CADENZA (A solo passage for unaccompanied congoer)
It was a dank Thursday afternoon, when Andrew stepped on the train from Hackney Downs to Liverpool Street burdened with luggage and NeRBs and tape recorder and tapes of Bach to plug into when things got boring. 'Why' asks the naive and intrusive reader,' was Andrew going to Liverpool Street when you catch the Brighton train from Victoria?' -- Because, o dolt and smartass, he was going to his bank to take out some overdraft to buy drink with and his bank is in the city. From there he meant to go to the B.B.C. to drop some work but as it happened and n. and i. reader would have noticed, had he not been bothering his tiny mind with the minutiae of Andrew's itinerary, three heavy envelopes of Beeb work were not among the burdens listed in the first sentence. Shrugging his shoulders when he realised this, Andrew proceeded immediately to Victoria working out that taking the work in might have been virtuous but would not in the real world have got him paid any earlier. So it was ho! for Victoria and the Europa bistro where the onion soup is now undrinkable and twiddling his thumbs for an hour until the excellent Rachel Pollock turned up to share a fairly boring train journey in a carriage full of Gatwick-goers who drop their luggage on your feet every five minutes. The journey was spent in Rachel refusing to tell Andrew the plot of the novel she has got coming out from Berkeley/Putnam next April (called 'The Golden Vanity' and bound to be super -- Advt.) and in both yelling at each other about whether the fact that Cordwainer Smith was an objectionable person made it more or less likely that he was a science fiction writer worthy of consideration. Hardly had they got to the Metropole when the Ultimate Underperson in the shape of the very wonderful Grahame Kent who does not have a tattoo at all lumbered up and tried to make them go to the bookroom even before they had registered. Amazingly Grahame and Rachel did not react like matter and antimatter but maintained a scrupulous and (in both cases) uncharacteristic mutual tolerance for the whole weekend -- see, it's true that fandom binds us all together in vast throbbing unity. We do not want a suit from a Member of the English Bar nor the more deviously constructed vengeance of a professional tarot reader so we will not explain the 700 reasons why Andrew had dreaded this particular encounter from among all the potentially embarrassing clashes of his close and incompatible friends -- suffice it to say......
ON NOT HAVING TO HAVE SOMEONE SIT ON YOUR HANDS
Rachel went off to find a hotel and so Andrew let Grahame take him to the books and Andrew realised that he had reached the age of discretion or something like it because the only thing he wanted to buy was the new Delany -- 'Tales of Never Yawn'. Grahame on the other hand jumped around uttering little trills of glee at the sight of all these books and had to keep asking Andrew whether these were titles he'd never seen before or simply, well, titles he'd never seen before.
One of the things about social democrats and academic lawyers is that they have this curious otherworldly quality. Andrew decided that Grahame should not be let near the upper gallery with its second-hand dealers until he had learned a little about the facts of life. We then went into the conhall to the panel on sword and sorcery which had the wonderful Fritz Leiber and the excellent Tanith Lee but also the bloodsodden and boring Karl Wagner. Most of Thursday was spent wandering around in a disgruntled haze being told that NeRB was good and/or illegible and in saying hello to people and having to explain to Grahame who they were. Still, lovely chap that he is, he kept pouring drink into Andrew who can't complain. Andrew put Grahame on a train for Littlehampton and rendezvoused with Peter Garrett, humanitarian and whale expert who was putting up Andrew and Abi and Kate Jeary when and if she emerged. In the absence of the lastnamed double act Pete was putting up a fellow Friend of the Earth who was exceptionally pleasant courteous and seriousminded and whose name and face have slipped irrevocably into the mists of time..... Peter serves an excellent breakfast and lots of Prewett's deLuxe muesli. Three knives and forks.
