by Darroll Pardoe
First Published in Grimwab, edited by Harry Bell

Conventions are such wonderful things, that it's a shame they last so short a time; only four days and then it's home to mundane life for another year. This one was no exception, but I cheated a bit and travelled to Bristol on the Thursday, squeezing in an extra day and a pre-con get-together at the Walshes'.

The events of the weekend really began as I was walking up to that ridiculously-situated booking office on Paddington station to buy my ticket to Bristol. Just as I passed the bookstall a poor old chap standing close by had some kind of fit or stroke and collapsed to the ground almost at my feet. Fortunately it didn't turn out to be a bad omen for the success of the convention, which I can safely say was one of the most enjoyable I've yet attended (although I like them all.)

It was a pleasant day, so I walked from Temple Meads station up to the hotel to book in, and then strolled on to the Walshes', where I was met by a very doubtful look from Simone before she would let me into the house. You see, I had this beard, last time I was there. I was glad to meet Heinrich Arenz for the first time, who naturally looked nothing like I thought he would (no fan ever does.) Some time during the evening Pete Weston and Rog Peyton arrived, bringing the total of Brummies present to three (3).

The party was still going on when I left, together with the contents of three bottles of Guinness which I'd transferred to the interior of my stomach during the evening. I walked back to the hotel and went to bed, to get some sleep for the nights ahead.

Next morning dawned with the sound of muttering and clattering just outside the window. I looked out, and there on the car-park was a party of highly assorted folk loading themselves and their equipment into a motor-coach. This performance, incidentally, was repeated every morning during the weekend. I found out later that this was a convention of geologists; they were no trouble to us fans, though, as they were away from the hotel from early morning to late at night. It was no use trying to get back to sleep, so I went downstairs to an excellent breakfast in the hotel restaurant... a portent of the meals to come, which were uniformly excellent and reasonably priced - an unusual situation for a con-hotel.

I adopted my usual practice during the morning of sitting in the front lounge and observing the arrivals as they came. During this time I talked to Ella Parker and Ethel Lindsay, who had arrived at one of the smallest of hours that morning. Ella soon had the service of tea sorted out, and a continual stream of trays of teapots and things began flowing in our direction.
During lunch Ken Cheslin put in an appearance, bringing the total of Brummies to four (4).

Soon the word got around that the registration desk was open, so I wandered down to the con hall and paid my ten bob, then settled down nearby to see who was coming in. I hadn't been there very long when Mary Reed turned up, (Ghod bless her), registered and sat down with a large pile of copies of CRABAPPPLE, which she distributes to those deserving folk who were due to receive them. Soon a large crowd of fans, admirers and hangers-on had collected, and as people left the registration desk they came over and joined the group.

Martin (Santos) Pitt and Martin Suter came in, thus completing the role call of Brummies at the con, making a grand total of six (6). Not bad considering that the BSFG died a lingering death more than six months ago.

The Lunar Restaurant in Park Street is the traditional place in Bristol where fans go to eat on the occasion of a gathering, and I went there with a group of folk to assuage the pangs of hunger, before seating myself in the con hall for the start of the official programme.

The Friday night programme featured Brian Aldiss, introducing various fans and pro personalities, and introducing them to participate in a kind of s-f quiz show... in which the prizes were the same whether you answered the questions correctly or not. It naturally started an hour or so late, but one gets used to this happening, and comes to expect it as part of the traditon of s-f conventions.

The less formal part of the con was slow to get off the ground. That night was chiefly notable for the lack of room-parties, so I spent quite a while in the front lounge talking to various fans, then went to bed at the ridiculously early hour of 2.30. The hotel had one great advantage, and that was the number of bars scattered around; I kept discovering new ones all the time in odd corners. It was a rambling sort of hotel, anyway, the kind that has expanded over the years by taking in adjoining houses and building; just right for a con. There was one place where to get to a part of the hotel you had to go over a bridge, three floors up and open to the elements. Every time I had occasions to go over it, it seemed to be raining. I reckon it was a bridge into an alternative universe where it rains all the time.

Saturday morning I breakfasted in the company of Roje Gilbert, Barbara Mace and Brenda Piper, then adjourned to the con hall for the pro panel, which consisted of John Brunner, Judy Merril, James White, Mike Moorcock and Tom Disch.

I lunched with James White, who spent a considerable time trying to persuade me to write a con-report. Well, he succeeded, and you're reading it.

The afternoon included the film-show, which consisted of two half-hour films: 'Relativity' by Emsh, and a French one, 'La Jetee'. The first of these was calculated not so much to entertain and to satir up discussion among the audience. The debate was still going strong on the Monday morning, and no doubt we'll be talking about it when we arrive at the next convention. We'll also be humming The Tune... this was a few bars of a tune which was repeated over and over in the film, and captured the imagination of a good part of the audience. It was the sort of phrase of music that you just can't get out of your head, no matter how you try. The script of the film could well have been written by J.G.Ballard; it was real non-linear stream-of-consciousness stuff, and the film would have looked just as good run backwards.

The other film was inferior in production, but to my mind far superior as a film. It was done in stills, and was obviously intended to create a mood rather than tell a straight story. The plot was just right - sufficient to make the film interesting, but not enough to overload the effect of doom and melancholy which pervaded the whole thing. The musical background helped a lot; it was mostly in a minor key, and even included some rather good plain-chant. The ending turned the film into a pure classical tragedy. Beautiful. In fact, when they showed the film again the following day I was completely overcome by it.

