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1965 Birmingham Eastercon - Brumcon

Convention Report
by Beryl Henley and Archie Mercer

A CONREP FROM

E E R E
R N C R
Y L H C
L E I E
  Y E R

 

BEING A PARTIAL account of the B.S.F.A. Convention held at
Birmingham, England, over the Easter week-end of 1965.

 

Written by:                  BERYL HENLEY & ARCHIE MERCER

 

Cover illustration by a very special Guest Artist who wishes
to remain anonymous

 

Published on behalf of           Archie Mercer
both the writers by:   70 Worrall Road
    Bristol 8  G.B.

for distribution to a
captive audience of OMPA members and other luckless wights

 

a mercAtorial publication                       Yngvi is a louse

 

TO DOREEN
WHO IS ON BOTH OUR LISTS OF F.P.

 


 

A CONREP FROM BHAM

"I told you the stairs would be quicker..."

The Convention really started for Archie some time between 10 and 11.a.m. on the Friday, when a large vehicle known to its friends as TAK.10 was perceived approaching from the right. This wagon, veteran of several earlier Conventions, was being driven at the time by Simone Walsh. It also contained the persons of Tony Walsh, Sarah Walsh (a maiden of as yet somewhat tender years), and John Berry.  Net, of course, the Belfast John Berry. Inasmuch as the latter is himself a Brummie, there was, naturally, not the remotest chance of his attending a Brumcon. The TAK.10 J.B. is from Somerset, and should therefore be dubbed J. Somerset Berry.

TAK.10 delivered its cargo at the Midland Hotel not long after mid-day. Having registered, the components of said cargo collected Doreen Parker and a couple of other bodies and went to eat. There were eight persons all told, not counting Sarah, so naturally they wore allotted tables for two. This gave Archie the opportunity for an intimate tête-à-tête with Doreen; after the meal, he sought to prolong this pleasant experience by accompanying Doreen to Redditch to collect Beryl. Alas for his hopes - Ted Tubb came too. In fact, Ted drove, as Doreen was not feeling very well. About a week earlier, she’d had an accident resulting in some nasty bruises. (She swears that nobody will ever believe that although she’s had four accidents in that incredible car, every time she’s been stationary). In addition to that, she’d had an anti-tetanus injection that had gone wrong, leaving her with a very sore arm and an upset tum.

Once in Redditch Doreen was able to give directions, and piloted her car skilfully round The Fearnings to No. 59. At that point the Convention really started for Beryl...

…Who, it may be said, has been wondering ever since Easter how the hell Conreps ever get written by anybody. Her recollections of Brumcon-2 comprise a whirling kaleidoscope of faces known and unknown, voices, laughter, song … a jumble of numbers on various doors ... bottles, books, fanzines, badges…

If it were not for the programme booklet, she is convinced that she wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what happened when. Was Jim Groves’s room-party on the Friday or Saturday? Which day was it when she accompanied a congenial party to the “Clover” restaurant for an excellent Chinese meal? When did she buy pb’s from Ken Slater? Was it Saturday night or Sunday morning that she sat on the stairs in different, but no less congenial company, surveying the hole made in Lang Jones’s door by Charles Platt’s fist ? (Not as violent as it sounds - the perforated panel turned out to be simply glass, painted over to look like the rest of the wooden door).

Perhaps this Con-fusion results from the fact that this was, after all, Beryl’s first Con. There were so many people she wanted to meet, people who had until then been only signatures at the bottom of letters. The first of the Great Unmet turned out to be those august personages, Mike Moorcock and Lang Jones, who were introduced to Beryl by her fellow-Tribester the Gt. O’Reed, shortly after Beryl’s arrival on Friday afternoon. Mike was, he said, suffering from bubonic plague, and expressed a fervent hope that it wouldn’t spread. Later that evening he made a brief appearance on TV in the “Midlands News” programme. One concludes that he must have been ashamed of this, because he never told anybody.

Perhaps Lang was affected by Mike’s sorry state of health; he seemed a little subdued. Beryl hoped that it was that, and not that Lang was growing up, because she doesn’t like grown-ups.

Round about the same time, she met Terry Pratchett, Frank Herbert, Brian Burgess, and Roy Kay. She also renewed acquaintance with several old friends, including Alan Roblin, who informed her: “When I walked up New Street a few minutes ago, I thought everybody was laughing at my badge - until I took it off…”

At the Con registration desk, Ken Cheslin lumbered her with three badges, Charlie Winstone had his Treasury enriched, and Bob Little asked her, “How do you spell your name?”

Later that evening, she was hauled off to a room-party. This was held in Norman Weedall’s room. Norman himself wasn’t there, of course. Eddie Jones was, though, and so were Ted Tubb and Ken McIntyre. The last-named began upbraiding Beryl for having submitted something to a fanzine instead of to a prozine. She never did find out exactly what, though.