I DON'T LIKE FRIDAYS
Andrew doesn't really know what it was but something went seriously wrong with his convention at this point. Part of what it was was a raging toothache and part a splitting headache and part a severe pain in the left kneecap which made him limp like a cyborg with rusty parts. If he was in the fine tradition of English comic writing he would be capable of making something very amusing out of all this but it won't wash. The gloom was relieved by R.L. Fanthorpe's talk about all the Badger Books we were too virtuous and sensible to buy when we were little. The memory that sticks most firmly wasn't realising that wearing a hat in the Meet the Celebrities session might lead to embarrassing moments or saving Pringle from having to discuss Plato with Brian Stableford by throwing Stableford Grahame to discuss Plato with -- it is sitting in the foyer being bold by Mike Dickinson how grotty he was feeling. Clearly there was a malaise -- perhaps it has to do with the fact that none of us had really got into training for a five-day event and were just starting to face up to the implications. Anyway, groan, moan, too much to drink and lots of Bach and early to bed and gloom and doom and thank God I enjoyed the rest of it because Friday nearly finished me.... If it had been a mystery con there would have been blood up to the gun-whales (or should that be gunsels).... Down this mean con. a person must go, a person who is not mean themself but the cause that meanness is in others.... All cons are like a woman; this one was like Andrew's Estonian ex-landlady, incomprehensible, demanding and interminable.... The exhaustion is ever present and one to which you have grown slowly conditioned over the years. You have learned to adjust to odd waking hours and shorter sleeping hours. The tedium, is another thing again ... and the disgust ... and the confusion ... If you can no longer tell one con from another, one bleeding hulk from the next then how is August different from April? In fact Andrew left so early that walking down mean seafronts to Peter's house he almost got there before Peter caught up and gave him a lift. Next morning it was rush, rush on to a bus in the rain to hear the Leiber interview. But hardly had he found a seat and got involved with listening to the Great Man than he became aware of a Presence beside him.
MEANWHILE SEACON CAME TO ABI LIKE A JUNKIE MUGGER ON THE STAIRWAY OF A SLUMLORD'S BROWNSTONE.
What actually happened was that on the Thursday afternoon she was reading the New Statesman over a McDonaldburger in the office. Specifically a four-page in-depth investigation (it wouldn't have happened in Crossman's day) into female circumcision in the Sudan. As anyone with half a brain might have predicted, she first went into a cold sweat then fainted. Consciousness recovered though not raised she staggered into the Press Office (always full of idlers reading their reviews in Ritz, Harpers, Country Life, Arts Review etc) and said 'I've just fainted.' The Press Officer's Secretary assumed authority, whistled martial music and sent her home.
On Friday she stayed in bed getting more and more bored, Friday night she thought 'Sod this for a laugh, I'm going to Seacon!' Previously she had swopped 'I'll go if you will's with Judith Clute, but had really found the thought of 80 million foreigners too much. (The Clutes are Canadian, thus really English.)
In the morning it was raining and the carefully-chosen train did not have a beer car after all. But on she went. She decided that the Metropole must be near the sea and so pointed herself in a seawards direction. When she reached the sea a man pointed her in the wrong direction. She might be wandering the coastline today but for some Scandiwegian fans she met sheltering in the porch of their overflow and overflowing hotel. Back through the guttering flood. Could it get worse? Might it get better?
LONG TIME NO SEE
Her instructions were to get the reception desk to page Andrew. The rec. d. said that she had to go upstairs to page him. The next thing she saw was the registration queue. Desperation, residual illness or sheer arrogance put into her mind the thought 'That is for FOREIGNERS'. She swam as it were through the hordes coming down the stairs to be stopped by a security man. 'But -- I want to ... I'm only trying to ...' 'Go down and register!!!' Any minute now it was the nightstick and the castor oil. Two famous fans tried to come to her rescue, 'Can we be of any assistance?' said one. 'Oh hello' said the other.'No' she whimpered, 'I'm in the way, I'm useless, I'm stupid'. 'Can you speak up a bit?' said the first. Down in the foyer they were giving out registration forms to be filled in in advance. Abi, penless, used bright red lipstick and somehow her badge was made out as FROST, ABIGAIL which meant the rest of the con was punctuated by people saying is your name really Frost (well it is actually) but the badge got her past the gorilla and to the side of Jeff -- who said that Andrew was watching Leiber....
HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG'S ALL HERE
Abi flung her arms around her beloved and was sternly hushed -- 'I'm taping'. Abi found Leiber v. interesting but it has gone from her mindlet now. Grahame bounced from another part of the hall ('Bounce' is a term of art when applied to Grahame -- go ask Abi or read A. Milne) and after a quick nostalge over D. Dare, Grahame and Abi went off to the fan room while Jeff and Andrew muttered a plot. The Fan Room struck Abi as large and comfortable -- Grahame complained about the price and quality of the beer. On the reappearance of Andrew and Jeff the quartet wandered a block or so to find some quite decent pastrami sandwiches and a pub where Grahame was prepared not to moan about the beer. Andrew reminisced dreamily about jolly Young Liberal japes in Brighton -- driving minis across hotel lawns in total stupor -- the others expressed horror at such anti-social behaviour. Back like good little people to hear Aldiss on Stalin's heads. Grahame decided erroneously that we were as bored as he was and said 'What about all these parties then? There's a Scandiwegian party on the notice board. Let's go there -- they drink a lot.'
The Scandiwegian party was not as it turned out on a notice board but in a suite upstairs. Across the corridor was the HQ of the movement for sending nice young people who voted for the EEC into space. Abi and Grahame were delighted, at this prospect -- for different reasons. Andrew flustered in -- 'Come quick or they'll send you on a rocket' -- tugging at their clothing. Abi came quite fast; Grahame staggering under a heap of posters and leaflets. Lots of acquavit, vodka, whisky, beer, Presence of P. Anderson, rapture of hero-worshipping Grahame, Andrew skulking in corners fearful only lest J. Chalker loom out of one of them. Grahame unable to understand fearless critic not wish to meet Great Man. Abi was drinking hard -- 48 hours to catch up, A. slipped off to meet Jeff and put Phase 2 into operation. Abi and Grahame sat and talked: 'I'M enjoying this' said Grahame, 'I think. I ought to go to more conventions. When's the next convention I can go to. I mean, it strikes me that what you need at a science fiction contention is ...' then, striking fists against thigh, 'how can I hold my own science fiction convention?' Abi chased her acquavit meditatively.
Grahame had a new idea: 'Excuse me, you don't mind if ... I ... leave you here alone.' - 'Oh not at all' in demurest of little voices -- 'I really must go and have a chat with Poul. Abi slid to floor and had an amiable chat with the drunk next to her. Suddenly there was a competitor to the shrill of 'Look Poul what you really need in a science fiction novel is'.... Two smartly dressed Japanese were at the door being loudly berated by a plump back. 'I've found that Japanese publishers don't do anything to sell my books. They never send royalty statements; they don't send me a copy of the translations' -- 'Ah so, honouhable Mr. Blunner' they bowed as Abi, whistling 'The H-Bomb's Thunder' under her breath, snuck off to the Fan Room to find Andrew and Jeff disgruntled at partial failure.
HAIL TO THE CHIEF
And it was Ho! to an Indian meal with Grahame and Jeff and Graham James and lots of northern heavies. You have to be v. careful when you go to Indian restaurants with strangers or you get 'I'll have two of those with some rice' -- 'And I'll have egg and chips' -- 'I want a poppadom' -- 'And I'll have some pickle.' You end up with a trebled bill and everyone drowns in a sea of rice. It's even worse in Chinese restaurants. Andrew realised that he didn't know if everyone present was sound and did the only possible thing -- he seized total power and a waiter and dictated a comprehensive order before anyone could interrupt. The last time he played the person on horseback was in a civil service economics training computer game when to the embarrassment of a number of smooth monetarist thugs he transformed 300% inflation to a balanced budget by a series of totally random stabs at a computer terminal; this time everyone got well and economically fed. M. Saltiel please note (Non-fannish joke).