After the films came Guest of Honour John Brunner's speech. He gave a talk which was supposed to be on neglected themes in s-f, but actually rambled entertainingly, and was delivered in John usual excellent way.

After a meal I watched Dr. Who on TV, strictly for amusement value only. That evening we had to vacate the con hall so that the hotel could hold their regular Saturday-night dance there, and so the con-committee put on an open party in a large room elsewhere in the hotel. Most people gravitated there initially, and it went on till after midnight, although various room parties got started long before then. Certainly, there were plenty of parties that night. There was a large one in the Rosenblum's room, and so many people crammed themselves in that, although no-one else appeared concerned, I could not bear the stuffy atmosphere and had to leave while it was still going strong. I recovered by spending a very interesting time talking to Mary and Chas Legg in the comparative peace and quiet of Room 149. It was the first chance I'd really had to meet Chas (or Gandalf) and he struck me as a reasonably intelligent sort of fellow. Anyway, after a few hours I returned to the fray in - I think - Judy Merril's room, and eventually wound up in bed at around three-thirty.

Came the dawn, and the usual routine of the geologists loading up, followed by breakfast with Dave Copping and Vic Hallett. Then came the BSFA Annual Meeting, the usual rambling farce. I have become convinced that the AGM in its present form is unnecessary, since no decisions can be taken there, and the sooner it is either abolished or given something meaningful to do, the better. Roje Gilbert proposed Cambridge for the 1969 Convention, and this was agreed to. The election results were announced... nobody wanted to be the Publications Officer, so being the heroic thickhead that Ken Cheslin later called me, I volunteered to do the job for six months.

Lunch with Rog Peyton gave me the chance to talk about what I'd let myself in for. That afternoon the fanzine editors' panel was down on the programme, and comprised Xenon, Speculation, Phile, Grimwab, Crabapple and Spinge in the various incarnations of Mike Ashley, PWeston, Gray Charnoc Harry Bell, Mary Reed and yours truly, with Beryl Mercer 'moderating'. The panel started over half an hour late, and finished on time, so we didn't really get off the ground, and spent most of the time looking at the audience and wishing they'd ask us some sensible questions.

Mike Moorcock now gave a superb speech, the funniest I've heard at a con for ages and ages. He appeared to be roaring drunk, and indeed took numerous drinks from a bottle by his side, but I suspect he was acting the part to a considerable extent. He followed his speech by an auction, one of the items in which was an old fanzine, vintage 1940 or so... no-one would bid more than 2/6 for it, so Mike paid 10s. himself, took one look inside, and tore it to shreds. This performance went down so well he repeated it later on in the front lounge... where Mike offered Brian Burgess 4/6, with a perfectly straight face and serious tone, for some terrible cruddy Ace p/b he was reading (cost 4/- from Ken Slater). Brian was happy with his 6d profit, so Mike took the p/b from him, and expertly reduced it to confetti which he scattered all over the floor. I had a look at the book in question later, and I don't blame Mike... it was terrible.

The main auction that evening was ably conducted by Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer, and there were some real bargains going. After the auction came the St. Fantony ceremony, which began with an extremely moving and impressive tribute to their late, and sadly missed, Grand Master, Eric Jones.

The final official programme item was the presentation of the Doc Weir award;' this year it went to Doreen Parker, a most worthy recipient. It is good to see Doc remembered this way.

The rest of the evening was marred by an astonishing calamity. All room parties were banned by the management, and the con-committee supported the ban. Actually, it wasn't too bad, for the bar downstairs in the con hall was open till well after four o'clock, and most people spent quite a bit of time there. Those parties that did get started were clamped down on heavily, and rather rudely. The Shorrocks' party was successful for a time, but then came the Awful Moment when the tramp of jackboots was heard outside, and the management displayed the Iron Fist.,

Still, they didn't entirely get their own way, for there was a convivial affair in 149 which escaped the notice of the authorities completely. There was no alcohol available, so we just sat or lay and talked to the light of a single candle (which was hidden away in the bathroom) and generally had quite a pleasant few hours. Possibly the reason why the management kept away was the wild cheese roll which was roaming the corridors, savaging anyone it could catch.

Sometime during this evening (or was it the Saturday?) I remember going down in one of the lifts, and ending up in some place filled entirely with laundry baskets. There was no way out... so we had to go back up in the lift. I can't for the life of me place that room in relation to the rest of the hotel; there must have been a dimension-warp of equal severity to the one in the Midland Hotel, Birmingham.

About five o'clock I decided that my senses were becoming too disorientated to carry on, so I went to bed.

Next morning after breakfast I sat in the front lounge and said goodbye to various folk, then travelled up to the Walshes', where a number of souls had gathered for the final farewells (which were interrupted by a trip back into Bristol for lunch). Soon, the last sad moment came when the Weston car pulled away from the kerb, it's cargo of three fans waving, and humming that air from 'Relativity' over and over again. The con was really over for another year.

-- Darrol Pardoe

Letters of comment on this or any other conrep on this site are welcomed, and will be considered for publication.