WHAT'S UP SKIP?
by Irwin Hirsh
(First published in WeberWoman's Wrevenge 52, June 1998, edited by Jean Weber)
Sunday afternoon saw the all important Australia versus England fannish cricket match, continuing the tradition of a pebble-beach match which began in 1979. The account I'd heard of that Seacon match was that England won but that it was a declared a draw as no-one kept score. This time we made sure someone was there to keep score.
This was beach cricket at its finest (or worst: the Brighton excuse for a beach has to be one of the worst beach-cricket pitches in the world). The bat and stumps were a set of plastic sand shovels, the ball had a 3D face on it (to which Perry Middlemiss noted that the correct bowling grip required a finger up the nose), and the umpire was an American who knew nothing about game. England, captained by Mike Dickenson, batted first and set us a target of 15 to win. "I haven't had so much exercise since the Swedish room party!" James Styles said at the conclusion of our stint in the field.
Perry and Justin Ackroyd were our opening bats and set up our innings with solid partnership
of 6. I came in at first drop, scored a run, and went out Shoulder Before Wicket. (This was
probably to make up for my opposing captain also being given out Leg Before Wicket, even
though he was a couple of strides down the pitch when struck by the ball.) As I trundled off Wendy asked that I be given a second life: "I didn't get a photo of him batting". Other Aussies - Cindy Evans, Clive Newall - came and went, all
the while slowly closing in on our target. Carey Handfield arrived late, delayed by some
panel duties. At the next wicket he went in to bat but was back on the sidelines half a
minute later. That's Australia's superfan for you: Didn't field, and out first ball. It
isn't hard to see why early in the year Carey was given a
I went to the Olde Farts panel, The Wheels & Hubcaps of IF - the most eagerly anticipated, and probably the best attended item, of the fan programme. And why not, with some of the leading lights of British '50s fandom - Arthur Thomson, James White, Bob Shaw, VinĘ Clarke, and Chuck Harris - talking about one of fandom's greatest eras? And with Chuck making his debut as a convention panellist, it was also to be a special time. It was an hour that had it's moments, especially through the bad jokes and puns Atom unleashed and when Vince talked about the cold war climate and the influence that had on his professional writing, but unfortunately it didn't meet the heights hoped for. The technology which got ol' deaf Chuck involved (Teresa Nielsen Hayden acting as his hearing aid, typing the conversation onto a computer so he could read it off the screen) should've been have put through a dry run or two. Not to ensure that the computer worked (it did) but to get everyone used to it all. Avedon Carol was the panel moderator and she often seemed to be too distracted by the computer to follow the way the panel was going and lead it down interesting avenues.
Back at the Fan Room bar I met Chris Priest, the man who thought up GUFF. He handed me a flier "Read today what you will be thinking tomorrow" it headlined. "In 1981, Richard Bergeron was described in Deadloss 3 as: 'A boring old fart'. Looked what has happened since!" With such prompting I couldn't not purchase a copy of Deadloss 5 or The Last Deadloss Visions,, an early edition of Chris's almost Hugo winning book about the most famous non-book in sf history. Chris celebrated our trading a fanzine for £2 by buying me a beer. I looked at the flier again. There was no mention of a free beer, but I wasn't about to complain. (The moral of the story: always purchase fanzines when the vendor is within arms length of a bartender.)
That evening Wendy and I missed the Hugo Ceremony for a meal with Perry, Joyce Scrivner, Elaine and Steve Stiles, Lucy Sussex, and Andrew Brown. Walking to the restaurant Andrew showed all the signs of someone who was on a convention high, making noises about getting Judith Hanna to be an English correspondent for "one of my fanzines." Since Andrew wasn't publishing a fanzine talk about a number of titles struck me as being dangerous stuff.
Pondering the menu at our chosen restaurant Steve allowed that he doesn't like duck or lamb. "So what is it that you have against Cute Food?" someone asked him. While Steve wondered how to come back from that one Perry gave me a nudge (metaphorically-speaking, since he was sitting across the table) and told me that globes of the earth are dangling from Joyce's earlobes. "They're my Worldcon ear-rings," Joyce explained as she jigged her head back and forth. "Ah yes," Perry said, "But have you rigged them so that each Worldcon site gets light up?"
