DOWN IN BRIGHTON
by Irwin Hirsh
(First published in Banana Wings 9, March 1998, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer)
If I learnt anything at Conspiracy '87 it is that not even fannish fandom can strut its stuff without the okay from a TV camera crew.
The production assistant marked the shot with the clapper-board, "Shot 99, Take 1".
"Take 1?" Jeanne Gomoll said to me as we waited for the director's okay, "Does that mean that if we don't get this right we have to do it again?"
We were there as part of The Early Greg Pickersgill Show, essentially the official opening of the fan programme. Jeanne was on stage as the TAFF winner, me as the GUFF winner. And for days after people would ask me if I've recovered from the experience. We didn't get it right but we didn't have to do it again.
Greg had come to the panel without allowing himself time to relax and plan the Show. One moment he's deeply involved in setting up and running the Fan Room, the next moment he was fronting the panel designed to set the tone for the whole fan programme. And as Greg put it a month later: "The fan programme had a lot of interesting stuff on it, but all the TV crew got was 15 minutes of me ranting and raving."
He used those 15 minutes to work out the frustrations which has built up over the previous days. As he paced around the stage he resembled a boxer getting ready for a fight, only here he was trying to unwind. It was Greg fitting into his mythic image. He was at his best and at his worst.
For a quarter of an hour he tried to get a thread going through the panel. Occasionally some good, Ratfannish lines would creep in. Stopping mid-sentence he advised us to "never support a bid at this hotel. Even if the opposition is L.A." Some sharp comments about a number of the protagonists in the TAFF Wars caused a laugh in the audience, but Greg wouldn't let his mates off that easily. "We had to work hard to rig it so you won," he told Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, while Mike Glicksohn received a description of what was required to ensure he finished a respectable second. We all recoiled a bit from this, relieved that some other TAFF Wars protagonists weren't in the room.
But when he started on me.... In the previous five days whenever someone would ask about what panels I'd be appearing on the words "interview with Greg Pickersgill" would prompt all sorts of anecdotes of horror. Sitting up there I'd like to think I was prepared for anything. Whether I survived the experience is another matter. Not being quick on my feet didn't help; being vague probably gave Greg the impetus to keep at me. Ted White was invited onto the stage and he just took the baton from Greg, rather than taking the panel down a different lane. With an evil glint in his eye Ted began by asking me to justify Australian fandom to him. It's one of those questions which can't or shouldn't be answered. Or perhaps the question is answered by being asked. But I wasn't thinking straight and at that point more-or-less gave up.
It would've been an unreal way of starting Conspiracy, except that by then we'd been in Brighton for more than a day and had already found some sort of footing. The previous afternoon John Harvey chauffeured Wendy and I, the luggage of five Aussies, and boxes of GUFF auction material down to Brighton. Upon hitting the town we found some Doppelganger Worldcon was also going on, with Royal Automobile Club signs pointing us to the "World S.F. Comm 87". But John knew enough about Brighton not to be misguided by the signs; "Eve and I got married just over there" he told us at some point along the main road into the town.
After unloading the car, checking into the hotel, getting an idea of the convention facilities and the surrounding streets, we became part of the crowd which inaugurated the Fan Room. While a section of the who's who of British fandom did their bit to get the room into shape a group of Aussies, North Americans and a lesser section of that British who's who had a good time enjoying ourselves. Later on I discovered that the Fan Room wasn't meant to be open to JoePhan Public, but the Metropole Hotel management had opened the room's bar, which somewhat stymied the Fan Room staff's aim of having the room solely for setup.
