Another Convention Diary: Torcon 3

Well, guess what: I went to the Toronto Worldcon in 2003. And, despite promising myself to treat it all as a relaxing holiday, I took some notes....

Wednesday 27 August.

A deeply uneventful outward trip, which is how I like it. By way of subtle foreshadowing, one of the in-flight films was a Hugo winner: despite spurning the offered earphones as usual, I eventually realized that this endless succession of gravity-defying martial arts setpieces must be the famous Crouching Subtitles, Hidden Soundtrack.

Toronto's international airport turns out to be 28 kilometres out of town. A long, long wait for the AirportExpress shuttle was enlivened by many predatory taxi drivers offering to cover the distance at the speed of light for practically no cost, a temptation easily resisted because I already had my (return) coach ticket. At last the conveyance arrived, miles of motorway unreeled and the Toronto skyline began to loom dimly through sun-filtered windows.

Since Torcon had neglected to provide maps, there was some comfort in the bus brochure's teensy, not-to-scale plan showing the various con hotels strung out along the same street and separated by, I carefully estimated, a distance. Having laboriously plodded that distance along Front Street and tracked down the Renaissance Hotel at the far end, I found it was embedded in the city's number-two landmark – the SkyDome stadium – which in turn nestled at the foot of the biggest sight of all, the 553-metre CN Tower. Oh well.

Among the strangely familiar sights were occasional bilingual direction signs, with WEST and EAST carefully glossed as OUEST and EST ... rather like home in South Wales, with TAXI subtitled TACSI for the benefit of (to paraphrase Kingsley Amis) benighted Welsh who've never seen an X in their lives. Was it a delusion that Toronto's street crowds were already dotted with sensitive fannish faces? At one point I thought I heard someone unknown say "That's Dave Langford," but probably it was the jet lag talking: I never was any good as an eavesdropper.

Good news! My US dollar account card proved capable of sucking Canadian notes from Toronto ATMs, $CAN400 at a time. Pausing only to stoke up at a convenient ethnic restaurant (East Side Mario's: New York Italian), I made my way to the Royal York Hotel where all the parties were to be. There Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden seemed to be running up an enormous Tor Books tab in the overpriced bar, surrounded by such thirsty luminaries as Charlie Stross and Liz Williams. What could I do but join in? This buffered me against the later Los Angeles in 2006 bidding party, where such treats as Hugo-shaped cookies and the vast presence of fan guest of honour Mike Glyer could not entirely conceal a certain lack of alcohol. Again, foreshadowing – of five days in a dry convention centre linked to yet a third hotel where loudly ongoing reconstruction work had closed the bar and restaurant for the duration.

Thursday 28 August

Up morbidly early. After drafting my holiday-assignment review on the palmtop (Robin Hobb, Fool's Fate, fat enough to last me through an entire transatlantic flight with a chapter or so to spare), I explored the local streets and famous subterranean walkways, leading to breakfast in an underground food court obsessed with healthy eating. You could order wicked substances like hash browns, but they came with a couple of raw carrots on top to take away the curse. Next, the Metro Convention Centre and my first intimation of Torcon's organizational disasters....

That was the received version, but disaster depends a great deal on your viewpoint. Arriving bright and early and jetlagged at the Centre, I discovered that just as predicted the souvenir book wasn't ready (there had been some fuss about a public resignation and unresignation by the Torcon committee member in charge), but there were dinky little tickets entitling you to claim a copy later. The pocket programme, a substantial paperback, had also been delayed, but this was not a problem because so many scores of changes had happened since it went to press that fans were told to rely on the new programme grids being printed every day. Surprises abounded each morning. All this made it a mite difficult to plan ahead.

When I later showed Hazel my Torcon badge, she protested: 'That's not a badge, it's a sporran!' That is, a flexible blue plastic pouch 6.5" high by 4.5" wide, assuring fans in large friendly white print that they were, honestly, no kidding, attending TORCON 3, held in TORONTO, CANADA, 2003, and sponsored by Tor Books. (Of course the Worldcon was named for the city, like its predecessors, but the sheer beauty of this sponsorship proved irresistible both to the cash-starved committee and to Tom Doherty at Tor.) Beneath this information was a transparent holder containing a 3" x 4" printed badge more than half occupied by a sketched Hugo rocket, with one line devoted to the member's name in type rather smaller than the recommended minimum of 24 points. I've seen worse, but would not actually have objected to a layout that let the name sprawl over more than, at most, 3.4% of the total badge area. A lot of us did a lot of furtive squinting.

