and Time by Rudy Rucker. The Tropicon hospitality suite had an awesome range of food and drink, and its riches eventually lured me away from puny hotel breakfasts. But because I get nervous about too much boozy freeloading, I was also glad of the sun-drenched outside bar where one could sprawl in the shade of those inevitable palm trees – sipping frozen piña colada, wondering about the curious hollow spherical fruit that periodically fell from other trees and split halfway open in segments like a Mercator projection (no one seemed able to identify these, and I'm probably thinking of a different projection anyway), and giggling in heartfelt sympathy with all the flood and storm sufferers back home.

Stern duty called, with various programme appearances. As revealed on a memory-jogging sheet of paper handed to me very near the end of Tropicon/FanHistoricon, I was expected at Friday's opening ceremony, where I improvised terribly unjust remarks about Joe D. Siclari and parrots, and a panel with Joe and Dick Smith on whether the web was 'ruining parts of fandom', at which no one could muster up the energy to be controversial and I fear I woffled endlessly on the assumption that all this would be mercifully forgotten next day. Then came the realization that, oh dear, they were videotaping everything.

Saturday was my heavy day, with three solo talks. The rather small size of the convention (100 or so rather than the expected 250, perhaps owing to house-moving distractions that hampered publicity efforts) was evident at the retrospective talk written specially for FanHistoricon, 'Twenty-One Years of Ansible', which was scheduled against the stupendously popular Alternate History panel and drew an audience of four. Remember, Langford, thou art but mortal.

After the Saturday evening banquet, though, all the guests took turns to toy with this captive audience: filk guest Heather Alexander ('Celtic Fiddler') strutted her stuff on what was presumably a Celtic fiddle, I unleashed the latest update of my Loathsome SF Food exegesis as seen at Aussiecon ('That was revolting,' said Joe appreciatively. 'I thought Vernor was going to explode laughing!'), mild-mannered David Cherry said something heartfelt but to me inaudible, and Vernor Vinge pulled out exquisitely written but minimalist notes for a talk that sprayed futurological ideas and sense of wonder in all directions. By then I was busy worrying about the coming late-night Live Thog's Masterclass, which in the event was kindly received by a relaxed post-banquet crowd, with Jordin Kare in grave danger of total Thog-induced meltdown. The night ended in unscheduled falling over at the Boston in 2004 party, and I woke up to the starkly unimaginable horror of finding myself a paid-up presupporter of the Galactic Patrol. Cue coruscating beams of ravening energies....

Although the DUFF panel and audience were crowded with past winners (Joyce Scrivner, Pat and Roger Sims, Dick and Leah Smith), the TAFF panel was cancelled when the non-Langfordian half (Ulrika O'Brien) failed to turn up. Was I off the hook? 'We like to work our guests hard,' Joe chortled as he permitted me to fill TAFF's Sunday morning spot with my emergency last-resort speech about old fanzines (see Geri Sullivan's Idea 11 and here). On the whole I think I got through this without actual disaster.

In between these mercilessly fixed time slots, there was all the usual free-form lounging around and chatting. I'd been a little nervous of meeting Vernor Vinge after reading A Deepness in the Sky, somehow imagining him as a brooding intellect, vast and cool and unsympathetic, peering loftily down upon mere mortals and carrying a small pocket Singularity somewhere on his person. Finding I was taller than Vernor did of course help, but he's excellent company as well.... Then there was Tropicon regular Hal Clement, where my nervousness was of a different order: I'd written effusive things about him in an introduction to the new NESFA Press omnibus of his Mesklin stories, which felt somehow conversation-stopping but in the event wasn't. He bewailed the fading hearing and reflexes that prevented him from winning the sf trivia quiz as in past years, and we shared some moans about how our favourite literature had promised a future where prosthetics like hearing aids (he has twice as many as me) work better, dammit, than the original apparatus of puny human flesh. Also currently afflicted was Kathleen Ann Goonan, to whom I was to convey good wishes from Chris Priest: she appeared at the poolside in the hugest and most sinister sunglasses I'd ever met, thanks to a recent eye operation, and stunned me with the claim that though living in the depths of Florida she survived the summers without air conditioning. I was having intermittent trouble with the heat of November.... Adam-Troy Castro, balding and beady-eyed and fascinated by every emerging twist of the election (he'd accost you in hotel corridors with exultant cries like 'I hear they found this ballot box in New Mexico!'), was a local instance of the upcoming, determinedly pushy but likeable writer, rarely seen not waving copies of his own two story collections. He's also an enthusiastic if unpolished cartoonist – the specimen on this page appeared in the Tropicon programme book. Dearie me.

Meanwhile, just as at a Novacon back home (Novacon was on the same weekend), the Tropicon auctions went on forever. I duly made several unwise purchases, but despite auctioneer Siclari's resistless technique managed to maintain total immobility during fierce non-bidding for the most ... skiffy ... lot of the whole weekend, being a Jar Jar Binks toby jug. Yes, there are indeed worse things than the notorious Terry Pratchett jug.