During the post-meal wander, with an important Perry-lead detour via a pub, to the Metropole we ran into Joseph Nicholas, who filled us in with all the Hugo news. Special emphasis was put on Ted White's presentation of the Best Fanzine Award. "He made a carefully worded statement about how the award has often not gone the the best fanzines and how he hoped those who weren't well informed about fanzines didn't vote in the category. Then he opened the envelope and was shocked to find that a fanzine he cares about had actually won."
Just as we approached the Metropole the post-Hugo fireworks began. It was a most impressive agreeable event, resulting in a lot of ohhs and ahhs from the assembled masses. Joseph and I made suggestions for further improvements: "The fireworks should spell out the winners names," I said, "'Dave Langford'... 'L. Ron Hubbard'...." Joseph agreed, "And the final one can be: 'It's Over. Finished. So Fuck Off!'"
I would've liked to have attended Bryan Barrett and Lucy Huntzinger's Hawaiian Aid party, but official duties kept me from ever getting there. First off was joining Paul Kincaid, George Laskowski, Dave Langford and Waldemar Kumming on a panel discussing the Fan Hugos. When Langford arrived he deliberately put down his carry bag so that a clash of metal reverberated around the room. "Guess what I've got in here?" he asked.
The delay in getting the panel underway coincided with the length of time required to convince Paul that he was to be our moderator. ("Look, there is a '(M)' after your name, and look down here it says '(M) = Moderator.'") Once that was over Paul did the introductions and away we went. I used my standard lines about the biases in the award systems, though I suspect I phrased my comments in a way which were, unintentionally, insulting to the Hugo winners in the room. Waldemar noted that a problem with the awards is that they go to the English speaking community. George followed this by adding that for some time he's been advocating a parallel set of Hugos for non-English based fan-activity, a proposal which emphasises rather and addresses Waldemar's point. And all the while Dave sounded like he'd just come into possession of two of the rockets and has had a number of celebratory drinks. From the floor Patrick Nielsen Hayden was saying some useful stuff about the merits of the award. And as an aside he mentioned that the Hugo nominations he's received (for fan activity) were a useful addition to his professional resume.
Following the panel was the Fan Fund auction, where I acted as a runner. Heaps of money was raised for the Funds. More would've been raised but the bids for an Aussie-hat-with-corks didn't even reach the amount of money John Harvey had paid for the thing in 1985. "Instead of donating the hat to GUFF" John whispered to me, "I would've been better off just donating the money I spent on the damn thing." "Yes," I agreed, "And storing money for two years would've taken up less space." A copy of the banned-in-UK Spycatcher went for £18, while attempts to get rid of a signed hardcover Battlefield Earth came to nothing; twice it was included as the surprise in a job lot and twice it was immediately donated back to the Funds. A bundle of Richard Bergeron's Wiz went for £12 (Jeanne Gomoll: "And all you Brits were throwing your copies out...."), while Rob Hansen prefaced the auction of some Twll Ddus by displaying his Welsh heritage ("where I'm from this is pronounced twll ddu"). Soon John Harvey was up there also tossing around Welsh accents. But Greg Pickersgill, probably realising that at an auction time means money, would have none of that. He grabbed the Twll Ddus from Rob, announced "Well, in West Wales we pronounce it black hole" and called for an opening bid.
The next morning I was surprised to receive a letter from the Prime Minister of Australia, Robert 'Bob' Hawke. On Prime Ministerial letterhead and all. Not only that, but the thing was there in Conspiracy's daily newsletter for the whole convention to see! Well, truth be told, the letter wasn't addressed to me by name. 'Dear Member' was the greeting, a reference to me being a member of the 45th World Science Fiction Convention, and from there Bob went on to promote Sydney as the place for the 1991 Worldcon.
"So, why didn't Perth in 94 get a similiar letter?" I asked John McDouall of the Perth bid.
"Er, eh, er," John replied.
"I'd like to see is one of the US bids get one out of ol' Ronnie Raygun."
"Er, eh, er, yes," John said.