Beryl parted with some money to Phil Rogers, thus registering herself for the 1966 Con in Great Yarmouth. This induced a kind of recklessness in her; she debated whether to stand at the head of the staircase and shower largesse on the heads of the impecunious fen in the lobby. Deciding that this would be a little too ostentatious, she finally went in search of Jim Groves, and brutally forced him to take money from her for Worldcon registration.

After a snack, another group gathered downstairs in the Back Bar. It may have been at this time that Don Geldart and Bette Woodhead turned up, accompanied by a pair of rissful Blispins. Or it may not. At any rate, the two senior Walshes wore definitely there; so were Archie and J. Somerset Berry. Possibly Phil Rogers, too - or was that on Saturday?

Tony-in-his-cups is very amusing. He paid Beryl a series of ridiculous compliments, topping them with the glorious line: “You look at least ten years older.” Bette chided him about this; Tony turned worriedly to Beryl, laid his hand on her knee, and said he hoped she wasn’t offended - which, of course, she wasn’t.

“You’re embarrassing her,” said Bette.

“I’m not,” said Tony. “I’m propositioning her.”

Beryl distributed some copies of LINK-3 - even sold a few! - and promptly forgot who’d had ‘em and who hadn’t. Thus she didn’t save as much on postage as she’d hoped to, because the following week she had to send out about 47 postcards saying: “Help! Did I give you L-3 at the Con?”

At about midnight, the hotel was strangely quiet, the ‘Aliens’ having mysteriously disappeared some time earlier. An hour later, its peace was shattered by the thunder of Mancunian feet, as said ‘Aliens’ galloped around the place, distributing copies of a leaflet which had (so it announced) been produced in a local garage, and which purported to describe the events of the Con’s first day.

It may have been later that same evening (or it may have been on Saturday, but no matter) that a perfectly innocent remark made by Simone led to a heated, though happy political argument between Tony and Phil. Everyone else had long since left the Back Bar, the waiters were switching off lights and issuing Martyred Looks free of charge, but Tony and Phil were having far too good a time to worry about that.

Films were not on the agenda for your worthy reporters; Beryl had seen two of them before, and in any case, as she says, she can go to the pictures any time. Archie, for his part, isn’t even sure if there ever were any films,

Next morning, a trickle of humanity in varying stages of fatigue, hangover, and bleariness of eye began to invade the breakfast room. Archie found himself seated with Beryl, Mike and Lang. Beryl has to take his word for this, since she doesn’t begin to operate on all cylinders until around 11.a.m. For this reason, she wishes to apologise to anyone who happened to address her at breakfast and who received no acknowledgement of this courtesy. Try again next time - but later in the day!

Spotted by an eagle-eyed Chairman, Beryl was later roped in to collect money at the first of the auctions, master-minded by Phil. They were doing very well until Archie slipped a handful of foreign coins in among the loose change…

Slater fils persuaded Slater père to buy him a fistful of fanzines, among which  Beryl spotted two copies of LINK-1. She begged for these - even

offered to pay for them - and Ken said, “If they haven’t any cartoons in ‘em, he’ll give them to you.” MiK - your Beatle-Unicorns are obviously not classed by this young expert as cartoons - Master Slater handed over the LINKs without demur.

After the auction, Beryl became brutal again, and dragged Phil off, wild-eyed and protesting, to the bar for liquid refreshment. Money-grabbing is thirsty work.

Saturday afternoon found five people sitting on somebody’s bed. Doreen, Beryl, Archie, Pete Weston and Jim Groves. Messrs. Moorcock, Jones and Platt or possibly just the first two - were dispensing music across the way. Archie seemed disposed to desert the bed-sitting quintet in favour of the musicians, but when Beryl gave forth with her famous conversational gambit: “Shall we talk about sex or shall we lead up to it?” - he decided to stay. The ensuing discussion seemed to be on a to-be-continued basis, because it was later taken up, with variations, at Jim Groves’s room-party. Word must have got around, because Jim finally had to refuse admittance to several groups of supplicants on the grounds that about fifteen people wore already sitting on the grounds. That wasn’t counting those on the bed, the chairs, the wardrobe, and among the bottles on the dressing-table.

It was during this party that Alan Roblin said: “Well, there’s physical attraction, and then there’s plutonic love …”

Later came the classic remark (the perpetrator of which shall remain mercifully Unidentified): “This conversation is getting mucky - kindly give me my pants and let me go.”