Sunday evening saw a mass exodus of committee and guests to a Cuban restaurant, where we pondered on the authenticity of dubious ethnic dishes. Mine resembled a vast chicken Kiev, six inches square and ever so thick, with surprise deposits of ham secreted in the middle. Nice, but Cuban? Back at the now familiar Clarion Hotel, antlike toilers had dismantled all the art show panels again; these, I dimly gathered, needed to be moved. 'Let me give you a hand,' said an incautious FanHistoricon guest speaker, imagining a leisurely stroll downstairs and a little shifting of panels into a waiting van. The reality was a long drive through miles and miles of garish night – another chance to admire the Xmas lights – to unload tons of lumber at the South Florida Science Fiction Society clubhouse in a distant industrial estate. Thus, entirely by accident, I cultivated virtue and was spared several degrees of hangover by my late arrival at Tropicon's closing dead-dog party.

This event offered a small culture shock at the sight of countless surviving bottles of hospitality-room spirits, bolstered by copious leavings from Joe's and Edie's Florida drinks cupboard that they couldn't face hauling to New York. At a British convention all these would have disappeared with a loud slurping noise quite early on Friday evening (except perhaps for the lethal-looking '20-20' liqueur, melon-based and fluorescent pink). Here they'd been shoved aside into a wardrobe because hardly anyone was interested. Joe, Edie, Vernor and I worked hard to reverse this trend, but what were we few against so many?

13 November

Subdued remnants of the convention gathered in the hotel's 'Palm Court' breakfast area. Vernor later confessed that owing to last night's terrible damage he could face nothing but coffee, making me feel tough and macho for managing despite personal fragility to overcome a fresh-cooked omelette: I slipped him one of my Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Peppermints (acquired to change a $20 bill) and he brightened somewhat.

It was Vernor's turn for an airboat outing with Joe, and I came along expecting more of the same; but today's location, the Sawgrass Recreational Park, was a swamp of another colour. No waterlilies, no restricted vistas forced by swamp-apples and other trees as before, just an endless expanse of sawgrass that in the sunshine looked deceptively like open prairie with patches of water. The airboat was subtly different, too: instead of there being a roof to deflect the engine's roar, passengers were issued with earplugs. At top speed on the outward journey, Vernor had to hold on tight to his anti-sunburn beanie and I felt in danger of losing my glasses. Mating damsel flies (probably called something else in America) kept being blown into the boat, and one pair spent a long time having it off on my shoe. The alligators here were more frequent and less sluggish, occasionally swimming all on their own across open water rather than lying inert until pelted with bread. That feeding trick was more spectacular this time, as Captain Airboat tapped approaching alligators' noses to make them open wide; the devastating CHOMP as their jaws snapped on traditional bits of hot-dog bun echoed flatly across acres of swampland. They seemed an awful lot closer here, and fuller of menace.

Vinge, nervously: 'Alligators are of course vegetarians.'

Langford, nodding hard: 'They just need all those big teeth to crunch the stout tubers on which they naturally subsist....'

Back ashore, the park offered a yet more hands-on animal exhibit in which hapless tourists submitted to having a eight-foot albino python with lemon-yellow markings draped over their shoulders. 'I need a photo of you two doing that,' said Joe, and made off at speed to the souvenir shop for a disposable camera while his guests looked at each other with a wild surmise. The python writhed about on the parched earth underfoot, sticking out its tongue at us. Unfortunately for posterity, the handler had put it firmly and irrevocably back into its box before Joe returned.

The next photo opportunity involved patting, stroking and possibly even putting your extremities into the mouth of a (leashed) puma, but those of us accustomed to sf novel contracts did rather recoil from the form on which you had to sign your life away by agreeing to hold the Sawgrass Recreational Park harmless no matter what frightful injuries their hellcat wreaked upon you. Right then it was pretending to be asleep, but we knew that was just its cunning. Joe contented himself with a few animal-free photographs, and I found another wild lizard lurking outside the inevitable pens of alligators, crocodiles, caymans and the like.

Vernor had to get home to San Diego, and there were suitably tearful farewells at Fort Lauderdale airport. Touristy travels continued with a drive past stupefyingly opulent residences along the local waterways (Joe: 'We call those the cheap houses') and the posh shopping street Las Olas that appears in all the movies. Evening crept onward as we pottered on foot along Miami Beach proper – improbably warm and clean, like a film-set simulation of itself, with yet more rows of palms, and young folk rollerblading down the adjacent pavement or (as I almost managed to think) sidewalk. I thriftily picked up chunks of coral to take home for Hazel, intending in my thoughtful way not to offend her sensibilities with garish souvenirs costing actual money.

All the while Joe was steering us towards a place of literary pilgrimage in the Bahia Mar marina, a huge maze of jetties and moorings between the beach road and inland waterway, crammed with gleaming white million-dollar boats. Most locals evinced great ignorance of erstwhile sf and thriller author John D. MacDonald, but eventually a chap driving a little buggy not only recognized the name but offered us a lift across a car-park or two. There it was, a weathered plaque at mooring slip F604 (once F18):


Sort of like visiting 221B Baker Street in London.