It was a strange thing that, apart from bids for the 1990 Worldcon, the biggest rivalry was between bids which weren't competing to host the same worldcon. As Plop!, the hoax edition of the daily newsletter, put it in their party list: "Australia in '91 & '94 - fighting it out On The Beach." Of the two the Sydney in 91 group had more presence at Conspiracy. But their cause wasn't helped by the large numbers of Aussies in Brighton, because we'd been given no reason to support the bid. The Sydney people had decided to promote itself exclusively to North America. It's not that I disagree with a Worldcon bid devoting a fair chunk of its energy to the land where most of the voters are, but they did no promotion of the bid in Australia.
Carey Handfield, Justin Ackroyd and I found many people seeking our opinion about the two bids. I didn't know the people behind the Sydney bid, not even by reputation, and because they didn't promote themselves to me I had no idea about their credentials for running a Worldcon. While I had nothing against the bid I also had no reason to be for the bid. I imagine Carey and Justin also did nothing to help promote the Sydney bid. And the reason our opinion was sought was because people knew us to have been as part of the Melbourne in '85 and Aussiecon Two committees; our past counted for something. I wasn't surprised when the Sydney bid lost by close to 1000 votes.
In mid afternoon Conspiracy's Special Fan Guest presented the final item of the fan programme, The Ansible Review of the Year, in which we received the Langford view of the year and convention to date. At the conclusion Dave gave out all the Fan Room prizes. There were awards to the winners of the various quiz panels (which included one to a team of which Dave was member; they won despite not getting the points to the question "What is the title to David Langford's first novel?"), while John Harvey received the award for the Best Fan Room display (don't tell Owen Whiteoak this, but it took John all of about three minutes to put together his prize-winner). Then out came the trophy for the winning team of the cricket match. Suddenly I didn't like the idea of being Australia's captain. The 'Ashes' was just that: a jar full of the debris of any number of Fan Room ashtrays. Dave and I did a variant of the standard award ceremony photographic opportunity; keeping at an arms-length from the trophy. In no time at all I'd found a new form of trophy cabinet - the closest rubbish bin.
Tuesday, the 1st of September was, in terms of the advertised dates, the final day of Conspiracy. However the day's only official convention activity involved the committee and their helpers in tear-down activities. Wendy and I teamed up with Jim Barker in wandering around the streets of old Brighton. It was good to spend time with Jim, who was a dominant presence in the first British fanzines I received. In person he displayed the same keen, fannish humour I seen so often in his art, and we had a fine time exploring Brighton's famed The Lanes. In one bookshop we saw copies of a Damien Broderick novel on the remainder table, which gives rather a mythic quality to the theory that discounting Broderick's writing is a purely Australian activity.
The evening began in a Mexican restaurant where Wendy and I dined with Nigel Rowe, Hope Kiefer and John Pomeranz. Nigel and I did our best to explain the differences between Aussies and Kiwis to the Americans. We finally agreed that the biggest defining point is that Aussies end sentences with 'but' while New Zealanders' full-stop is an 'a'... er, but.
Following on from that Hope and I got into a heated discussion about the NASFiC. Hope followed the pragmatic line that there are British- and Australian- and Euro- and so forth national/continental conventions, so why can't North Americans have their own convention. I had no objections to such a suggestion, but feel that if North Americans wanted their own convention it should be constituted outside WSFA, and that the existence of any single NASFiC shouldn't begin with non-North Americans successfully bidding for the Worldcon.
Walking back to hotel there was a nice gentle fog coming in off the sea. Combined with the light of the setting sun it gave off the illusion that a building ahead was on fire. "Hey, wouldn't it be ironic if the Metropole was on fire," said one of the more cynical members of our crowd.
"For the hotel, maybe," came a reply from one of the more pragmatic among us, "But not for me. My clothes and stuff are still in there."
The Dead Dog Party was held in the Bedford Hotel, an official convention snub to the Metropole - we didn't want them getting our beer money. It was nice to see the convention workers in a relaxed mood. During the convention everytime I saw Maureen Porter she'd drop her shoulders and let out a huge, exhausted sigh and rest her head on my shoulder. Here at the party she was actually displaying a smile. Chatting to her I noticed that her convention id badge photo, taken days before the con started, matched her standard convention expression. The photographer certainly had a good idea of what would be appropriate. "Two days ago," Maureen told me, "Greg Pickersgill stopped me, mentioned how I looked as bad as the photo, sat me down and gave me some vitamin B and E pills."