80 MILLION EYES
After a struggle for seats we watched the fancy dress parade. Katy Davis wore 15-foot wings and little else worth mentioning. Grahame's eyes bulged on stalks and he yelled Corrrr! and whistled incessantly. Abi suddenly realised that Grahame was not the only one making disgusting sexist noises. Andrew's lips were primly sealed. It could only be ... 'Jeff' she slapped his wrist 'Apart from the sexism....' 'Sure' he smiled enchantingly 'but one has to get into the spirit of the thing!' Oh God, awful and endless sub-J. Mitchell song from dreadful American in gold paint and the Scotch sword fight again and B. Burgess in his Rorke's Drift memorial get-up; must send one to Gussy.
Then we went to some parties. This is all a bit confusing. Now the Baltimore or was it Texas 1 was definitely before Australia because otherwise we wouldn't have understood when that woman tore bourbon from our hands crying 'The very idea! That's Tucker's.' Was the Scandiwegian still going on or was that some other scands or was that some other night? ... Those nice Baltimoreans were Members of the American Bar and taught us to say 'Smoooooth' (Yes we know it's v. uncool and tout cela but give us Bourbon and we'll say 'honorificabilitudinitatibush'), Texas where Grahame got in over his head about Vietnam.
Clute asked us to come and talk to Josephine Saxton, good writer; Grahame left behind explaining social democracy and Kent party line on dope to bemused and befuddled Texas anarchists. After a bit a starstudded throng headed for parties was stopped in its tracks.... A whole landing was throbbing with the negative vibes of the Platt-Pournelle Encounter. Not since Whistler and Ruskin.... Dung-coloured safari jacket vs. ice-cream suit. Platt drawn up to full height languorously and grittily chewing Pournelle's knees -- not since Ali and Lister.... (Slightly earlier Andrew and Grahame had spotted Pournelle and Chalker chuckling 'Pournelle and Chalker enjoying a joke with a friend' -- 'Yes' said Grahame 'one not involving the deaths of more than half a million sentient beings'). Eventually it was realised that this could go on all night and the throng thronged on.
At the door of the SFWA room stars were filtered from plebs; by supersmooth footwork M. Edwards became a star, delicately closing the door in his betrothed's face. She and we and Pringle went up to Australia and the Bourbon incident -- we were rescued by Cherry Wilder, a smart nice lady who knows critics when she sees them. Back down to Texas. Not since Jules and Jim, not since Palamon and Arcite ... Not since Philby and Maclean.... A cool Texas blonde was basking in the fervid rivalry of Grahame and Peter Garrett. How embarrassing. Party on stair -- Dorey and Higginso writhing in interlocked and inextricable drunkenness. Not since David and Jonathan ... Abi steps on Collick -- dull moan ... Lord Derick of Fandom stomps Grahame's drink -- Grahame swears drunken and improbable oath never to shop there again. Attempt to teach Yanks round Filthy Pierre (aka Gross-Out Jacques) Harry Pollit song and Red Fly the Banners. Too drunk to remember the words -- debacle. T. Lee drift past with what appeared to be groupies -- Abi contemplate writing a sword and sorcery novel. The lovelorn Garrett drove us home.