Among the people I met that evening was Maureen Porter, who told me she would like to spend time in Queensland and gave me the first of the many fanzines I would receive over the long weekend. She was in a bright, cheery mood, happily 'working the room', leaving behind hands holding stapled bits of blue paper wherever she went. Lucy Sussex and Jenny Blackford came over to introduce someone to me. But no introduction was necessary; between staying with him when I visited Detroit in 1980 and his DUFF-losers report appearing in the just-published issue of Sikander I didn't require a memory prompt to recognise Cy Chauvin. Because Wendy had never heard of Cy until the day his DUFF-losers report arrived in our mailbox she told him about my habit of ringing home to find out what is in the days mail. Unfortunately she was pointing her anecdote in the wrong direction. "If my cat could talk I'd be doing the same thing," Cy told her. Then the BSFA-boss Paul Kincaid came over to introduce himself to the BSFA US agent, and soon we were talking about the oft-forgotten line between 'lit' and 'media' fandoms: whether it is better to read the book before seeing the film adaption or vice-versa. I still reckon the answer is that it doesn't matter which you do first, but that it is preferable to keep some distance between the two activities.
I knew the Fan Room and fan programme would be the center of my convention but at the stage I didn't know the degree to which it would form that core. The first and last programme items I attended was the convention's opening ceremony and a suite of plays based on some of GoH Alfred Bester's short stories, but everything else I saw were items on the fan programme. The first time I entered the Bedford Hotel was to attend the Dead Dog Party, went through the dealers' rooms only a handful of times and wandered down to the Brighton Conference Center only twice (to register and attend the opening ceremony, both of which I'd completed by 3 o'clock on the first day). I only had a brief look through the art show, long enough to be impressed with Fearful Symmetries (the showcase portion of the show) and put off by many of the generic images in the wider show, but not long enough to make any analysis of what took my eye.
The Fan Activities Area was a great place in which to hang out, meet people and get fannish. And because fans don't have celebrity status it also provided a bit of a buffer from the invasion of the L. Ron Hubbard acolytes. But we weren't immune from the Metropole Hotel's manager. The latter had chosen that week in which to redecorate some of the functions rooms, which included the room to be used for the Fan Programme. During the convention a wall outside the Fan Room became the place where people would pin up their hotel manager jokes. (At the end of the con these jokes were auctioned off to benefit some fannish charity. While the auction was proceeding down one end of the room, the hotel's bar staff were having a great time listening to what we had to say about their beloved boss.)
The group which worked in the Fan Activities section did a beaut job with the Fan Room. A large fanzine sales table at one end, a bar at the other (which never seemed to be open at the time I most wanted a drink - mid-afternoon - damm stupid licensing laws the English are inflicted with), displays of photos and fanzine covers and so forth on the walls (which were thoughtfully put together, being informative, amusing and made good use of the space). And there was lots of space in which to sit and chat. During the early part of the convention one of the Fan Room spectacles was Owen Whiteoak putting together his entry into the competition for best display. After years of collecting newspaper headlines which mention the namesakes of fans this was the place where he was putting his collection to use. He spent hours, or more likely days, pouring over the headlines, arranging and re-arranging them, trying for the best comic effect.
Meeting British fans I was often offered some Aussie connection, of which Maureen Porter's interest in Queensland is an example. Jimmy Robertson told me he used to work at Australia House. I went to say 'as a cleaner?' but thought that would be a bit too smart.
"Oh yeah," I offered dumbly.
"Yes, I worked as a cleaner."
Nick Shears and Dave Piper told me that they feel a stronger affinity with Australian fandom than with their own, British, fandom. The former because he got into fandom when living in his native South Africa. That was the time when fandom was most important to him. Being a member of ANZAPA was part of his activity back then, and he's been dropping in and out of ANZAPA ever since. With Dave it is because so much of his fan activity has been through the mail, where someone is as likely to connect with a person half way around the globe as with someone from their own city. And two of the people he "knocked about with" were John Bangsund and Bruce Gillespie.
I asked Nick about his feelings on the then political situation in South Africa, and he told me that apartheid will come down. He just wasn't sure when. When he emigrated from the country he thought the change would be in 5-10 years. When he visited his family some years later he left saying that change will occur in 5-10 years. "The next time I went there I again had that period in mind. Then I realised that my 5-10 years were getting no closer, only that things were going to happen. The signs are there." We joked that maybe because he has stopped trying to perceive a time for change maybe his expectations for change within 5-10 years would eventuate.