"That was good of him."
"Yes, but then me promptly told me to get back to work."
Lynne-Ann Morse: "That's a nice colourful coat, without being loud."
Cindy Evans: "That's because it's faded."
A chief topic of conversation of the night was how Dave Langford had spilt a beer over Fred Harris, head of Bridge Publications, the Scientologist publishing arm. Ian Sorenson told me how he saw Dave dancing down the street. 'I've just got Fred Harris with a pint of beer, and all he could reply with was a gin and tonic.'
Lilian Edwards had a favour to ask of me: could I take Rolf Harris back with me when I go home. She was blaming me, as an Aussie, for Harris, but I just laughed and explained that the fault for there being a Rolf Harris plague was more hers, as a Brit, than mine. While Harris is an Australian his longevity as a performer is tied up with how the British took him to their bosom. In support of my case I pointed out that his tv shows were made in Britain and that he barely spends any of his working time in Australia.
From there the conversation turned to another Aussie cultural export - Skippy - and the whole genre of animal shows such as Gentle Ben and Flipper. The discussion turned to the main scene of each episode, the one where Skippy Saves the Day:
"What's up Skip?" Ttt, ttt, ttt. "Someone's got Sonny! Who?" More generic, fake kangaroo noises. "Arab Terrorists! Where are they?" More of that sound kangaroos should be making. "In the north-east corner of the park! Take me to them." After that all hell broke loose. Wendy and Jim Barker were doing Skippy and Flipper impersonations (im-kangaroo- and im-dolphin- ations?), Justin Ackroyd and Roelof Goudriaan combined to become Jake-the-Peg, and we were all hopping around saying "What's up Skip?". Lilian stood at the side remarking that this was ridiculous, and when the noise went up a level in response and people began Looking At Us Lilian asked us to stop.
"But this is all your fault," I told her.
"You're the one who brought up Rolf Harris."
Having a party? Animal impersonations supplied. Skippy and Flipper our speciality. Contact Wendy Hirsh and Jim Barker.
- from Counterplot, Special Wellington Edition, 3-9-87.
The following day a bunch of us (Wendy, Perry, Justin, Cindy Evans, Pam Wells, Greg and Linda Pickersgill, Tony Berry, Martin Tudor and I) spent down on Palace Pier, playing pinball and shooting pool. During lunch Perry told us how his can of talcum powder had exploded all over his comb in one of the flights over from Australia. "So that's why everyday you seem to be going a bit more grey," Wendy said.
By mid-afternoon we were on a train heading for London. John Harvey had told Perry, Wendy and I that if we get off at Croydon Station we should ring him and he'd come and collect us. We did as he said, and John did as he said he would, and soon we were back in Carshalton. An hour later LynC and Clive Newall fronted up, and the Harvey Hotel For Aussies was brought back to life.
The main topic of discussion was the convention just completed. Perry dropped the biggest name into the conversation, "On the last evening I was buying gin-and-tonics for William Gibson," he told us "and someone asked him if he enjoyed the convention. He said he'd had a great time, except that there were these three Australians who kept on propositioning him 'Your room, or ours? Anytime. Just say the word.'" No names were mentioned and with so many Aussies at Conspiracy us Harvey Hotelites didn't even begin to try to speculate.
Looking through LynC and Clive's convention photos John came across a rare sight. "Hey, look, here's one of Irwin smiling."
"My god, he is too," was the general response.
"I have to say, Irwin, that you always looked ever so glum," said Eve.
"Oh, that was just me putting on that British look of despondency," I replied.
And so... what did I get out of Conspiracy '87? Sitting there in a lounge-room south of London the main feeling I had was that the preceding six days had been extremely tiring and stressful. I didn't have a bad time, but the size of the convention worked against me having a great time. The first two days mainly consisted of making connections and meeting lots of people, with the introductory nature making it hard to find some sort of rhythm. On the third day things began to fit into place, but it was also the day in which I saw a stranger have a seizure in the morning and by the evening become aware that without careful management Wendy would suffer the same fate.