Having ascertained that she wouldn’t be making a fool of herself alone, Beryl joined the Fancy Dress Parade. This was one of the very few disappointing events of the Con, for only eight people took the trouble to wear costume. The Manchurian Candidates swept the board - or almost - which is, one, understands, the usual custom. Not that they didn’t deserve the prizes. They turned up as all sorts of horrors - Frankenstein and his monster, Dracula, a werewolf, etc. At that, they didn’t scare Beryl half as much as the fact that Green Henry was continually dogging her heels…

Sunday morning - the A.G.M. Beryl can’t, even now, recall who was eventually elected to the Vice-Chairmanship. She was too absorbed in trying to figure out Ella Parker’s motives for nominating Charles Platt for the post. (She hopes that both Ella and Charles will excuse her for mentioning this fact).

Ken Slater enjoyed himself enormously; every time the meeting threatened to swing away from its officially-appointed course, Ken firmly steered it back again. Appreciating this elegant performance, Beryl afterwards went to buy books from him. And had a natter with Joyce, who deserves full marks and a jelly-baby for putting in an appearance in spite of poor health.

Archie’s main recollection of the AGM is that ho found it disappointing as AGMs go. There was plenty of meat around for consideration, but it seemed mostly to get itself bogged down in unnecessary cross-purposiveness. There was a faction - one forgets precisely whom it comprised - that seemed to want to tie down the Committee to a hitherto unprecedented degree, by having the meeting issue a directive that the fiction magazine TANGENT should be dropped in favour of an improved VECTOR. One would have thought that such a matter should be left to the Committee’s discretion in the light of the current availability of such things as finance, equipment and volunteer labour. After what Archie considers to have been an excess of argument and counter-argument, this particular move was defeated. The tenor of the meeting seemed to indicate a general desire to see VECTOR produced by an offset process rather than duplicated, the ‘Alien/Delta’ group from Manchester and environs (particularly Salford) being a visible object-lesson that such production methods are entirely feasible on a do-it-yourself basis.

Another lesson of this AGM is that once again there is too little continuity from year to year - not so much of policy, but of comprehension of what has gone before. Archie, who was in on the ground floor and has been closely connected with the administration on and off ever since, claims as a consequence to have a good perspective on the Association’s affairs that does not, somehow, seem to be easily transmissible. Since, however, he has declined nomination as Vice-Chairman, he supposes that it’s his own fault if this state of affairs continues into the future.

Since (as a consequence of Archie’s declining nomination) there was no constitutional nominee for the Vice-Chairmanship, the matter was passed to the AGM, and Joe Navin of Liverpool (who has been in charge of most of the library for several years) was elected in his absence - and unopposed, if memory serves. Roger Peyton kept the editorship of VECTOR by defeating Charles Platt in a postal vote; Charlie Winstone kept the Treasury, unopposed; and Roy Kay as last year’s Vice-Chairman succeeded to the Chair. The most bizarre aspect of the committee Changes was that Graham Bullock, having defeated Doreen Parker in a postal vote for the Secretaryship, decided that he didn’t want the job after all, and Doreen wasn’t exactly nominated to replace him - she simply took the job and that was that. Doreen even stood-in at the AGM, traditionally conducted by the outgoing committee. This tickles both of us pink, of course, because from what we know of Doreen we have reason to suppose that as a Secretary she could hardly be bettered.

Some time after the AGM, Beryl wandered again into the Slatershop, and as the familiar acquisitive feeling swept over her, she muttered, “Somebody get me out of here – I’ve spent enough money already!” Two large hands promptly grasped her shoulders, and began to steer her towards the door. Looking over her shoulder, Beryl raised her glance a foot or two, and encountered the beaming countenance of Brian Burgess - who was, after all, only being gallant and fulfilling a lady’s (?) request

On Sunday night Brian accidentally spilt beer on Beryl’s skirt. He needn’t have been so apologetic, though - anticipating something of the sort, Beryl had taken the precaution of wearing her special “spill-skirt.” This has, in its several years of service, been blessed with tea, coffee, soup, milk, alcoholic liquor, squinty tomatoes and recently-fed babies. It dries in ten minutes, leaving no evidence.

Having dealt with the fashion-notes, on with the wafflings.

Beryl’s typewriter - a 20-year-old, reconditioned Imperial - used to belong to a clergyman, who typed his sermons on it. She often wishes that it were a sentient mechanism, and could express its opinions on the tremendous change in its orientation. This leads up to the matter of Doreen’s car. It so obviously hates its charming owner that one can only admire her courage in keeping it, whilst wondering with what personal qualities its previous owner imbued the beastly thing.

The news that Doreen had driven it from Peterborough to Brum without mishap, and the fact that it had behaved itself from Brum to Redditch and back (apart from taking Ted round in a couple of circles in the city centre - which was more the fault of Brum’s peculiar road system than anything else) caused us some disquiet. What devilry, we wondered, was being plotted in its murky, malignant metal mind?