If just about every first conversation with a Brit took in some Aussie connection almost every first conversation with a North American included a comparison of our travel itineraries. Everyone agreed that to travel over for just Conspiracy didn't make sense and they'd incorporated the convention into a larger holiday, with a minimum of about two weeks. We meet Marty and Robbie Cantor and the usual first conversation ensued. "We arrived in Gatwick just two hours ago," Robbie told us, "and after the con I'll be traveling around for four weeks."
"I'm flying home on Monday," Marty added, "I have to start work on Tuesday morning."
I did a quick calculation and figured out that at the moment Marty goes back to work I'll still be in Brighton and the convention's dead dog party won't have started. I couldn't understand this; why travel all that way for not even the full convention. Speaking somewhat on behalf of all those other North Americans I'd been chatting to I asked Marty why he bothered, and was told that he couldn't get any more time off. "I would've just saved up my holidays for a later, longer trip," I said. Marty was happy with his choice and I promised to think of him when having my first drink at the dead dog's.
Back in the 1980s Carey Handfield was Australian fandom's face at Worldcons. A good example of this occurred when heading off down Kings Rd to get some lunch. Suddenly there was a loud greeting "Carey!"
"Oh. Hello!" went the cheery reply, and the two joined in an embrace. While we all stood around twiddling out thumbs Carey and his friend, hand on the other's hips, caught up with each other. "How have you been?"
After a bit Carey nodded in our direction and said he had to go.
"So, who was that?" we asked, eyebrows raised.
"Just a Texan who was at Aussiecon. I don't really know her."
"And he gets a hug and all."
During Conspiracy Carey was given many fanzines. Due to his aversion to supplying The Usual this struck me as odd, for it wasn't like the various faneds were going to receive much out of the transaction. Lilian Edwards and Christina Lake had a purpose in handing out copies of This Never Happens to Aussies which extended beyond The Usual: they were intending to stand for GUFF and wanted to gather some Antipodal support. It was a useful idea which came to nothing when they latter realised that the next GUFF trip was to a convention held over the same weekend as the Eastercon for which they were running the Fan Room. In any case, there they were in the Conspiracy Fan Room handing out copies of their fanzine. "Should we give Carey a copy?" one asked the other.
"Yes" said a gleeful Handfield. "No, don't," I advised, and began flicking back through the pages of my notebook. "Look it says 'People keep on giving Carey fanzines. I don't know why.'" I showed these words to Lilian, but it was all too late; Carey had got a copy and there was no way he was letting it out of his clutches.
As I made notes of this incident Lilian told me that if she was to appear in my trip report I had to remember that her name doesn't have a double L. This was a bit rich, since she'd earlier been telling me my surname should have a C in it. "Let's see," I pondered over notebook, "E-D-L-W-A-R-D-S?"
"That's right. Yep."
At the programme participants registration desk I met my first Continental European fan. While I waited for my registration package to be dug up a rather North-Central European looking chap came up and in a deep English-isn't-my-language accent said he'd like to register and announced his name. The woman behind the desk politely asked if he could spell his name and as he did so I discovered that I knew this fan.
"Roelof," I said as I stuck out my hand in greeting, "Irwin Hirsh."
"Hello," he replied and so we went down the introductory chit-chat route.
Mid-conversation I realised that he wasn't speaking with anything like that initial deep accent. "How do you pronounce your name?" I asked, "I didn't recognise it when you said it just before."
"Oh, that's just me having fun with my Dutch accent" and he pronounced his name again. This time he got it right.
While I'd been looking forward to meeting Roelof it was with a very different anticipation I had to meeting others. Through our trading we'd had a reasonable level of contact but Roelof injected only a minimal editorial voice into his fanzines and I hadn't been able to build up a broad image of what he is like. Chatting with him for just a few minutes in the registration area proved to be a great help in filling in the gaps. He told some horrible puns, which together with the exchange with the registration desk staff, indicated a love of language and accents that I previously hadn't been aware of.
I also had a trip-related reason for wanting to meet Roelof: he and Lynne-Ann Morse had been terrific in providing on-paper introductions to Continental fans. "We must buy you an expensive meal for all your help." But Roelof would have none of that. "Oh well," I said, "how about a number of cheap meals?"
