I found the convention in Manchester very interesting but a little surprising. There were many interesting Science-Fiction events such as the B.S.F.A. annual general meeting, but few of the attendees seemed to take them seriously. In fact some people seemed to spend all their time in the bar, and I think it would be a good idea if this were closed during programme items at future conventions, To continue my complaints, the Guest of Honour did not speak about Science Fiction as I expected, but instead read some odd experimental literature which was very disappointing. And Mr. Robert Shaw's scientific talk was completely spoilt by antisocial people who laughed at his proposals.
On the other hand ...
The mighty engines surge with power ... the fabric of space is rent ruthlessly asunder ... and Fred – C-registration, M.O.T (Failed) is whistling up the M6. Really whistling: on either side, lace-like perforations sing in the wind and shed confusing clouds of rust into the eyes of pursuing police. We overtake an aeroplane which is being towed at 60mph. (It has no wings.) Surrealism is already setting in.
In the Mancon car-park (easy to find because I've been there before – a friend lived in Owens Park for a whole year – think of that before succumbing to self-pity for three days of the place) a student ghoulishly dismisses the possibility of any car sitting there unscathed for a weekend. "Even Fred?" I quaver. Yes, they even nick cars like Fred. Good grief.
So Hazel and I stagger under eight tons of luggage and food, plus uncounted vital bits of Fred. Registering, I receive a colour-coded security badge (blue for b&b). Charles Partington insists on checking meal tickets, and snatches away the lunch and dinner chits which they gave me in error. Hazel's badge is white ("not staying at Owens Park"), but almost of its own accord the white bit falls off to reveal a red FULL BOARD badge. There's efficiency.
I'm halfway up this vast tower of tiny cells, huge and forbidding. It frightens Peter Roberts too: "I came into the grounds and it loomed at me."
It is 1pm; we've missed the morning spectacle of the programme failing to occur. After the dark Gestapoesque tone in the ultimate progress report, it's a relief to find the concom as engagingly incompetent as any other – nay, more so.
Discontinuity: I talk to people all afternoon (even listen to a few); can't remember a word of it. Lucky you. On every side loom T-shirts advertising Chris Priest, worn for an undisclosed fee by his admirers. "I am a Neo" badges are available from the thoughtful committee (whose efficiency varies inversely with the importance of the matter at hand) and naturally most Ratfans sport these. Graham Poole's sweater bristles nauseously with con badges of yesteryear, I am labelled, simply, DRILKJIS; two-thirds of fandom ask me what this means, and hoarsely I tell them. No need, therefore, to repeat it here.
– And a slightly premature party-time. The Nottingham group are brooding over an unbelievable amount of booze, and there I somehow stay, firmly fastened to a bottle of White Horse. Ratfans come, fill glasses, go. Andrew Stephenson holds forth to various young ladies. More whisky; Gerald Bishop materializes (rather than the more conventional pink elephants) and, ever on the alert for something to put down, confides that the makers of White Horse are the biggest producers of acetone in Europe. Ah, but I like acetone.
The leader of the Notts group looks horribly like a diminutive Kev Smith; tactfully I ignore this. Later, Ames spills the beans and blights the poor man's life.
The night and the whisky dwindle together. Roused from stupor by an urgent whisper, I hear – aargh! what dread news is this? – I have been ripped off. In a Cheltenham groupzine? Edited by Graham Poole? My superb Null-A trained mind goes feverishly into overdrive, and the solution strikes me like a ton of wet cement: It's time for bed.
Discontinuity ... And the cold light of early afternoon.
Hazel solicitously provides paracetamol and biscuits, which boost me to the beer-drinking threshold and thence to normality. Graham Poole, when found, produces a copy of something called Spaces, which does indeed contain my SFinx 9 story, rebranded as by "Ian Trent". Mutter, mutter. Graham is aggrieved also, that he should have been deluded: "He wanted to run it under the pseudonym Dave Langford at first, but I found there was a real Dave Langford ..." (Thanks, Graham.) Rumour whispers that a certain Cheltenham Poly attendee is the villain, a gentleman called Timothy Apps, or as he was dubbed in Oxford ... "Was it Timothy Titwillow-Pseud?" I ask quickly.