We hadn’t long to wait. Ken Cheslin informed all car-owning Con-attendees that certain of the car-parks would not be open on Easter Monday, and that anybody who didn’t want to be stranded had better move his/her vehicle to a more accessible place. Since Doreen understood that Graham Bullock, as a demonstration of secretarial solidarity or Something, had kindly parked her nemesis for her in one of these aggravating locations, off she went to retrieve it and park it elsewhere. Only it wasn’t there. To make matters worse neither was Graham, who went home on the Friday evening and was never seen again throughout the entire weekend.

Doreen consulted Ken, who agreed that the car might be in another car-park, and added his own bloodhound talents to the search. They even ascended to the heights in a multi-storey car-park, where Doreen caused Ken considerable alarm by suffering from an attack of vertigo. All, they    to show for this was that the car wasn’t there either.

It was finally decided that it must have been stolen. It seems that certain gangs of youths are in the habit of pinching oars, not for any possible financial gain, but simply for joy-riding purposes. Such vehicles are gaily abandoned when their petrol runs out. The police were informed. From then on Doreen kept the telephone wires hot, growing over more desperate - mainly because she said, she had loft a number of precious books in the car.

The denouement to the whole affair came on Sunday when Ted Tubb told Doreen - oh, so casually - that held just seen her car parked at the end of the street. Doreen spent a few minutes expressing various kinds of incredulity, then grudgingly consented to go and look. The car sat at the end of the street, oozing smugness, complete with parking ticket. (The last we heard, Doreen still didn’t know whether or not the fine would have to be paid). We’ll never understand why she didn’t kick the thing to death then and there ... Everybody agrees that all this couldn’t possibly have happened to any car but Doreen’s.

It only remained to call off the police search. The return journey to Peterborough was, Doreen reports, relatively uneventful. The worst that happened was that the windscreen wiper fell off in a snowstorm, and Ken Slater (with whom Doreen travelled in convoy for mutual protection) had to fix it with a hair-pin whilst wrapped hastily in the mac of his young daughter Susie.

One way and another, the car had more than lived up to its evil reputation. And to think that Doreen purchased it from a firm having the effrontery to call itself “Honest Tom Screeton”…

One of the delights of regular Convention-going is that one can each year meet new faces, and make new friends. The latter don’t have to be drawn from. amongst the former, necessarily - a Convention sometimes provides the atmosphere in which one really gets to know, for the first time, friends of several years’ standing. And so far as the brand-new faces are concerned, Archie derives a sort of double-benefit from this because he never remembers anybody - well, hardly anybody - at first acquaintance, and has to meet new faces all over again the second time. This happened with Jim Grant of Christchurch, Hants., for instance - Jim swears he was at some previous Con and met Archie there, but Archie hasn’t the slightest recollection. Anyway, he remembers Jim from this occasion all right - a large, bland young man who thinks that fandom along the south coast should be more aware of its corporate existence. Naturally, Archie agrees - fandom everywhere, he maintains, should be so aware.

For the first time in more years than Archie cares to remember, some genuine Scottish-domiciled Scots had travelled to the Con. There were three of these - each of whom, furthermore, had travelled separately from a different point of origin. Ivor Latto was one of them. A quiet, bespectacled young man with a short ginger board, Ivor gave the impression that he wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to be classed as one of “this mad lot” or not. After reading his brilliantly funny “Uncle Ivor’s Neo-Fans’ Guide” in BEYOND-8 (distributed by Charles Platt at the Con), it is quite clear that, like it or not, Ivor is “One Of Us.” And we wish weld been able to have more conversation with him.  

Another was Richard Gordon, a youngster whose main claim to fame is that he does not write books about doctors - or. even about one doctor. (In any case, you wore probably thinking of James White). The third was David Marwick, somewhat older than the other two and of more serious mien. His definition of J.G. Ballard as “a very capable writer of unintelligible stuff” endears him to both of us.

Curiously enough, a number of the local Brummie-fen never showed up at all. This Archie considers to be a pity, because he’s never met either Janet or Margaret.  (He’s not so concerned about the male absentees). One hitherto-unheard-­of Brummie who did show up was Gordon Smith. Gordon sports a sort of Norfolk jacket, a full beard not unlike Archie’s own, an attractive wife called Jane, and a mind of decidedly fannish potential. He’s a teacher at a Birmingham school - a popular one, we’d guess - and has three small children of his own. Beryl was interested to discover that ho had served in the (post-war) Fleet Air Arm as a radar-man, and hopes, that the future will provide an opportunity for mutual Service reminiscences.

He was one of Beryl’s best customers at the Saturday auction, and turned up at the Fancy Dress Do in a very ingenious costume, in which he looked like a cross between Yuri Gagarin and Davy Crockett. A young meerschaum added to the happy incongruity of his outfit. And we think he won one of the prizes - in which case, good for Gordon!