Dutifully I hung this millstone round my neck (I forgot to mention the useful pockets provided on the flipside for storing souvenir book claim tickets, visiting cards, sandwiches, etc) and attached my two tiny gold Hugo-nominee rockets at the top-corner holes where the string went. Claire Brialey immediately remarked that the overall effect put her in mind of pierced nipples. I spent days trying to efface that thought from memory.

In general, although the conrunning purists were bitterly critical, tradition and goodwill kept Torcon reasonably on course – especially for lazy attendees like myself who could ignore the backstage chaos and opt for relaxation rather than a round-the-clock stint of self-promotion. Indeed, when I assured the programme disorganizer that one speech and no panel appearances would be plenty for me, there had come a hiss of indrawn breath and muttered asides about wishing more US pros had that attitude.

The first famous professional I ran into was Robert Silverberg, bemusedly looking for some action, any action. 'Where's the dealers' room?' he demanded. Upstairs, I explained, and off-limits to mere members during setup, with an implacable security guard at the escalator. 'We'll see about that,' said Bob sternly, and seconds later waved from on high. Subsequently he explained: 'I just said: I'm Dave Langford, I've got more Hugos than anybody, and I need to be up there.' Readers are warned that Mr Silverberg writes fiction and may sometimes make things up.

When I penetrated the dealers' room at last, I was accosted by a bearded, sinisterly hatted figure. 'Mr Langford!' said Terry Pratchett in tones of deep suspicion: 'Have you permed your hair?' I still hope this was subtle humour.

Meanwhile, Diane Duane and Peter Morwood appeared and voiced my inmost thoughts about passing the time until something happened: 'Where's the bar?' Across the road in a Texan restaurant, as it turned out, where we consumed frighteningly ethnic lunch served in ten-gallon hats – well, not quite – and the Owl Springs collective gloated about delivering their screenplay for a TV miniseries of The Ring, not Tolkien's but Wagner's.

The usual social scene continued. Darrell Schweitzer treated me to a lengthy spiel on self-publishing and on getting thrown out of a Hubbardite party with extreme prejudice for defending his positive review of Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah. David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer showed off their new offspring. I enjoyed watching Paul Barnett buy a round at the Royal York hotel bar, and seeing his face become a mask of horror as he realized that the 'we try to be exactly like an English pub' motto did not extend to allowing unseemly pint glasses. 'Two glasses each,' he cried, bravely but unwisely. We inferred that the policy was for fear that tourists would have heart attacks if exposed to the price of a Royal York pint in one instalment.

The Royal York also proved to house (at various remote positions in a maze of twisty corridors, all alike) the hospitality suite, where I enjoyed the occasional cup of tea, and a fan lounge organized by Colin Hinz and Catherine Crockett, whose delights included the great Steve Stiles and a bathtub full of bottles of extremely fannish home-brewed beer. This was the life. Or it would have been if my hearing hadn't kept letting me down.

As already noted, my hotel – the Renaissance – was built into the Skydome sports arena, a science-fictional edifice with the largest retractable roof in the universe, or thereabouts. I furtively investigated its gift shop to learn what the Toronto Blue Jays team actually plays. Football? Lacrosse? Chess? The awful truth was betrayed by a plethora of tiny souvenir baseball bats. Another local team (hockey this time) generated perpetual aesthetic anguish by being called the Maple Leafs [sic]. But the next, or outgoing, Skydome attraction seemed to be the circus: from the hotel bar I peered down at a vast grey concrete floor, littered with mobile homes, conical piles of sawdust, and in the middle – in a token enclosure of metal hurdles, not actually forming a complete barrier – three dispirited-looking elephants.

Later came the usual evening restaurant expedition with fan friends. Good stuff (Thai), but even better was the walk through evening Toronto, being boggled by eccentric public art on the way out and by the glowing night cityscape as we retraced our steps. The municipal art-forms are highly varied: here a clutch of unnaturally steep-angled stone pyramids on a grassy lot, there at a bus stop a sitting commuter who turned out to be a statue. (Seattle, I remember, goes one better with a whole group of sculpted commuters; back home in Reading, England, it may have been budget considerations that reduced this concept to a few inconspicuous bronze shopping bags.) The end wall of one vast old building had become a trompe l'oeil painting that cunningly incorporated the few scattered windows.