The next day I meet Pascal Thomas, another person who had helped me with some on-paper introductions. John and Eve Harvey had told us that he is very hyper and talks very fast. He didn't disappoint. Come-and-stay-with-us-in-Toulouse-we-are-renting-a-four-bedroom-house-we- haven't-got-any-mattresses-but-we'll-get-some."
Since I'd be encountering the fandoms of many countries while on my GUFF trip I felt it would be a good idea to get a view of what lay ahead by attending the provocatively titled "What's Wrong With 'Foreign' Fans" panel. Roelof was moderating Steve Green, John-Henri Holmberg, Lucy Huntzinger, and Perry Middlemiss in a panel which didn't really help me. I guess my objectives were too precise for the panel's brief.
In any case about halfway through the hour I had a different sort of encounter with foreign fans. At one stage I noticed Pascal standing in the doorway scanning the room. It was Wendy and I who he wanted, but as soon as we'd made eye-contact he disappeared, closing the door behind him. Then the door opened; someone else was standing there, while a pointing finger came in from the left of the door-frame. The door was closed. A few seconds later the door opened again, a different someone else was revealed and the door was shut. This happened another two times, at which point Wendy and I took this as our cue to walk out of the panel. Earlier I'd asked Pascal if he could make sure that we meet some of the French fans he'd told us about. He'd responded by dragging a few away from the bookroom (which is where French fans hang out when at British-based cons).
Outside we discovered that the bodies which had just been modeled to us belong to Andre Francois Ruaud, Roland Wagner, Cathy Cuzon, and Charles Moreaux. Each in their own way look French, and as we were introduced I tried matching each to various styles of French film. Roland and Cathy would be in something set in the gritty music/club scene of Paris, Charles in some sort slice-of-life drama set in some non-Parisian city. I had trouble working out what films Andre would be in. He is tall and thin, and the only tall, thin French film character which came immediately to mind were those played by Jacques Tati, but Andre is no Mr. Hulot.
At the Fan Room bar I paid for the cheapest round-for-seven ever, as I was the only one who wanted something alcoholic. Over my beer, Andre, Charles, Pascal and I settled into a tight chat group. Pascal sang the praises of Avignon, where Charles lives, and straight away he had an invitation to come to visit. Andre asked about our Continental itinerary. Since we'd already arranged to stay with him in Lyon he had a keen interest in that regard. I explained that we were having problems scheduling the middle four weeks of our Continental tour because I would like to attend the Eurocon/French NationalCon. It was scheduled right in the middle of our two months, and I was having trouble fitting it in without, say, traveling from Rome to Montpellier and then back to Italy to visit further cities of interest. Our problems were solved there and then with the advice not to bother attending the convention. Expectations for the con were very low: little had been heard from the organisers, non-French attendance was going to be minimal, while the French fans were either not bothering to attend or would be doing so out of obligation.
I went to the hastily arranged panel about SEFF, the fan fund designed to strengthen the ties between the fandoms of Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. At the time the fund was under the cloud of a vote-rigging accusation, leveled by Ahrvid Engholm, that on the day before the voting deadline Scandinavian administrator Maths Claesson informed supporters of Anders Bellis that their man was 15-20 votes behind, and that he accepted the telephone and proxy votes which gave Anders a 5 vote win.
What intrigued me was not the accusations involved but that the British were taking it all in with some bemused indifference. At first I thought it was because they didn't want to get involved in another controversy so soon after the TAFF Wars, but then I noted that they don't regard SEFF as being theirs. TAFF and GUFF had been promoted through the Conspiracy progress reports and convention handbook, but not SEFF. And only six British fans had voted in the race under discussion. More Australians had voted in each of the 1986 and 87 TAFF races, and we don't have the luxury of a local administrator through which to send our votes.