"That sounds like him. A tall fellow – egotistical – generally weird –"
"That sounds like him."
But now the rampant reviewers at the front of the con-hall become loudly opinionated about books, and we shut up.
(Wheels within wheels and all that: "Ian Trent" proves to be the pseudonym used by yet another person.)
In the bar: "Who will rid me of this turbulent Titwillow?" I cry, still feeling slightly sick. Dermot Dobson and Mike "Mad Bomber" Skelding close in, evil gleams in their eyes. "Nuff said, boss." They vanish. I have been in the dock with this pair before ... wonder what Manchester cells are like?
The programme continues sporadically. Bob Silverberg reads the closing sections of Dying Inside and Son of Man, very impressive, very good. (Or was that on Sunday? Er, timeless, these cons.) Top billing as usual to Bob Shaw – biggest audience and laughs of the con – he looks a bit crowded out, actually, with half the committee sitting by him in the hope that some glory may reflect their way.
Creeping out for fresh air during the Silverberg reading, I find Dave Rowe giving small children piggybacks and whirling them playfully around. ("I'm sure Johnny's arms were shorter than that before ...") My just-another-big-kid thoughts die at the sight of his beard, which now looks harassed and irritable. Expressive beasts, these beards.
Horrifying shock of meeting people. Brian "The best part of Drilkjis was the last page" Parker really is small and blonde, though he doesn't write that way. Another failure for the Langford Theory of Appearance Revealed In Style. Greg Pickersgill writes clean-shaven. Pat Charnock, writing, gives me the strong impression that she wears no glasses. The Theory has just one success: Leroy Kettle writes like someone who looks like Leroy Kettle. Somehow.
A microfiche reader passes by, closely followed by George Hay. Before he goes, he claims to have nearly sold it to Terry Jeeves. There is no truth in the rumour that George is behind a con bid which failed owing to all the literature being in microfiche.
Keith Oborn accosts me with a plan for Rollerball in the nearby stadium. "We can use bicycles," he suggests. Fool. Then Brian Burgess staggers by with a cardboard box containing – no, you're wrong – books. "At midnight," I fantasize, "there will be a mysterious flash and the books will turn into pork pies. And who knows what BB will become?" "A mysterious flash, of course."
It's a disconnected afternoon. (Oh, you noticed?) At the bar, waving an advance copy of Andromeda – "Don't bother with the stories, look at the editorial bits" – Peter Weston holds forth upon the writing of sf. Punchy first lines are essential. In support of this he quotes in quick succession every Heinlein and Bester opening there ever was; with a hoarse cry I flee, unable to recall the first line of anything I've written myself.
Hazel, with Peter Roberts, is apparently forming Obscure Language Fandom. Peter seems almost animated as he describes the peculiar beauty of Mongolian script.
A burst of charm strikes me and I step back. It is Rob Holdstock, swaying and flashing erratic smiles into the surrounding gloom. "Science fiction," he says, "is just a hobby with me now. I am a writer of historical fiction. Historical fiction about this luscious barbarian nun with long blonde hair and enormous tits and a sword of steel, who carves her way from bed to bed through a sea of blood." Tears fill my eyes as he mentions the money involved.
Next, Lisa Conesa and Bryn Fortey, who are slumped over a huge mound of fanzines. "Gimme, gimme," I shriek, asserting my rights as a WAHF. Bryn sorts through the pile. "This is your great fannish initiation –" he picks out an addressed envelope – "you are about to receive Pete Weston's copy of Zimri."
At intervals we eat. Sometimes at the "Canadian Charcoal Pit" (Canadian Cess Pit to the locals) across the road, where piratical cries of "Skewer me kebabs!" resound; more often in the Owens Park tower. At secretive gatherings Coral Clarke's Guinness-cake is scoffed, with Liese Hoare's toasted sandwiches and my exotic tea,. The committee do indeed provide tea, coffee, sugar; this is such a surprise that I slip a few scurvy coppers into their begging bowl.