Other art, alas, was of the more familiar steel-girder genre that looks like some terrible industrial accident, foundry junkheap, or skeleton of something yet to be built. Half the convention regularly passed through one of these, a sort of high, twisted wigwam frame straddling a much-used stretch of pavement. I remarked on an extraordinary number of street beggars holding out little paper cups; the one who hopefully touched his forelock to every passer-by was not, I fear, committing Performance Art.

Los Angeles and Kansas bidding parties for the 2006 Worldcon awaited our return, both strangely garish and hellishly crowded after an initial lull of mere minutes. The Kansas theme of random glowing things was perhaps more restful than LA's ambitious conversion of hotel room doors to airlocks outlined with brilliant lights, not to mention the epileptic flicker of giant LEDs on their Space Cadet staff uniforms. (These high-tech ornaments, brought in bulk to Torcon by some mad scientist from [I think I heard] eastern Europe, were selling like hot cakes at $CAN2.50 – I came home with a couple to show Hazel, one a gift from a kindly Kansas supporter.) After minute and flattering investigation of the date on my passport, LA decided I was old enough to be permitted a thimbleful of their pink 'rocket fuel' spirit, formula undisclosed. I still insist it wasn't so much this as lingering jetlag that soon had me yawning openly in the faces of such fans as Geri Sullivan, Bob Devney and Alyson Abramowitz. To bed, to bed.

Friday 29 August

Again I leapt out of bed far too early, to confront the stark new experience of hazelnut and vanilla coffee (not bad, actually). My plans to continue a day of new sensations by going up the CN Tower were thwarted because it hadn't yet opened. Around 9am in the convention centre, I found John Clute waving an early copy of his latest mighty critical collection Scores, while George R.R. Martin confided almost with tears in his eyes that Thog must, must, must examine that 'wonderful source', The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb. Later Janice Gelb told me the same, and later still Mike Cule submitted a Thoggism – see Ansible 196 – with the comment 'I got about six chapters into the piece of excrement before I remembered that no-one was paying me to review it and stopped.' The group mind of fandom!

By and by the CN Tower opened, and after being carefully sniffed by an explosives detector I made the ear-popping ascent. The thing is 553 metres high, over 1,800 feet, but the first lift stops at a modest 346m, where there's a reasonably spacious tourist trap, coffee shop and general bogglement area. The great psychological challenge is to walk across the famous glass floor and glance nonchalantly down at toy-sized bits of Toronto 1,100 feet below, without actually leaping back in terror. That floor is supposedly rated to carry 28 hippopotami, but one finds oneself brooding over the significant weight of one's breakfast and the possibility that this very test (carried out just how recently?) might itself have weakened the glass. Oo-er. The rather more cramped SkyPod, 'World's Highest Observation Platform' is still further up, at 447m, and there certainly is a hell of a view. On a clear day you're supposed to be able to see the spray of Niagara Falls; for me, though, it was misty, and it occurred to me that sensible tourists probably wait until the afternoon. Still, there was the teensy convention centre, the minute SkyDome stadium (now suddenly green with Astroturf), the bijou hotels....

Back at the convention, the day passed in much the usual sort of way, with a Live Thog's Masterclass presentation looming in the early evening. It's always nice to discharge one's responsibility before the 'major' convention events, rather than fret until the far end of it all. The latest version of the Thog script was duly covered with traditional scribbles: for example, the omnipresent Torcon logo prompted me to add, from memory, Lionel Fanthorpe's classic evocation of terror in Rodent Mutation: 'Police! Help! We're being attacked! We're being attacked by a gigantic beaver!' With an hour to go and time to kill, I phoned Hazel to assure her that all was well, and she broke it to me that her mother had died on Thursday night.

The show had to go on, but it wasn't easy. I may not have been properly appreciative of the splendid dinner to which Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden treated me afterwards. The subsequent Tor party was a bit of a blur, and I was sufficiently on edge to be quite disturbed by David Brin's sudden, menacing remark, 'Check your stories.' Me, struggling to think of anything horrid I'd put in Ansible lately: 'What, all of them?' He: 'Only the ones that make me weep.' And he stalked off, but I intercepted him a little later and begged for clarification. It was, as I should have realized, to do with the incident of Jo Walton throwing Coke over him. As you know, Bob, she apologized, but some others posted anti-Brin responses in her LiveJournal. Hence his statement of position: 'My wife was reduced to tears by the lies put about by Jo Walton and her lynch mob. And your line in Ansible didn't help either.' Pause. 'But you're a great guy.' Exit. I didn't feel at all ready for this kind of thing, and staggered back to my hotel with the wounded air of a messenger riddled by machine-gun fire.

