Running Commentary
Abi Frost

Ladies, why will you not do as you're told? Or was it not your fault, eh? I can't decide which is worse -- another Easter without a convention, or a convention full of wandering Scandiwegians. Sorry, Jackie; I forgot to tell you that I failed to make out with that millionaire after all. Never mind -- I'm sure it was an interesting change doing the washing up at the Gritti.

That was quite an interesting issue, last time; my discontent at what happened to my own masthead (that's the last time I let you do my copying, LK Pickersgill -- until the next time) was softened by the delightful discovery that computers can make literals too (second complete Periodical from the right in the second line, and repeating). Inspired by these incidents, I was going to produce a mammoth piece on fanzine design and photocopying technique; but the desire to produce a proper fanzine suddenly arose out of the blue, and so time and money restrictions have forced me to defer it. Next time, perhaps. (Sorry I can't send you all the proper fanzine, by the way, but I honestly don't think it will be of any interest to those who didn't get the last NeRB.)

So this here is a short interim apazine.


This morning I was out on the front balcony watching the London Marathon roll past. I can't think why the BBC don't put a camera on our balcony, or better still our roof; it would save them a fortune in helicopters. You can see the runners all the way down Poplar High Street, and half-way down the Isle of Dogs. Last year I was watching with a personal interest; an old mate of mine was running -- some of the time. His knee began to give out, and he walked the second half of the course, arriving at Jubilee Gardens just under six hours after the start. He was still just about running when he passed Robin Hood Gardens, though, and I ran beside him as far as the dock gates, having a chat. So I can say that I ran with the 1982 Marathon. Who says intellectuals can't perform heroic athletic feats, eh?

This year I was simply there for the spectacle. And it is spectacular, let me tell you. Not so much the small groups of front runners, though everyone gives them a big cheer; but the much larger crowd of ordinary bods that follow them. Looking down from above on all those multicoloured running shirts, all travelling at an even pace, is actually hypnotic.

Not having a friend to watch out for this time, we entertained ourselves by spotting runners in silly costumes. There didn't seem to be so many this year as last. Maybe the harshness of life in Thatcher's Britain is at last getting to the dotty element among the joggers? The strangest outfits I spotted were a man in what can only be described as a Potbelly falsie -- worn over conventional running gear -- and another man in (very unconvincing) drag, with a 'no-U-turns' road sign on his back. Could it have been some sort of political comment?

I suspect that some of the less outrageous oddities are worn simply so that a runner's friends can spot him. How else do you explain the runner wearing odd (pink and green) fluorescent ankle-socks? You could certainly see him coming a mile off, but that's about all you can say for the idea.

There didn't seem to be so many women running as last year, though actually, with all those skinny super-fit bodies in identical shorts and singlet, it's surprisingly hard to tell the difference; and I didn't see any women in costume. Perhaps this is because, unlike the costumes at sf cons, where there is an element of glamour and of displaying a private fantasy image, runner's costumes inevitably make the wearer look comic. I can see that women runners may be afraid enough of looking foolish (the bouncing boobs syndrome), without deliberately adding to it. Oddly, though, in other contexts it's always the men who worry about being laughed at.

This may, of course, be the last Marathon I get to watch. The event is threatened by a dispute between T Banks, GLC Arts and Leisure supremo, and the people who run the Marathon itself. Briefly, the Marathon people don't want to do anything (like letting in 'runners' in wheelchairs) that would threaten Amateur Athletic Association accreditation (how's that for alliteration?); while Banks (a great 'community arts' wallah) prefers to see it as a great glorious folk festival for the ordinary disabled gay single parent people of London, and is not at all interested in attracting top runners (who won't come without AAA status, since any records set won't be internationally recognised). Yes, folks, the elitism issue!

As far as I can see, though, the reason why ordinary people are so interested in entering the Marathon is precisely that they can run in the same event as international champions. It's easily the most democratic sporting event in Britain. I just can't see a People's Fun Run having the same appeal; especially when you consider that to manage the course at all people do have to put in some months of serious training.


Yes, folks, the existence of high standards does encourage people at the lower levels!