It was about that stage of the convention that I developed a feeling which seems more relevant now, ten years later, than it did in late August, 1987: that as a GUFF winner I was at the wrong convention. The observation I made is that the Worldcon is not part of the regular British convention scene. There was a feeling among the British fans that Conspiracy was something alien. It was the North Americans who seemed at home, even when sitting in something so British as the Fan Room. As Vicki Rosenzweig put it in her 1997 TAFF platform, "Now it's time to visit, [and] attend a British convention (Intersection doesn't count)." And I'm not sure that GUFF maximises its aim to foster closer ties between Australian and European fandoms by sending people to cons which are held in those countries once every decade or so.
The first GUFF race (in 1979) was an one-off. But by the time I had made my trip the fund had developed a pattern of two races every three years. Eve Harvey and Roelof Goudriaan (the two people with whom I shared administration) and I recognised that this was a suitable arrangement. It was frequent enough to provide continuity, while allowing a time-span which recognised that the fund-raising base was smaller than either DUFF's or TAFF's. But after Eva Hauser's trip in 1991 this frequency has dropped-off, with four years between each of the next two races.
And I wonder if this is caused by GUFF having a strong Worldcon focus. The next GUFF race will coincide with the Fund's 20th anniversary. And in a period when only 29% of Worldcons have been held in GUFF's constituencies, 60% of its races will have been to send someone to a Worldcon. On top of this GUFF doesn't need to operate for Aussies or Europeans to attend Worldcons on the other side of the globe. In among the fannish mail which greeted me when I arrived back from my GUFF trip were five Conspiracy reports written by Australians. But I doubt I've read a single report by an Aussie on any of the British Eastercons held in the decade since. Or any Novacon reports. Or anything about the Eurocons. And so on. There was an attempt for GUFF to send someone to the 1998 British Eastercon. Even though it would've been three years since the previous race it would still have been held 'out of sequence'. But in the end it was aborted through a lack of interest. By the time we next have someone travelling as a GUFF winner it will have been more than a decade and a half since GUFF sent an Aussie to a British Eastercon. And I wonder if part of the reason we couldn't find two people interested in attending the 1998 Eastercon is because in concentrating so much on Worldcons GUFF haven't done its bit to promote the idea that an Australian would find the British Eastercon a fun and interesting convention to attend.
And it should be noted that at the time of the 1992 and 1995 GUFF trips Glasgow and Melbourne had not yet been selected as the sites for the 1995 and 1999 Worldcons. Throughout the 1990s GUFF's focus on the Worldcon has been so strong that twice the administrators have waited until after the next Worldcon Site Selection beore setting the schedule for further races.
On the first of January, 1987 I was not yet a GUFF-winner. On the first of January, 1991 I was no longer its administrator. Take that same measure of time, place it into the here-and-now and all we can do is get it together for one trip. And as an administrator who later ran a race which sent someone to Den Haag and the 1990 Worldcon, I wonder about my younger self thinking about the convention I'd just attended as a GUFFer. In just a week I'd gone from wanting to attend a Worldcon outside Australia to, as I put it in the first issue of Martin Tudor and Steve Green's Critical Wave, "being the GUFF winner ... wish(ing) I'd gone to an Eastercon or a Mexicon or whatever" instead. Looking back I wonder if I should have run with that thought and promoted the idea that GUFF sends someone to the 1990 or 91 British Eastercon rather than the 1990 Worldcon.
There I was on Wednesday the 2nd of September, 1987, sitting in the Harvey living-room, gathering together my thoughts about a convention just finished and what it had meant for me. Meanwhile my hosts were enthusiastic about their main convention dealer room purchase - the Judge Dread game - and are wondering how they and their five guests are going to play a game designed for a maximum of six. I solved the puzzle by deciding to have an early night. After a nice long soak in the bath I hit the sack. As I lay in bed I heard the laughter which seemed to confirm Eve and John's opinions of the game. But I didn't hear too much more laughter, because before too long I was asleep.
The next morning I was also the last one in the house to get up. Conspiracy had made me into one tired chap.