Archie claims to have one of the least functional memories in captivity - he refers to it as “an eidetic sieve”. However, he did remember to bring with him the Doc Weir Award goblet. Newly-polished, too. Little Did He Know... it would probably have been easier all round if he had forgotten it.

On registering at the hotel, he asked for the goblet to be deposited in the safe. The girl went away, came back again and asked him to return later because she couldn’t find the receipt-book. Archie trotted off obediently, innocently assuming that nobody would get around to stealing the thing in the twenty minutes specified. Nobody, in fact, did, and he breathed easily again as he walked away with the receipt, having been assured that the article would be available when required on the Sunday.

Thus passed Friday. And Saturday. And Sunday arrived. Archie ascertained from his programme when the Award would be required, and checked with the Con committee. Then he went to the desk, displayed his receipt (he hadn’t even lost that), and asked for the goblet.

But he couldn’t have it.

The hotel staff were very apologetic, really, Friday’s receptionist was not then available, and nobody knew which compartment of the safe she’d locked it in. Everybody did their nuts, trying various keys in various compartments, while Archie cooled his heels at the desk. Eventually it was announced that the goblet must be in the head receptionist’s special safe. So far, so good. However, said H.R. would not be on duty again until the afternoon. So that was that. Pro tem, like.

Two o’clock approached. Archie sat in the Con hall not quite listening to the programme (he’d rather read an article than hear a speech any day), waiting for a summons from the nether regions. Word failed to come, so he went to seek it. No, the head d/e/c/e/p/ receptionist was later than had been supposed, and wouldn’t be in until about three. Back went Archie to the programme..  Three o’clock came and went. Down went Archie again. Yes, the H.R. had arrived - unfortunately the goblet was not in her safe. The entire staff were extremely apologetic. They had the matter completely under control, however. The goblet was in a particular compartment of which one of the under-managers held the only key. Said U.M. was week-ending in Bradford, Yorks., and said key would be arriving by passenger train at 8 p.m. The staff were abjectly apologetic, like.

It was decided to go ahead with the presentation in the goblet’s absence. There was no more need for Archie to hang around the Con hall - the auction was on at the time, and was not to be interrupted because it was making money. Archie would be Sent For when required. So down went Archie again to find somebody to talk to. (Probably Beryl.)

And, in the fullness of time, sent for he was. The auction was still on, but due to close at any moment. The auction staff didn’t know this, mind, and lot after lot was being stacked up alongside the table where the professionals were taking it in turn to conduct the proceedings. By this time Archie was beginning to get somewhat annoyed with the way things were going, and prevailed upon somebody to call the auction to a halt. Quelling the non-existent storm of imaginary internal butterflies, Archie began to speak.

He called attention to the state of the hotel’s security, comparing it to that thing by A.A. Milne about the king, the queen and the dairymaid. (There was a cow in it as well, but he overlooked that.) Having (dairy) made his point, he launched into a fulsome eulogy of the qualities of the Award’s new holder. This worthy had, said Archie, been prominent in fandom for approximately twenty years – certainly longer than had Archie himself. He had published fanzines, written for fanzines, and illustrated them - with both serious artwork and cartoons. He had attended just about every Convention available, and numerous lesser fannish occasions. He had served on the BSFA Committee in a number of capacities, including that of Chairman.

“He must be a fannish paragon,” put in somebody from the back of the hall.

“He is a fannish paragon,” Archie agreed, modestly forgetting to add that all holders of the Doc Weir Award are ex-officio fannish paragons. He then drifted into bathos by saying that the individual in question was not actually present to receive the award, ill-health being understood to be the cause.

By this time everybody (except for those who’d counted the votes) was beginning to wonder who, if anybody, the new holder was, and Archie let slip that it was Terry Jeeves, The crowd went appropriately wild - an ovation which Terry richly deserves. Archie handed the certificate to Phil Rogers, who was to convey it and the goblet to Sheffield in the near future, with the final message that if Terry was to have as much trouble getting rid of the thing as Archie was having, he had the latter’s sincerest sympathies.

At least, that’s Archie’s recollection of the matter. Beryl not having been there to check the details, nobody will ever know for sure what really happened. As regards the goblet’s long incarceration, she says that it could only have happened (a) at a Con, and (b) to Archie.

Incidentally, just in case anybody’s wondering, the missing key was eventually produced, and the goblet duly disinterred. So a hearty congratulation to Terry from both of us.

Beryl went to hear Harry Harrison’s speech on Sunday afternoon, and is ashamed to report that she missed most of it - apart from ducking when he flung that now-famous meat pie at Brian Aldiss, who was sitting right behind her. What with the determined competition in New Street - the Salvation Army with its three-number repertoire, followed by an Irish Pipe Band on the march - and the fact that she was suffering from a shortage of sleep, the conditions were not exactly ideal, even for a speaker of Harry’s undoubted talents.    To Beryl’s horror, she found herself continually “nodding off”. She never got as far as falling off her chair, although there was a brief scuffle at onetime when Harry asked, “Where’s Beryl?” She was attempting to slide unobtrusively under her seat; Archie, on the other hand, was trying to get her on to her feet. She insists that she’s not that much of an extrovert!

