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CHESTER '72 (CHESSMANCON)

I SPENT MY BIRTHDAY AT CHESTER AND LIVED
a saga of wine and water


by John Piggott





First published in The Turning Worm 3



I arrived. Such a statement does not begin to communicate the myriad struggles and setbacks I experienced on my way... the ordeal in the dank subterranean tunnels of the creature known only as "Bakerloo", the Adventure of the Crewe Bookstall, and other sundry odds and ends. But the full story of these must wait; the world is not yet ready for such a harrowing saga. Suffice it to say that I found myself, at last, standing outside the Blossoms, wondering how to negotiate the ingenious revolving door which confronted me. Did I dare enter to brave the thousand and one perils of the '72 Eastercon?

Yes, I dared. With an imperious gesture, I swept in, to be confronted by Greg Pickersgill, Peter Roberts, Rob Holdstock, and others. Small-talk flew around...

"The Turning Worm. Just great. I agreed with every word you wrote."

"I sent you Checkpoint 14 three times. And three times had it returned."

"It's egregious crap, Piggott. Egregious crap."

Roy Kettle bamboozled me into taking his Egregious Guide, a shoddily produced pink pamphlet which was nevertheless not without interest -- indeed, a whole four lines of this publication had never appeared before in any guise. I took it away and galloped upstairs to perform the ritual of registration -- a transaction notable only for the vast quantity of money which changed hands. Checking in at the hotel reception, I received a key with '72' embossed on it... this cryptic legend turned out to be a device whereby I could find out which room and not which year I was in, and after wandering the corridors of the hotel for a half hour I finally arrived at my room.

Entering, I perceived two doors in front of me. One led to a fairly large open space with two beds, a window, and other objects such as permeate hotel rooms, while the other door was a way to a toilet and bath. So great was the magic of this sight that I immediately flopped down on one of the beds in amazement, but this state of affairs did not last long. Voices sounded from outside, and in walked Ian Maule, the famous sex-maniac and also my roommate, accompanied by three other foreigners: Ian 'Tiger' Williams (the biggest small fan in show business), Tom Phenman (whose making fun of my accent and love of Zelazny automatically preclude him from reoeiving serious consideration), and Dave Douglass (who drove the car, though he looked a bit young for that...). These three were destined to freeload on us, an arrangement which was not entirely satisfactory for reasons which will become apparent.

Later, back downstairs, I was confronted by Pickersgill and Kettle, who asked if I wanted to go for a meal with them. I accepted, and waited outside the doors with Roy, John Brosnan and fellow Australian Peter Darling, while Greg wandered off to find Peter Roberts. (Greg and Peter had checked into their hotel the previous night, only to later find that it was not an official overflow hotel at all. They were thus at a loss to know what to do.) We waited for a few minutes, and then Roy went to look for Greg. That was the last we saw of him, too; At length, getting tired of waiting, the two Aussiefen and I went towards the usual Wimpy Bar, only to find it was crowded out. But we found a Golden Egg eventually, and we feasted there on goose with reckless abandon.

When we returned to the Blossoms we found Greg sulking in the lounge. He wasn't much fun at this stage, so I made my way into the bar where I was confronted by Lisa Conesa and other Manchester fans. Lisa, whose charm and beauty were marred only by the leering presence of Rob Holdstock nearby, at once gave me a fanzine to keep me quiet. Whereupon Holdstock made to give me one of his, but he rapidly desisted when he realized I had no intention of paying for it. (He let me have one for free eventually, though.) Nearby sat Brian Robinson, who surprised Greg by being twenty-five instead of fifteen, Pete Presford, a cheerful eighteen-looking six-year-old who surprised everyone by being thirty, and Pete Colley, who looks sixteen and, as far as I know, is. Fans are weird. Despite warnings I bought myself my first vodka and lime of the con, and I really needed it after finding out the price! But by this time, a downstairs bar with slightly lower prices was reputed to be open, so I accompanied Rat and Gannet fandom on their way down there. I swilled back vodkas with a certain amount of contentment, in the company of Bob Rickard, Glaswegian Peter Campbell, Hartley Patterson and others, and even Greg may have thought the con wasn't too bad at that stage.