Saturday 30 August

Hugo day. Mostly this was just an ordinary convention day, but I felt so shell-shocked by Friday's grim news that I don't think I actually ate anything. Not a good move. NESFA Press kindly let me sign books at their table for an hour in the afternoon, and I did business running well into single figures. Then the space/time continuum began to rumble with advance tremors of the award ceremony. Although common sense insists that I should be intensely blasé about these things, being actually present generated an irrational, indefinable dread....

The pre-Hugo party evoked memories of queuing at Foyle's book shop in the bad old days. There was a cash bar, but you were not permitted to give the barman cash. Instead you queued up at a cashier's desk to buy tiny square tickets which after queueing up again could be exchanged for a soft or non-soft drink, with bona-fide invitees receiving one special voucher exchangeable for either a soft-drink ticket or $4 off the expensive alcoholic substance of your choice. All too much for the shrunken Langford brain.

To deter gatecrashers, the reception was to have been represented by a blank space in the day's final revised programme sheet, a space into which some opportunistic hand had slipped a programme item just before going to press – so in theory the reception would be enlivened by a background talk on 'Eros and Near Earth Asteroids'. Hasty retractions were posted. The party food was highly praised, but seemed to be all fishy/seafoody stuff which I queasily couldn't face.

Some remarkable evening dress was on view, none more remarkable than that of Charlie Stross's good lady, in a sort of tutu-and-fishnets effect like an extremely raffish Christmas tree fairy. "Feorag is certainly dressed up to the nines," I mentioned to Paul Barnett, who judiciously replied: "Up to the threes, I'd say."

So to the Hugo ceremony. Agonizing tension mounted as toastmaster Spider Robinson, played his guitar, sang a little ditty called '50 Ways to Lose a Hugo', mocked the USA, banged on about the space race, anything but actually start the presentations. The full results appeared in Ansible 194 and every other SF forum known to anthropology, so I merely mention a statistic. Despite acquiring ridiculously many of these trophies from 1985 onward, I hadn't actually been to a North American Worldcon since 1980 and so had never personally collected the award on that continent. But when I modestly remarked that this was a completely new experience, no one seemed to believe me. I forget what else I said, but there was a suggestion in there that voters might consider giving the Fan Writer award to someone else.

Other recipients came better prepared: Gardner Dozois accepted the Best Editor rocket with 'The golden age of science fiction is right now!', Neil Gaiman's Novella win for Coraline did not lead to a repeat of his stunned 2002 speech 'Fuck me, I've won a Hugo!', and Robert Sawyer's litany of thanks when he bagged Best Novel ('Everything good in my life I owe to fandom') included particularly heartfelt gratitude to 'J.K. Rowling for being late delivering her MS ... and the judges for deciding Coraline is a novella – I've never been so thrilled by a word count statistic in my life.' Even those carpers who chafed at endless Sawyerian self-promotion before Torcon had to admit that – the convention's own publicity having been woefully inept – he'd raised the local profile of this Worldcon no end.

Towards the end of all this, my ego was crushed by the introduction of the George R.R.Martin Hugo Award Metric. As a Torcon guest of honour, George led up to his presentation of the best-novel Hugo by defining this in leering, lip-smacking tones, as The Big One. At times he seemed to be talking about something else altogether. 'All Hugos are created equal and free – but Joe Haldeman has the big one. Connie Willis also has a big one. Ursula Le Guin has two big ones. Fortunately, Gardner Dozois has twelve little ones. Howard Waldrop has ... none at all.' The inexorable logic of this Hugo hierarchy has collapsed my own record into one little one. Plus a long string of utterly infinitesimal ones.

At last it was over, even the interminable Hugo photo opportunities, and we made a triumphal procession down Front Street to the Royal York and the Hugo Losers' Party – there to be greeted by unseemly behaviour from that Mr Brin, who pelted Geoffrey Landis and myself with potato crisps (or possibly chips) for daring to enter as winners. I coldly reminded him that I was still in tears after losing Best Semiprozine. Actually one couldn't help feeling sympathetic, since DB was a strong contender for Best Novel and by all accounts his Kiln People was heaps better than Robert Sawyer's winner Hominids. Some day I must read them both. It's a lottery. A bad night for dear old David Brin, then, but a good one for me.