Rather than disgrace herself in public (she might have snored!), she decided not to stay for the ensuing Pro-Panel feature, and nipped off to practise Yoga and things. Later she got the distinct impression from a number of eager informants that one member of said panel had actually dared to Talk About Her Behind Her Back!

(What’d he SAY???)

She thinks it was Sunday afternoon - though it may have been Saturday - that she vent to the “Clover” restaurant in company with Daff Sewell, Chris Priest, Archie, Jim Groves, and Dick Howett. Other fen drifted in whilst they were there. A series of aromatic mysteries was placed on the table; delicious, whatever they were, and there was so much that the party was unable to eat it all. Archie brooded over this for hours. He hates waste.

Somewhere along the weekend way there was an interlude in Chris’s room, during which somebody gave a recital of selected passages from a most interesting book. It wasn’t sf, either...    If Dick Howett hadn’t been wearing a scarlet sweater,
one would have sworn he was blushing. Beryl wasn’t. Except for her nose, of course.

For some reason, Beryl didn’t get to meet Phil Harbottle until late on the Sunday evening, but his greeting manifestly creased her. At the fatal words “Beryl Henley”, Phil’s friendly grasp of her hand slackened, his jaw dropped, and his eyebrows went into orbit. “But - but –“ he gasped, “I thought you were an old woman!”

Beryl’s shriek of laughter seriously frightened the driver of a diesel train which was standing at platform 10 of New St. Station.

On Sunday night, Beryl and Archie found themselves members of a circle sitting in the middle of a half-stripped Con hall which had a rather mournful, the-party’s-over air. Perhaps it was in an effort to dispel this that the circle started a sing-song. Ken Ches. was in good form and voice, and only by supplying second to whatever melody was being belted out was Beryl able to make it apparent that there was a female voice in that otherwise male choir. She also provided solo entertainment by singing (?) “The Bold Aviator” - except for the final two lines which might have shocked the assembled company. (What DID they teach her in the Wrens??? No wonder Gordon Smith was chuckling...) Various old songs were “murdered”, including “Show Me the Way to Go Home” - and then Bob Little, on Beryl’s left, saw his chance, grabbed it, and enjoyed his Great Moment. Entirely without self-consciousness, he delivered a hilariously pedantic version of it the shining perfection of which was only slightly marred for Archie by its obstinate failure to rhyme. Whereupon Beryl decided that this lad was definitely fun, and they would have to work out a duet for the Worldcon.

Alan Roblin, on Beryl’s right, demonstrated his fan-worship of Elvis Presley; Ed James, though not participating, seemed to be enjoying the proceedings; and his friend Terry Pratchett was doing something incredibly funny in a corner, only we can’t quite remember what. Archie and Ken had a go at “Harrison, oh Harrison”, to the tune of “Maryland”.  (Or “The Red Flag” if you’re a Trade Unionist. Or “Der Tannenbaum”, if you’re Dr. Karl Blomeyer. Or “McDonough, Let the Trombones Blow” if you’re a Duke of Dixieland. Or just barely possibly – “Gaudeamus Igitur” if they actually used the right tune...) But the incantation didn’t work; neither Bill nor Harry appeared in our midst. Pity.        

Now where does that Corridor-roaming bit fit in? Oh, Chronos be blowed - let’s just say it was the evening of either Saturday or Sunday. A gang of bods went in search of a room-party. It was a properly conducted search, i.e. the group was armed with suitable bottles. (Not empty ones!) The “Aliens” had said something about a party in 127, so, having tried someone else’s room and found it unresponsive, they duly adjourned to 127. Somebody attacked the door, which was opened by about two inches; Brian Aldiss’s voice politely invited the would-be invaders to go away, because those inside were filming or summoning-up demons or something. So they went.

Having heard about the hole in Lang’s door, off went the gaggle to inspect it. There was a short flight of shallow stairs outside this door, on which the group sat down to have a gloom about the apparent no-party situation. A hotel liftman came along the corridor and carefully stepped over them. Feeling restless., Beryl muttered to herself the famous Doddyism: “Let’s see - whose wick can I go and get on now?” and went in search of mischief and devilry. She considered having a slide down the banisters, but the U-turns on them were a bit narrow, and she hasn’t lost that much weight. It was just as well she didn’t, though, because on the next floor down she came upon Archie and Ella, sitting on the stairs and conversing quietly.