At half past eight the programme officially started, and certain of us, including myself, stampeded upstairs for the opening. It was a mistake. Dave Kyle spent what seemed to be hours introducing at length just about everyone in the room, fan and pro alike, except me. Most of the pros were still down in the bar, anyway. After that fiasco, the Avengers appeared on the all-electric talking picture palace screen, and while this was in no way entertaining at least it wasn't downright objectionable. Eventually I returned to the bar, where I should have stayed all along.

Nothing much seemed to be happening that Friday night; my birthday had gone almost unmarked by fandom. The four Gannets retired to bed at about midnight, which surprised me no end; but I stuck it out a little longer. Greg came up to me while I was sitting in the lounge and told me of his deep feeling for a certain female in the hotel, and I was unwise enough to make fun of his droolings. Greg went on and on, saying such things as "no meeting of minds" and "piss off", but eventually Kettle came along and saved me. I returned to my room, pausing on my way only long enough to read what Fred Pohl was having for breakfast in the morning. The room was in darkness, and in a fit of consideration for others I refrained from turning the light on. Later in the con I learned better. In the darkness I groped for the toilet door, and finding it locked I trekked back to a public one some seven leagues back down the corridor. You see, I didn't want to rouse everyone by banging on the door, and Williams was blocking the window. Returning to my bed, I went to sleep and...

... was awakened abruptly by movements in the room. It was still dark. A shadowy figure lurched across my field of vision. Ian Maule had been awakened also:

"Williams, what the hell are you doing? Don't you realise it's five in the morning?"

A hammering on the door of the bog gave the answer to that question. After the whole of Chester had been awakened, Penman opened the door. He had taken refuge inside the bog since the rest of the room was full. Voices emerged:

"Hell, Williams, do you have to piss on my bed?"

"I would use the bog, but there's so much junk in here I can't even see it, much less get to it."

When Williams emerged from his ablutions, we heard the sound of pills being shaken from a bottle. Junkie fandom? Williams claimed he took them as anti-hangover tablets. That's his story, and he's sticking to it. At last sleep returned...

... and this time it was light at the rude awakening. Once again Williams was the culprit -- he had risen at dawn and drawn back the curtains so that he could read his programme book. I stayed in bed to watch the Tiger and Dave roll up their sleeping bags and airbeds (at which time Penman emerged from his hideaway and actually allowed others to use it) but I eventually condescended to get up myself.

Breakfast with Ian Maule in the dining room was a ludicrous affair. I didn't feel much like eating a conventional breakfast, and they didn't seem any too keen on the idea of anyone having ten grapefruit and nothing else. During the meal we concluded we were not the only fans in the Blossoms itself, as we had originally thought. The exceptions were few though... Ethel Lindsay, Jeanne Burger, the Pardoes, Eric Bentcliffe, Brian Robinson and Crut being the more obvious examples.

Saturday wasn't really a very good day. I spent much of the time divided between drinking at the bars (the expense of which often only made me feel more miserable) and examining a load of mostly uninteresting books of depressingly negligible quality. The art show, however, was something better, and contained some really superb paintings, particularly those by Eddie Jones. I couldn't afford to buy any, of course, but I did enjoy looking at them.

In the afternoon Chris Priest appeared with his wife. Bemused by the aura emitted by this famous science-fiction well-known professional writer, Ian Williams hung around them, dog-like... I believe he'd have licked Chris's boots had he been permitted to, Chris (who incidentally kept making eyes at us all through the con) had the good sense and tact not to complain about this adulation by his most loyal fan, but it made the rest of us snigger a bit, I can tell you.

Later I was drawn into Lisa's chess tournament, and that was a shambles if ever there was one. (The presence of only three boards was the main cause, probably.) Eventually I was matched against Hans Loose, who would have been a nice guy if only he were not such a damned good chess player, and after doing surprisingly well I fell victim to a trap laid by Hans at the same time as Brian Burgess switched on the television to watch Dr. Who. Maybe the two events were not unconnected... Anyway, since Hans turned out to be the eventual winner, my defeat was perhaps not too ignominious.