The panel was intended to help clear the air. British Administrator Jim Barker was moderator and did his best to give the panel some decorum and keep things positive, but the panel lived down to its title "The SEFF Shambles". Maths agreed that he'd made mistakes but added that Ahrvid had also made mistakes when administrator. This lead to a silly discussion about who had made the most mistakes, with each accusing the other's as being the more important. Then Ahrvid began disputing the eligibility of some the voters, arguing that they aren't real fans. Of the names he listed one sent a shock-wave through the other end of the panel and they asked Ahrvid to justify himself. She'd been going to conventions and club meetings for years, but in Ahrvid's eyes that wasn't sufficient: she only did so because her husband was a fan. With that I decided to walk out. Also choosing that moment to exit was Joseph Nicholas. "No blood." I said.
"No, just complete wallydom," Joseph replied.
Back in the Fan Room I walked past a group of fans to whom Mike Glicksohn was confessing that he was stupid. I asked if I can quote him on that.
"Only if you get the context right," he said.
"Well I'll just say that I was walking past Mike Glicksohn and he was saying 'I'm stupid. I'm really stupid.'"
I sat down at a table where John Berry and Art Widner were talking about their experiences swimming in the Pacific Ocean. "I've swum in the Pacific," I said, "Two, maybe three, times." As they took in what I'd said I could see that I'd expanded the size of the Ocean beyond the boundaries of their conversation. "Oh, yes, you could," John said. It nevertheless somewhat strange. Each of us had traveled away from the Pacific to be there in the Conspiracy Fan Room - I'd flown over a good part of three continents, they'd flown over a different continent and the Atlantic - yet here we were talking about third leg of the around-the-world triangle. I didn't know it at the time but I was talking to the next two people who'd travel to Australia under the auspices of the
Saturday began in a frightful way. Late morning I was chatting to a group of people in the Fan Room when from behind me LynC was yelling out "A doctor! Can someone get a doctor!" As I turned around I saw that someone was on the floor having a seizure. Rather quickly a lot of things happened to me. With a couch between us all I could see of the person having a seizure were their legs. Looking around the room I couldn't see my wife. That's Wendy, I thought, stood up in order to help but then just froze. Seemingly within seconds, but in reality probably a minute later, Rob Jackson was in the Fan Room administering his medical expertise, by which time I discovered that it wasn't Wendy who was the person of everyone's attention. As I reflected on the incident I wondered where I was. Wendy is epileptic and while I've never seen her have a seizure of this magnitude I'm meant to know what to do in such a situation. I wasn't too pleased that when the time came to apply the theory I wasn't able to do much.
By late afternoon we'd reached a complimentary situation to the morning. Wendy and I were in dire need of a rest. The size of the convention was getting to us, and we didn't want the strain imploding in us. So we got away from the con and later went out for a long, quiet meal together. Refreshed we got back in time for me to take on a small, but crucial, role in Ian Sorenson's Fan Rock Opera "Live Libel". Apart from a few odd bits where I was part of the chorus my main duty was miming my way through a duet, "Seacon Nights", (an adaption of "Summer Nights", from Grease) which recreated Greg and Linda Pickersgill first meeting, 'the fairy-tale romance at Seacon '79':
The Opera was up (or down) to the standard I associate with the genre of fannish plays: fun and full of the fannish puns and jokes. Its fannish illusions were probably a bit too narrow for a Worldcon audience (even an audience attending an item in the fan programme), but so be it.
After the play Wendy decided to get in a good nights sleep, while I went in search of some parties. I dropped in at the Perth in 94 party for a while, then decided to see what was happening at Lilllian Edwards & Christina Lake & Simon Ounsley & Peter-Fred Thompson's party. When I got there the silence showed signs of Hotel Intervention, so I wandered down to the Fan Room. There I found Owen Whiteoak (who promised to think of something quote-worthy for my trip report) and Nigel Rowe (who asked me if I noticed in which direction water goes down the plug-hole when flying over the equator, a question which struck me as requiring some advance warning). At one stage we heard a bruhaha a happenin' and looking up we saw Greg Pickersgill holding back an intent-on-thumping-someone Martin Tudor. The scene required a double take. Martin Tudor so high-strung he wanted to thump someone? And Greg Pickersgill keeping the peace? "There go a couple of fandom-wide perceptions?" Owen said. Conspiracy was taking its toll and Saturday finished in a frightful way.