Meanwhile, with intending picnickers seduced away to the Charcoal Pit, innumerable plastic bags of provisions rot peacefully away in the car park.
I give Gray Boak a Twll-Ddu. He does not give me a Cynic; all his spare copies are at home. "Oh, Dave Langford," he says: "I've seen your name in fanzines." Why, how nice, someone has noticed me. Borrowing Martin Hoare's Cynic, I find a vehement attack on my K2 article ("pretentious twaddle"). Yeah, he's seen my name.
Greg Pickersgill recommends Zardoz, which is annoying since it's now half over. Suddenly, the proximity detector registers fewer than three people in earshot, so my automatic reflexes offer drinks. Greg has a drink. Simone Walsh explains that she would have bought her own, but can't afford it, and can't accept one from me because she doesn't know me. I make conquests like this all the time. Seeking beer, I discover hordes of barmen and girls (easily outnumbering the putative drinkers); all but two of these are chatting together or standing with backs turned on the obviously contemptible customers.
Some are born rats; some achieve rattishness; the rest have Ratfandom thrust on them. "Help, I am totally surrounded by Rats." The horde is suddenly about me, with friendly urgings to seek parties. "FUN!" says Leroy. "We are going to wreak FUN!" Up, then, through the labyrinths of the tower, with people mysteriously appearing from and disappearing into lifts, stairwells and trapdoors. Somehow I rediscover the Oxford party, and Vernon Brown's retsina, an excellent infusion of pitch-pine chips in surgical spirit. All around lie dire bottles, full of things made in dark places by Brian Hampton: one sip and you nervously peer into the bottle, expecting to find some anatomical specimen. A half-eaten sausage droops obscenely on a beer-can. There is a bottle called Spanish Fly; actually the second word is Dry but I only discover this later. This is the eighth floor. Reality keeps slipping gears and depositing me further down: I finish the retsina at the Gannet party, where everyone is packed into a weird mass and Peter Weston shrieks inaudibly at whosoever comes too close to his dark doings.... ("Sorry I told you to fuck off," he says to everyone next day. So that's what it was.)
"Hello," says Hazel, appearing suddenly. "I'm going to bed," she explains, vanishing again. I suppose I must be talking still, for a spherical American tells me I am "horrifyingly articulate". Trying to refute this, I find myself saying "I repudiate your unjustifiable generalization" or something similar.
(This Langford normally speaks fast: when half-incapable he can't think quickly enough to keep up, and must compensate by choosing words that take longer to say.)
In Florence Russell's oasis of calm, yet further down, there is food and reviving bottles of Scotch. Thank you, Flo.
Further down, down, down into confusion. Memory returns sometime after 5am: long conversation with Malcolm Edwards on the second floor amid a riot of fallen bodies. As I depart, a nasty grey light is oozing up the sky. The lift won't go up; it contains Martin Easterbrook who takes it down (look, a double-entendre, this makes me a real fanwriter) ... under his insidious control, the lift does yo-yo impressions for some minutes. Eventually he goes and – the MEN WITH BIG STICKS burst in. One seedy store-detective type, one octogenarian security guard in a peaked cap. The latter would make a great team with one of the [Gerry] Webb "dogs".
"You've been up and down twice," they snarl. "You lot go on like this and this lift will be bust like the other one and then where'll you be?"
"On the stairs," I suggest. The rubber hose strikes – once – twice – finally they release me with a reprimand. To bed, to bed, there's knocking at the liver....
Now this is ridiculous. Something must have happened on Sunday morning: memory insists otherwise. I only recall great shouts of feigned astonishment (subtly mingled with relief) as the Star Trek Bloopers fail as usual to appear. Timothy Titwillow is about; apparently uninjured, he lives, moves, has his being – though my judgment is impaired since I myself do not score too highly on any of these counts. He is doing something with the microphones; later it turns out that rather than mix with hoi polloi he is using a radio-mike which transmits the programme to his room. Good grief.