(The cruellest item in the con's traditional spoof newsletter was a Lost and Found column: 'David Brin lost the Best Novel Hugo. Could whoever has it, please return it to him?' I forget whether it was on this or some other night that Amy Thomson, luridly splendid in her Red Death evening dress, confided that she always thought of Mr Brin's Glory Season as Glory Hole.)

It has to be said, with ill-suppressed drooling, that Torcon's Hugos were among the best-looking ever. The trophy design frames the traditional rocket – gold-plated for the 50th anniversary of the first presentation – between two halves of a stylized maple leaf in beautifully polished golden wood, 'designed to represent a blast of flames'. Many of us were instead reminded of moose antlers, with the rocket rising between them like a horn. A moosicorn.

Everybody wanted me to phone Martin Hoare with the news at 4am British time, and indeed Terry Pratchett kept offering his mobile for the purpose, but pity stayed my hand. Besides, it is a closely guarded secret that Martin doesn't really get me out of bed in the small hours after accepting a Hugo: he just pretends he will. Except the year when against all expectations I won Best Short Story and he got carried away. (Hazel: 'Martin, you pig.')

Sunday 31 August

You don't want to know all the little details of convention and touristy routine. I bumped into Kim Stanley Robinson and mumbled the usual Hugo commiserations. 'After Years of Rice and Salt,' he confided, 'I'm going to write short books, perhaps comedies.' Next, Peter F. Hamilton moves in a big way into villanelles. Stan R. also confided total inability to understand M. John Harrison's Light.... When the day's programme sheet appeared, it was revealed that the two items I really had to attend, the SF Encyclopedia panel (in my capacity as possible co-editor of the third edition) and the Sidewise Awards presentation (in my cunning Chris Priest disguise) were in successive slots covering the entire period of the fan funds auction. Oh, guilt.

The SFE panel was actually called 'John Clute's Encyclopedia of SF is 10 years old' – a title which John had struggled in vain to have changed, knowing all too well the geysers of wrath that can erupt from Melbourne when Peter Nicholls suspects he's being marginalized. Indeed John remained so fretful about this, and spent so much time inserting equal credit for Peter Nicholls on every possible occasion, that he nervily forgot to make several intended points. Or so he said, but it seemed fine to me, and I thought it unnecessary for Ansible to run his suggested public apology for not mentioning me enough. As for the Sidewise Award, Chris Priest was robbed, but what can you expect from a alternate-history jury on this side of the Atlantic when you write a tricky, subversive novel whose 'other' World War II ends before it gets interesting to Americans? The usual round of parties filled the evening: the Kansas City 2006 bidders seemed cheery enough despite having lost to LA, and in police fashion had marked the outline of the bid's corpse in tape on the floor. By now I had learned to stay up much, much later....

Monday 1 September

And at last I was sleeping better, snoozing happily until 10:48 and the realization that I was supposed to be doing an interview for radio, conducted by one Rick Kleffel, in the Royal York Hotel some distance away ... at 11am. A frantically sprinting figure might have been seen dashing down Front Street, plying a cordless shaver with simulated nonchalance. I was late, but apparently it didn't matter, since the Kleffel recording kit was suffering complex problems which I strove not to understand.

Emerging after what seemed an adequate interview, I met Rich Lynch of Mimosa coeditorial fame, who as his hair recedes looks more and more like James White, especially from the side. What, asked the acute Ansible newshound, would he and Nicki do after folding Mimosa? 'We're waiting for the economy to recover.' More random wandering, a little unscheduled autographing, and Torcon began to shut down. The book room closed outright; the exhibits area dwindled steadily.

Much bizarreness broke out at the closing ceremony, with Torcon chair Peter Jarvis gassed at his very lectern and superseded by Noreascon 4's Deb Geisler in a little Prisoner spoof: 'You are number 61 ... I am the new number 62.' He: 'I am not a number ... I am a free fan!' Then, of course, peals of mocking laughter. Sixty-two, once the magic gavel had been passed to Noreascon, also seemed to be the approximate number of their committee members who proceeded to fill the stage.

To climax this final event, George R.R.Martin's ill-concealed, Viagraesque longings were gratified at last. In the form of a glittering, inflatable Hugo rocket – liberated from the Noreascon party and fully seven feet long – George received The Even Bigger One.