A long breakfast ended in time for Bob Shaw. Abi wandered off and took photos of the architectural beauties of Brighton e.g. the multi-coloured Festival of Britain hedgehog. She then went on the pier and did going-on-the-pier things but alas all the Drunkard's Dreams and Mary Queen of Scots Execution machines have gone off to antique shops in Stoke Newington. Andrew flaked out in the tea lounge and heard a moving complaint: 'Everywhere I go it's bloody dragons made of pipe-cleaners jumping out at me. Have you ever tried to stuff a ten-foot white plush dragon on to Concorde?' Appreciating as never before the Trials of Great Artists (Joke) Andrew trickled into the lobby where he was told that his country needed him. Hentyesque Grahame was in sixth heaven -- at last playing for England against Australia. The returning Abi trailed along; this should be good for some candid blackmail shots. Cricket with a plastic ball,a lot of the heavily intoxicated and a pebble beach is a whole new ball game, England won because of the excellent K. Smith and because the Australians were drunker. The England Captain (M. Dickinson) tripped gently away. We then decided to give vent to a side of our nature which shocks those who think we spend our time looking after the poor and oppressed; we went for a cream tea in the lounge, an expensive cream tea -- even more expensive when you consider that the only available table was covered in other people's cream teas which had not yet been taken away. The pot of tea brought was minute and we had to ask for hot water to go with it. The advertised clotted cream was imperfectly whipped and runny. The advertised scones were one each. When this last transpired we turned as one to Grahame and said in unison 'Trade Descriptions Act?' Grahame put on his wig and gown, sat on the other side of the sofa for ten minutes, thought, sent a bill to our solicitors and said 'Trade Descriptions Act'. So wo recalled the waiter several times. When he eventually came we made a FUSS; he had obviously never seen any such thing before and had to go off to find the manager who must have been fearing this day because after a time the waiter brought three more scones. We ate up looking as snotty as you can with cream all over your nose. The meal that night took place in a Greek restaurant in deference to Ms. Jeary who had now arrived and chose a disgustingly sweet wine which miffed Abi who can hardly get Kebabs down as it is. And then to a pub where the Leeds mob said some amusingly indiscreet things into Andrew's tape recorder.
At the Hugo ceremony we stood on the balcony being Fans against the Dragons rather loudly. Grahame had to be sat on in the interests of the party line when Anderson beat nice Mr. Disch. The English felt a little out of it; not only were our boos drowned by cheers most of the time but we had little affinity for various tedious Yank rituals which had obviously gone on since the dawn of time. Then off to the fan roam and punch from tea urn and the first instalment of exhibitionistic bop. Then Grahame lurched up with a stump in his belt. 'Why have you got a stump in your belt' said Abi. 'I want to show my grandchildren the stump from when I played for England against Australia' -- 'Well as long as you don't expect me to burn it for Ashes here and now' -- Grahame 'Let's go and see if the Scands are still at it. I've drunk all the punch'. Up to Texas 2 in lift. Andrew teased Grahame by not telling him that the small fat bearded man in a very silly velvet DJ and frilly shirt at which Grahame was casting Oxonian barbs was in fact Larry Niven, another Grahame hero. Down to bar where T. Lee agreed with Andrew about symbolism and style in her work -- these writers know what's good for them.
GIVE THE BOYS A GREAT BIG HAND
Endless wandering ended when Kate pointed out that she was invited to the Gophers' party and took Grahame and Abi into it. Not wanting to push it Andrew waited around until the nice J. Maudsley turned up and he looked so pathetic that she got him in by holding his hand. The room was very quiet because everyone was watching the belly dancer. The peace was broken by an ear-splitting whisper 'My god, I mean, that's disgusting' -- 'Shut up Grahame' -- 'I mean that's the one thing that's really disgustingly sexist' -- 'Shut up Grahame' -- 'I mean how can any woman stand up and. oppress herself doing that sort of thing in public. How can you watch it Abi?' Abi decided not to point out the doublethink involved in such statement from the man who would have bounced at K. Davies wings and all if there had not been millions in the way. More bopping. M,Edwards is quite good at it really. Grahame drank lots of beer and went and sat with shy C.J. Cherryh who five minutes later ran out of the room looking at us with infinite compassion and fellow feeling. (The description of the incident that follows is in Grahame's words) 'Well I noticed that she had a phallic lump of metal