Dermot looks less murderous now, and in response to my frantic queries ("Look, you're not going to injure Titwillow much, are you?") contents himself by inviting people to jump from the balcony into his glass of squash: "Don't worry, it's a soft drink." The Authors' Panel grinds on amusingly, pontifically, inconsequentially. Again and again there rises the eldritch wail of rutting loudspeakers. Harry Harrison keeps falling over. Michael Coney says not a word. Ian Watson suggests that sf is now obsolete, since man has now advanced scientifically to the point where there is nothing to speculate upon. The audience boggles.
I have my periodic paranoid twitches. There is a rumour that someone was arrested on Saturday night for hurling explosive things from windows. I ask Dave Rowe about this: "Ah, the Swedes?" he says. On Sunday evening police pour into the bar and interrogate the staff. It would have been nice had they come to investigate the metric beer-taps, which give half-litres instead of pints.... But presumably this is just a routine call for protection money; the service does not improve.
The banquet, says Martin Hoare, was very boring. Thanks, Martin; pass me another bunch of sour grapes, there's a good fellow....
Greg Pickersgill, Don West and others now form the Astral Leauge (sic). "HANDS ACROSS THE GALAXIES! ONLY 50p! Know the mysteries of the universe through BOAKISM the secret art of seeing only one side of everything." The manic persistence with which a glazed Don West demands 50p is amazingly similar to Andy Nimmo trying to sell ESA (whatever that is) memberships for a mere £5. Would have been a better spoof if Don were to give up after a few hours, actually, but he seems immersed in his role (among other things).
The maddened crowd surges up to the con-hall. Yawn. It is, once again, Exhibitionism Time, and the committee have forgotten to give Harry Harrison his bromide.
Coral once again varies the disposition of holes in her undrapery, failing to look particularly epicene as "Gold the Person", and receives her inevitable prize. Hundreds of Sheffielders go as vegetables inspired by Bob Shaw (it's a noble sight, Bob inspiring vegetables), Q: Why is one important veg. missing? A: A marrow escape.... Brian Burgess gives us another chance to admire his guts. Vernon Brown, as a grandfather clock with Moreau-manufactured attendants, wins. Can't think of anyone who doesn't win, actually. Pleasant-looking but ill-coordinated dancing girls follow. Then Jan Finder removes his socks with slow significant motions and, clad in USAF surplus underwear, leads a horde of Sabine Women against Pete Presford. Disgusting scenes ensue.
(Later on, we take pity on Jan's unclean self-image, and try to feed him into one of the showers. Didn't know Jan could run so fast.)
The Man Who Fell to Earth! H'm. Dim picture – lousy soundtrack – and a pretty dull film withal. After three (widely separated) reels, we give up.
In the bar it transpires that Timothy Titwillow has been tracked to his room (labelled MANCON STUDIO 1: DO NOT DISTURB and adorned with a complete stereo outfit to ward off ennui) and "remonstrated with". TT apparently said "I didn't do it but Graham Poole's reputation is far more valuable than mine and I will admit it if necessary to save him." Wow.
(I no longer have any sympathy with Titwillow. He's also changed the story round and deflated half the jokes. But ... I'm too spineless to take proper action, such as throwing him from the top of the tower. I decide to write a LoC to Graham Poole and simply Expose him.)
The Oxford party is going again, as though it had never stopped. Lifts full of Ratfans surge endlessly up and down. Suddenly one stops and Pickersgill, Holdstock, Peyton etc. fall out. All but Rob burst into hysterical laughter. Rob has just said something incredibly vile about Chairman Presford. Mrs Presford was in the lift. When Rob realizes this, he bangs his head monotonously against various unyielding objects.
Don West is looking for booze. I offer him a bottle of undrinkable Scotsmac. He takes it away, returning to pinch a litre of wine. His designs on a third bottle are rudely frustrated by Liese, who Says Things to him. He does not return.