This is madness. The nearest I usually get to sport is working out how to win a fortune on by-election accumulators, and then getting cold feet outside the betting shop. I know perfectly well that I don't stand a chance where horses are concerned, but I seem to have a fairly sound instinct for the winners of elections; not to mention the Times Guide to the House of Commons for 1970 (which I found, along with lots of other useful reference books, in the street once, thrown out by the Taiwanese Trade Delegation library), by way of a form-book. But in the end I always lose my nerve.


What about Darlington, eh, Lilian? Take my advice, and join the Liberals now. At least that way you stand a chance of being reasonably pleased by the results over the country in a General Election. The Alliance, as such, simply cannot survive long into the next Parliament.


I will tell you why (though it's bleeding obvious, really) when we know the date of the Election. For now, my main worry is that the Hag will call it for mid-June, just before my exams, thereby depriving me of a chance to hold an election party. I've been secretly planning this do since 1979, so it would be a bitter irony if I couldn't hold it after all.


I reckon that in June we would get a Conservative government without an overall majority, which would not be able to hold on for more than a year. So maybe I'll get my party after all.



I went to the BSFA meeting on Friday, to distribute my proper fanzine, and to my surprise found it rather enjoyable. I am as determinedly anti-sercon a fan as you will find; there are plenty around who've given up reading sf, but I never read it to any extent in the first place.


In spite of such impeccably fannish-fan credentials, I do wander in and out of the programme items at cons. An intelligent discussion is an intelligent discussion, after all, and has some interest even if one doesn't quite know all the original works to which the discussion refers. Further, I think it's the programme that gives a particular con its flavour, very often, and also its unity; it's the public side of the convention, the part about which everyone can have an opinion -- the one thing that may get strangers talking in the bars. The most famous example of this, of course, is the Watson unilateralism thing of Yorcon II, which (apart from anything else) suddenly changed a rather laid-back con into a con full of heated conversation.


Fanroom programming, however, rarely has anything like this effect. I have registered elsewhere my annoyance at the way silly games have taken over from fanzines as the theme of fan programmes; but in the few fanzine panels there are, there is always something rather stilted and artificial. I think it has to do with the layout of the room; table with panel of 'experts' above, chairs with punters below. Of course, in any fanroom, there are more fanzine experts in the audience than there are at the table. So no wonder it all seems a bit peculiar.


At the BSFA meeting, the advertised speaker from Warrior comics didn't show, so a scratch panel of comics fans was assembled for a general discussion on the state of comics. But since this was just a room in a pub, they were sitting on the same level as the rest of us. Result -- a good and dynamic discussion, with contributions from all around.

Conclusion should be obvious.


This leads to the idea of elitism, again. When I first entered fandom (not so long ago -- '79), though there was obviously a top group, so to speak, and they weren't any keener on sharing their drinks with total strangers than they are now, people didn't seem to use the terms 'BNF' and 'famous fan' as they do now. (They were used -- but ironically.) Now, people really do talk as though there are two cultures.

I can think of two possible reasons. One is the emphasis on entertainment at cons; this naturally leads to a split between the entertainers and the entertained. All those games in fanrooms do, after a while, give the participants the air of television personalities.

The other is a change in the style of fanzine writing -- especially in such things as convention reports. Take the Joe Nicholas joke, for instance. This has all but vanished. There used to be an entertaining tension between the hard hitting KTF Joe of review and letter columns, and the mild, chiffon-scarf wearing, somewhat ineffectual creature who appeared in convention reports. But people no longer describe personalities as they used to; all the emphasis in reports is on events. So the Nicholas joke is lost to the culture for ever, except among those who know the man personally. In Joe's case, he actually suffers as an individual, since he's been cast as a folk demon without the old leavening of humour. Now, all you have to do to get a gratifying hiss from the gallery is mention his name.

The only way to bridge the gap between so-called famous fans and the rest is for the rest to start contributing something, and stop expecting other people to play up to them. At least in this apa there's a start.

Running Commentary comes from Abigail Frost, 69 Robin Hood Gardens, Cotton Street, E14. I've just done some sums and realise I may not be around next issue -- exams will be looming. Hope to manage it -- but if not then not....

The Women's Periodical 6 (May 1983)