All that remained was the Dead Dog Party, or Dead Beaver Party, over which we draw a merciful and sanitized veil. Looking back over the whole event, I reflected that, as is more and more usual, I'd enjoyed meeting people in small groups but didn't hear much at the very few programme items (especially the panels) that I attended. No blame attaches to others. Although I have to blame myself for being slow on the uptake when invited to what I belatedly realized – partly through slow reprocessing of words not entirely heard, and partly from preparatory rituals in the relevant hotel room – was a pot party. Being nervous of unusual chemical combinations so far from home, I extricated myself with some highly unconvincing excuse. (Appointment with dentist? Urgent need to wash my hair? Memory fails.) Apologies and thanks to the kindly party-giver....

Unsolved Mysteries of Toronto. Why, one day in the excessively posh mezzanine men's room of the Royal York, was there a small, neatly knotted plastic bag of (what certainly looked like) urine hanging inside the door?

Tuesday 2 September

Finally, curiosity overcame me and I looked behind the wall notice oddly placed at floor level by the Renaissance Hotel lifts: 'Please excuse our appearance as we conduct our maintenance repairs', sounding like the defensive apology of some unprepossessing crew of Morlock repairmen. As I'd rather suspected, it was covering a hole in the wall.

This was the 'extra' day I'd set aside to do touristy things with brother Jon, who'd madly planned to fly up from Chicago. But life had become complicated for him, as usual, with desperate house-hunting in order to move away from unspecified 'bad vibes' in his Chicago neighbourhood, the search interrupted by a sudden need to make an appearance in Nova Scotia, all this conveyed in terms of such chaos and confusion that it seemed he was moving permanently to Nova Scotia. Anyway, he didn't make it to Toronto.

Instead, prior to lunch with some of the NESFA people (more of my esteemed publishers), I walked down to Lake Ontario and peered into the enviably clear water just for the sake of having been there. Next came a peep behind the scenes of final closedown at the convention centre, where I marvelled as usual at the transformation of the bright dealer and exhibits areas to a single vast expanse of semi-gloom: exactly one ninth of the total lighting was active in these End Times.

My general instinct for second-hand bookshops took me on a long, long walk up Yonge Street, Toronto's main shopping road, which – in contrast to the posh parts of town that I'd come to know – grew steadily sleazier to the north. I resisted buying a t-shirt that modestly asserted:

Grubby little bookshops, often with porn sections at the back, started to appear as the street numbers passed 500. In number 584, Eliot's, I came across an old fan acquaintance, Taral Wayne, who'd contributed nifty artwork to my early fanzine Twll-Ddu and the first series of Ansible. He led me unerringly to Toronto's sf speciality shop Bakka, not a very taxing native-guide task since it was just a little further on at no. 598. There I committed typical acts of auctorial vandalism like signing their copy of The Space Eater, and tottered back south, sore-footed but happy, in search of dinner. One small item remained on the wants list, I remembered: a roll of packing tape. Around the next corner, just as though I were back in Reading, I found the local branch of Staples.

Wednesday 3 September

Time at last to face the challenge that had supposedly got a whole lot worse since 11 September 2001. How to take a massive, solid metal, very obviously rocket-shaped object through airport security? The kindly Torcon committee had offered free Hugo shipping containers – that is, the boxes they arrived in – but I didn't see this newsletter item until several hours after the relevant convention office had closed forever, with all surplus cardboard presumably junked. Instead I opted for the ecologically friendly 'wrapped in a couple of spare shirts in a paper carrier bag' option, and headed for the shuttle bus. Conveniently, my waiting time outside the Crown Plaza Hotel was occupied in chat with a passing fan who mentioned liking Thog but whose name, in this post-badge era, I failed to discover. 'At least I'm not the only fan left standing,' she said, as I tactfully left her standing and climbed into the airport coach. Toronto receded.

In due course, 28 kilometres later, the young woman at the X-ray scanner displayed a range of fascinating symptoms. Her jaw dropped, her eyebrows vanished into her hairline, she made strange inarticulate noises. I detected my cue and began: 'I think I know what you're looking at....'

And so, after a certain amount of very careful explanation, my 23rd Hugo came safely home to Britain. I really must try to give them up. Thank you, Torcon. Thank you, Canada. And thank you, fandom.