Water-filled balloons fly from the windows. Explosions sound outside. Mike Skelding gives me some nice high-class whisky and reveals that he has consulted Graham Poole about little Timothy. Sinking feeling. Mike's voice is like snapping wood: "It is out of your hands, Dave. He has lied to Me. It is no longer a time for meaningful dialogue, it is a time for applying boot-polish to his goolies." I clutch convulsively at the whisky-bottle, and sidle away. Meanwhile, Dermot is warned by Timothy that he'd better watch out: Timothy has friends.
In the same lift as Brian Burgess (who has been caught by a water-balloon and is seeking the culprits), I discover the eighteenth, the ultimate floor, where Rats and Gannets are indiscriminately sprawled. Corridor windows are sealed from the 11th floor up, to stem the urge to suicide induced by these surroundings; thus it is fearfully hot and redolent with the rising effluvium of fannish doings below. In the centre, a spiral staircase leads up to a locked door. Climbing it, Peter Roberts maintains, is an existential experience without which no party is complete.
Rob Jackson hovers voluminously, gloating over his acquisition of the Bob Shaw speech for Maya. Leroy Kettle denies that he is writing a con-report, or indeed that he has ever written one. It's too hot, I try to flee – but one lift is locked open, up here at the top, and the other won't come. Brian Burgess is trapped; I run athletically down ten flights of stairs and suffer a mild heart-attack.
Mike, now drinking my whisky, is planning his next trial. He claims not to have been tried by a jury of his peers: "Six out of twelve couldn't even read the oath right!" Since he anticipates a hangover, I reveal my secret pick-me-up, copious whisky-and-dry-ginger.
He shudders. "But it's so noisy...."
As I estivate, herds of ever-watchful security men roam the corridors. Caught in the very act of spreading his sleeping-bag on the tenth floor, Ian Robinson is taken in charge and – despite his fevered claim to be President of the Oxford group – ceremoniously thrown out. A later attempt (6am) to establish himself in the car park is foiled by a whole carload of such officials: "Ah, you're the fellow we found on the tenth floor. What can we do for you, sir?"
Ian decides abruptly that Monday's programme is not worth it. "W-where's the bus station?"
They tell him. He leaves.
And I'm up for breakfast, all three breakfasts which I've paid for, in fact. Only manage to get 2½, but wotthehell. Nothing remains but boring items; time to fade away to the book room – where after an hour I'm tapped on the shoulder. It is Mike. "We've been and gone and done it!"
"Yes." He brandishes the boot-polish and the very stiff brush. I cringe.
... Later, Timothy is loading a car. He walks a trifle stiffly, I fancy. But he's already telling cronies that this rumour of his being blackballed is a foul lie.
(Must restrain the gang next time. They want to make it a tradition and do it at every con. H'm.)
The con is running down. People fade mysteriously away. At the auction I acquire several pounds of fanzines and Weltschmerz, also a joke about John Brosnan making auctionable statements. This I discard. The final (or possibly penultimate) film Mighty Joe Young is rather good, all about this HUGE gorilla who goes into showbiz and runs amok when cruelly persecuted later, on the run from the fuzz, he comes upon this burning orphanage and ... but I mustn't spoil it for you.
In the evening we drive to York, where Hazel discovers a book of 826 tongues and dialects. Eat your hearts out, obscure language fans, I myself do homage at the birthplace of Guy Fawkes (1570): Young's Hotel in High Petergate. Mike will be pleased.
People I forgot to mention ... a very quiet Walt Willis (could the harp be out of tune?); Pat White, Jim's daughter, first lady member of the Persons of Average Height (no-one under six feet need apply); Andrea Lucas, who lives at Boundary Hall [my Civil Service hostel address at that time] and I never knew it; Alan and Elke "Tell all your friends about the BSFA Yearbook" Stewart; Roy Tackett – didn't actually meet him but it wouldn't do to miss out the TAFF rep, would it Peter?; Howie Rosenblum, who said something quite witty which I forget; Keith "You've been ripped off" Plunkett, rightful owner of the Ian Trent pseudonym; and Adrian Smith, who wasn't at Mancon but heroically put up with me and Hazel for the rest of the week.