It might be as well at this point to say a few words on the subject of room-partying ethics. One hears, from time to time strong language anent the evils of exclusive, cliquish room-parties to Which outsider-fans are denied admission. For instance, at one point during the week-end Archie was sent out from some room-party or other in search of two specified other fen He duly located them, and relayed the invitation. They were not, however, alone at the time. (They were in fact nattering in the corridor somewhere.) Is anybody else invited? Archie was asked, to which he could only offer the somewhat unsatisfactory reply that he didn’t know because it wasn’t his room-party. In the event, to the best of his recollection the sought-for ones decided to stay where they were on the grounds that the corridor, at least, was known to be for the use of all comers.

Whilst a little forethought on Archie’s part might have avoided this particular contretemps, it does illustrate a widespread attitude - with which both of us are in basic agreement. The trouble is, it’s often difficult to delineate the borderline between a “party” and a “conversation”. If there are so many people in a room that they constitute more than one conversation-group, then the room might as well be thrown wide-open to the extent of its physical capacity.  (And that has been reached before now, too.) However, if the participants are sufficiently few to enable them all to converse together as a unit - they don’t have to belong to any pre-recognisable grouping, and it’s probably more interesting if they don’t so belong - then a wonderfully intimate and fruitful atmosphere can be generated that would be spoiled altogether by the further augmentation of their numbers. This isn’t cliquishness - it’s simply the sociological equivalent of Boyle’s Law.

Another point is also relevant here. Archie’s current standing in fandom is such that if he does ever find himself excluded from some room-party, he doesn’t have to ask - he realises that there will be some perfectly acceptable reason and is content to leave it at that. Beryl, although a relative newcomer, is of sufficient maturity to (on the whole) share this attitude. The apparently‑callous turning-away of some unknown and possibly lonely youngster - or not-so-youngster is something else again, and not nearly so easy to justify. Our experience, however, is that it seems to happen nowadays only when the youngsters are themselves in a sizable and by no means noiseless group.

At around perhaps 3 a.m. on Monday, an all-male platoon trod a slow measure along the corridors, chanting like monks: “Go back to your wives. Go back to your wives ...” It was later reported that they’d had a nervous escort of slightly demoralised under-managers, night-porters, liftmen, etc, who trailed them at a respectful distance to see what they’d do next,

After breakfast (during which a blizzard raged outside), and some preliminary packing, bill-paying seemed to be in order. In the lobby, Ella was telling Archie how relieved she was to have handed over (pro tem) the OMPA Presidency to him. “I’m now an ex-President,” she added, “and I’m looking forward to being an ex-everything.” Beryl wondered if that included being an X certificate …

Eddie Jones took some last-minute photographs, and with a gallant bow presented a spent flash-bulb to Beryl as a souvenir, Beryl accepted it, swore and dropped it. It was still hot.

Having seen off a number of fairly early departers, including Doreen and the Slaters (still travelling in convoy), the original TAK.10 party sat on the stairs (opposite the erstwhile Slatershop) in company with Beryl, a couple of Normans, and a few others. Ken Cheslin appeared: Archie thanked him for a great Con, which brought forth applause and cries of “Speech!” He made one, too. In spite of his aching heart - his Wendy had been unable to attend after all - he had maintained a brave front, and had done a Grand Job.

Mike Moorcock and Lang Jones paused in their stately exit to bid farewell. Referring to an apparently barkless dog which is at present a member of the Moorcock household, Archie said “Give my regards to the basenji”. Mike said he would, adding: “As a matter of fact, I’m returning to London by basenji train...”

In twos and threes - e.g., Mary, Julia and Pete - the fen stole away, returning to their respective wildernesses. Simone bewailed the fact that there wasn’t a Con every week, or at least every month.

Some nine or ten people dashed through spatters of icy rain to the “Clover” for a final Brumeal. At least, most of them did the dashing - Sarah was carried by her Dad, The question of the day was repeated here: “Have you seen today’s ‘Birmingham Post’?” This contained a brief conrep. Beryl later received cuttings from “The Guardian” and the “Sun”. The place must have been crawling with Press on the Sunday.

“The Guardian”, surprisingly enough, presented very much the kind of report that one has, over the years, come to expect from low-quality papers - a generally mickey-taking air of “look at them all showing-off how different they are”. The wearing of “long beards or long manes” (and how long is a long beard, anyway? None of those in evidence at the Brumcon was outstanding for its length) is not necessarily done to demonstrate one’s “apartness”. In Archie’s case, far from it - Archie happens to be an introvert, and would far rather be unrecognisable in a crowd. “As a demonstration of apartness,” the report continues, harping on the same theme, “one member wore a cardboard placard of hedges (=sic=) and mottoes...” That sounds like Archie again, But no reporter asked him why he wore such a placard. The answer, if requested, would have been in two parts. He wore the badges (with a couple of small exceptions) because various people had either asked him to, or expected him to, and he had them all pinned on the cardboard to save himself several minutes of unpinning or repinning every time he left or re-entered the hotel.