Nearby loomed the Doubletree Hotel where Tropicon VII had boggled fan GoH Walt Willis, who lyrically compared the penthouse convention venue to a van Vogt spaceship in the sky and made the place sound so marvellous that, Joe confided, the committee was hard put to recognize it. I promised to continue this tradition by describing the Clarion Hotel (with which Tropicon XIX had had a few little difficulties) as 'not bad'.

During all these travels, by the way, I was tremendously impressed by Joe's pocket GPS location device, which wherever we drove in flat, flat Florida ('The highest point is the city dump'), and even when we walked down to the sea's edge, creatively announced we were 41 feet above sea level.

Back at the auntly residence in Lighthouse Point, I proudly pulled out a reel of monofilament line I'd bought from the bass-fishing counter at the Sawgrass Park shop, and begged Aunt Madeline for the loan of a needle to patch up my suitcase, whose seam had given way on the outward trip. She brushed aside my pathetic male aspirations and restitched the case herself, so stoutly that that the homeward flight's cargo manglers could make absolutely no impression on her bombproof repair.

14 November

After fond farewells to Joe's utterly splendid relatives, there was time for one last expedition before my flight home: to the International Museum of Cartoon Art. En route, a memorable ad on the side of a building seen from interstate I-95 featured a happy stick-figure in a more or less sitting posture, its rear separated by a little tasteful space from a stylized fountain of water: 'MR BIDET. FOR A HEALTHY CLEAN TUSH!' I smugly spotted another unofficial, freelance lizard lurking in the foliage as we walked through an incredibly posh shopping district surrounding the museum.

Like the British Museum or V&A, the IMCA has vast deposits of material and can show only a selection at any time: the current exhibition centred on the museum co-founder Mort Walker's Beetle Bailey army-camp strip (50th anniversary in 2000), which although not actually sf – which would have been just too serendipitous – was unfamiliar to me and also intermittently funny, so a good time was had. Elsewhere, checking just how International this place was, I discovered a black-and-white page original from Watchmen and a fragment of script by our very own Neil Gaiman. Psychological note: it is possible to enjoy that worthy sense of cultural uplift that comes from visiting a real museum, even when one is doing no more than have a great time walking around looking idly at cartoons. I tried quite hard to shut my eyes and pass unscathed through the museum shop, but Joe insisted on buying me a science-fictional set of Bugs Bunny fridge magnets, including 'the most important character according to Edie – the Martian!' These may be inspected by appointment.

Hospitable to the end, Chairman Joe kept me company to the Miami airport check-in and then beyond, for therapeutic glasses of Sam Adams beer at the nearby bar. Time slid by in fannish chatter. Takeoff was around dusk, and the last view of Miami tilting away outside – an endless carpet of jewelled lights – outshone any other city I'd seen through a aeroplane window.

15 November

You can imagine how a planeload of passengers fresh from the tropics broke into madly ironic laughter as, approaching London Gatwick shortly after dawn, the pilot assured us that it was shaping up to be a fine bright English day with outside temperature minus four Centigrade. The odd-looking cloudscape through the window suddenly resolved itself into fields grey with hoarfrost, with occasional clots of fog sitting around like beached clouds. Then the landing, and homeward in a blur of trains and taxis, to find no one in Britain was even remotely interested in my hot Floridan gossip gambits like, 'Did you know they've been having some kind of election over there?'

The usual heartfelt thanks to all....


'All' means Joe Siclari and Edie Stern, doers of heroic deeds; Mrs (Aunt) Madeline Walz for hospitality; Shirlene Ananayo-Rawlik (con suite); Geri Sullivan (a kind word in the programme book); Becky Peters (art show); Melanie Herz (registration); Judi Goodman (charity auction); the rest of the committee; Vernor Vinge and other guests; Adam-Troy Castro (cartoon); Joyce Scrivner (hanging out in bars beyond the call of duty); Boston in 2004; everyone who cheered me with Langford autograph requests; everyone else at Tropicon XIX; and Hazel Langford as ever. A final nod to Charles Platt, who on reading about these exploits was quick to point out several fatal errors in my schedule:

'I'm sad that you missed some of the really important attractions during your visit. The Police Museum includes a genuine prison cell (in which you can be photographed) and a genuine electric chair (ditto), plus some really stirring info posters about the horrors of drugs. The Salvador Dali Museum has a collection second only to the Dali museum in Spain. And Gator Jungle is the most repulsive of all the animal parks, as the lakes have been overgrown completely with foul-smelling algae, from which the alligators emerge literally dripping slime. A friend of mine was so nauseated by the stench of decay, she had to leave, and took half an hour to recover.

'Alas the Lee Harvey Oswald museum, featuring the actual car in which Kennedy was assassinated, has moved to a different state. When I visited it many years ago, I sent a postcard to J.G. Ballard, who was suitably impressed.'

Thank you, Charles.