with her but I didn't realise that it was a Hugo until I sat down. But I was equal to the occasion -- I said 'Well Madam you may have a Hugo but I've got a stump!' Andrew chatted to D. Harris about their mutual friend C. Tookey and the Tookey Dinner Special. (In the days before Tookey had settled down permanently with his beloved he used frequently to invite young ladies round for a gourmet meal tete-a-tete in his flat. One always knew when this was about to happen by the appearance in the kitchen cupboard of a small tin of Shippam's chicken supreme, a tin of asparagus and a packet of Bachelor's dehydrated flavoured rice. We can only hope they got something nice to drink.) There was also a fat man who went on about how the Jamaican government had assassinated him. Abi meanwhile was talking to Graham England saying 'Oh look there's Andrew boring Douglas Adams'. England: 'Oh Andrew that bloody man with the enormous beer gut?' Always ready to join in slander of her beloved Abi said 'Yes'. -- 'That man has been getting up my nose all con. He keeps coming round saying can he help with anything and getting in the way' -- 'Are you sure' said Abi 'He's been with me most of the time. I don't see when he could have done that' 'Well he has' say G. England 'I hate him. He's absolutely foul and disgusting and revolting. I could cheerfully kill him. He is positively subhuman,' At this point it looked as if there might be a fight; Martin Hoare supersecurity pulled out his pocket calculator and spoke to it. Abi defused the situation by touching G. England's elbow and saying 'But Graham before you go any further remember you are speaking of the man I love'. G. England nearly collapsed. 'You ... love ... that. You poor ... Oh, hang on, you mean that tall chap talking to Adams?' Leaving England to find a Jamaican hit squad, back to Garrett's and sleep. Andrew and Kate had to walk and did so so like the wind that they arrived almost as fast as the car.
'THERE IS NOTHING GLAMOROUS ABOUT A MAN WITH A HATCHET IN HIS HEAD'
More breakfast amid vague hangovers until taxi arrived to take us and luggage to the Metropole. Peter wanted to lounge, we wanted to see Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. Abi saw a programme about making an animated film which was pretty yucky but interesting to see in the pre-final stages. Afterwards there were questions of which the most intelligent was 'Why are the dog's ears flopping downwards?' Abi walked out in disgust nearly destroying the projector in the process. She then walked back in again. What shall we say of Captain Kronos? 'On one level a deeply moving celebration of working class experience in some century or other, on another an exploration of the everpresent core of sexism in Central European bourgeois and genteel society.' We especially liked the bit where the heroes tried, in several messy ways, to kill their mate who had been vampirified. It was now time to pay our debts and time also for the fine old tradition whereby Andrew and Abi and Kate search in vain for a restaurant at 2 o'clock on Bank Holiday Monday. On this occasion we were joined by our creditor Mr. Garrett and by Grahame Kent who added his own particular spice to the occasion. The centre of Brighton was impassable because in vindication of NeRB's front cover the NF had actually shown. Indeed, a number of large muscular drunks with beady little eyes and hairs on the palms of their hands were sitting in the Chinese restaurant we found after hours of looking calling the waiter Charlie Chan and throwing prawn balls at each other. The trouble with Chinese restaurants is the way you burn your fingers lifting the dishes off those nightlight things; the trouble with Grahame in a Chinese restaurant is the way he tries to bureaucratise the sharing out of the food, making sure that each crispy noodle is divided into equal shares. Kate and Abi suddenly caught each other's eye and divided him into equal bits with flaying tongues and flashing eyes -- or would have done if Peter had not rehearsed the arguments for his being an intelligent species.
We mizzled off to the closing ceremony and then mooched in the bar and got a train with Pringle. Three depressed people read fanzines and chatted all the way to Victoria where we said goodbye to Pringle and went to get the bus to F. Park. The first bus that came was for Holloway -- so we ignored it. The second bus that came was also for Holloway only but it was hours later so we got on it. At Holloway we waited and waited until a passerby told us that there were no buses to F. Park because of the F. Park Carnival. You may think that this is a damp squib of an ending but in reality it is one of the vital and burning issues of our time. What right have people to get together over a bank holiday to drink a lot and and dance and sing and enjoy themselves when they ought to be washing their cars, eh? We stomped off to the pub muttering.
New River Blues 1½ (1979)