Both the other reports, however, showed a surprising understanding of fandom that would not normally have been expected of any paper except “The Tewkesbury Register” or “The Oxford Mail”. One of them even dealt sympathetically with Harry’s much-reported meat-pie missile.

The “Sun” did slip up when it commented on the very poor attendance among the feminine element which, it said, consisted only of some six wives and girl-friends. Whilst the relative proportions of the sexes remain indeed considerably out of balance, with the males in a large majority, the situation isn’t quite that bad. There’s Beryl, for instance, Ella Parker, Doreen Parker, Daphne Sewell, Mary Reed and Julia Stone - all of whom are fans in their own right. The “wives and girl­friends” category is somewhat larger - but it includes people like Simone Walsh, who revels, in fannish company and enjoys a Con every bit as much as does Tony. Then there’s Joyce Slater, who likewise always seems to be enjoying herself, whether she’s minding Ken’s bookshop or sitting around talking, or both simultaneously. Bette Woodhead, who came with Don Geldart, not only looks agreeably sexy but is an interesting conversationalist too. Harry Harrison brought his Joan, and Brian Aldiss his Margaret. Mike Higgs brought his Cynthia - trouble was, he had to keep taking her back again. Very bad bit of organisation, that. That refreshing girl, Linda Rispin, came down with Alan for the occasion. Peggy White, wife to James, was attending her first-ever Convention, and Archie had sufficient conversation with her to hope sincerely that it’s the first of many.

Beryl says that if she has to be in a minority, this is the type she prefers. And the list is by no means exhausted, either. There was one female attendee that nobody seemed to know. One would look into the hall while the programme was in session, and there she’d be sitting by herself at the back, earnestly taking it all in. Maybe Brian Burgess or somebody managed to get near enough to her to speak to her at some time during the week-end - we never did, and we don’t know of anybody else who did either.

Fairly early on, Archie paused at the registration desk to ask Ella if she knew who the “mystery lady” was. Ella didn’t, and asked why Archie wanted to know. Well, began Archie vaguely, and rambled off into something about unattended females at a Con and how unusual it all was. Ella, with commendable logic, promptly pointed out that she herself was an unattended female. Archie, whilst being obliged to accept the truth of this, tended to suspect the analogy because he’s already met Ella. Lots of times, and he keeps going back for more.

If perchance anybody does recognise the “mystery lady”, perhaps that person would drop us a line. We could send her a copy of this, perhaps, and put her off us both for life, Or again, it might be the start of a bee-yootiful three-way friendship...

Having said which, we revert to the rump-end of the report. The dreaded moment could not be put off any longer. Into TAK.10 piled the three Walshes, J. Somerset Berry, Archie and Beryl. No navigating was necessary, Tony having sprung from these parts, and he detoured around southern Brum seeking out old haunts from previous existences. Thence to Redditch and its Fearnings, where everybody disembarked for a cup of tea. The full set of male Henleys was in residence, and it should be put on record that John Henley (age 11) and Sarah Walsh (age 1-and-a-­bit) hit it off right from the start. Those two need watching…

Beryl waved off TAK.10 and its original cargo, and proceeded to spend most of the evening dozing in an armchair. Having arrived back in Bristol some time during the late afternoon, Archie, too, was catching up on lost sleep.

Beryl, already the honoured recipient of more confidences than are most fans of ten times her present “fannish lifetime”, has been trying to analyse her crowded impressions of the week-end. One thing which afforded her much gratification was the way in which, although she was a comparative stranger to so many of the people she met, said people have simply accepted her as an integral part of fandom’s microcosm. There was none of the initial cautious politeness one usually experiences from and towards previously unmet personalities. This careful approach has always exasperated Beryl. who considers it an utter waste of time.

Another thing which has pleased her immensely ever since she and fandom met is the way the younger faction accept her as one of themselves. Beryl dislikes deference, and much prefers cheerful cheek such as the way she is usually greeted by Pete Weston: “Hiya, faggott!” (He frequently thumps her, too - and probably with good reason.) Also, she spurns any so-called “respect” accorded to her by younger people for no other reason than that she’s lived longer than they have. There’s no talent in that!

Archie, who has the privilege of cutting the last stencil, tends to suppose that the fact that Beryl just can’t help being likable is also relevant. For himself, he must admit that he prefers fandom as it is now to fandom as it was when he first encountered it. There always were nice fans around of course ‑ if there hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have bothered to stay in the first place. But nowadays there are so many nice fans.

And should Beryl retort that Archie’s the sort of person who helps to make fandom worthwhile for her, too, he would probably blush and mumble: “Aw, shucks - I bet you say that to all your Favourite People.”

BH
AM
 

The Brumcon backdrop

Last revised: 28 October, 2012

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