During the evening, a series of amateur films were shown, which we watched for want of anything better to do. One of the films, "The Horlas", was the best-produced film I saw during the entire weekend, and it well deserved the prize it was awarded. The Fancy Dress Parade, which occurred just before the films, was notable mainly for the paucity of the number of entrants, though the general standard of entry was good. Fred Hemmings in a titanic hollow clock and Tricky Micky Fox as himself were among the high points.

About midnight I stumbled along to a room party: some said it was being thrown by Lisa, but in fact the room was occupied by a newspaper guy, complete with Press photographer's outfit. Lisa was sitting on the bed chatting with Brian Aldiss, while Holdstock glared. Indeed, this was the only time during the whole con, it seemed, when Holdstock was not keeping Lisa all to himself for his own foul purposes. It wasn't a bad party, as parties go, though the first part of it in particular was a fairly sercon affair, if indeed room parties can be called sercon at all. It seemed to be breaking up as time went on, and so Gannet fandom went to bed. Shortly after, however, the film programme ended and the party swelled again to its former proportions. Ian Williams and I returned to it. From time to time Presford and Penman disrupted the proceedings by blasting water guns (blasphemously labelled 'Ethil the Frogs'), but apart from this drag the whole thing was pleasant enough. We left eventually and returned to our room, waking up Maule in the process.

There were a few drops of blood on Ian's pillow, and he told us gleefully how Penman had hit him on the head with a brown ale bottle. Fortunately, the bottle had been empty at the time. Ian considered this bloodbath to be a fannish achievement second only to having had his arm round a married woman.

In the morning nobody seemed willing to get up (well, after all, it was Sunday), Williams being tired after his excesses of the previous night and the other three just being phlegmatic. I managed to get Williams up, though, by letting down his airbed, and he struggled to his feet, standing inside his sleeping bag and holding it up to his chest in order to hide the flab private parts of his anatomy. He jumped about like some kid in a sack race for a while, but I tired of this game and pulled the bag off him. Ian stood revealed in his full glory, if you can call it that, and there was a general rushing towards cameras. But Ian grabbed a copy of Vector in time to save his reputation.

After breakfast, Williams (fully dressed this time) confronted us again, exhorting us to watch 'Godzilla vs. the Thing'. From this recommendation we imagined that it was a film of some high quality, and Gannets and Rats together accompanied me to the con hall, where the exhibition was to take place. Actually it was just another run-of-the-mill moster movie, though with a few more unintentional laughs than some. Godzilla turned out to be a vast dinosaurian creature, seemingly very fierce; this illusion, however, was shattered when we heard the cries emitted by this gargantuan fossil -- a feline mewl, in fact. 'The Thing' was a tatty old giant moth, so tatty indeed that it died halfway through the film, leaving the entire world at the mercy of Godzilla. Happily for us, its egg then hatched and two maggots bearing a remarkable resemblance to the creepy-crawlies you find under thousand-foot-high boulders in your garden emerged. They proceeded to wrap Godzilla in a silken shroud. I gather Godzilla is a Japanese folk-legend; but I should have thought that the Japanese could conjure up something a llftle more frightening.

During Sunday afternoon we organised a Diplomacy game in the corridor, and after being moved on by Tony Edwards we alighted in the television room. I took Turkey and came second, but would undoubtedly have won were it not for the cowardly treachery of Maule, who paid for his sins by being deservedly eliminated in 1905. Hartley Patterson as England also got beaten fairly quickly, which was a little hard on him since he had done nothing to deserve my vengeance.

The advent of the banquet put an end to the game, and after a fairly good Chinese meal with Hartley Patterson and Ian Maule, I returned to the Buttery Bar in the hotel. Several fans were already there: Peter Roberts, Greg, Roy, Petes Presford and Colley, and many others known only to Ghod as the saying goes. By this time I hadn't much money left, but drank notwithstanding. When Penman rose from the table to buy another, I pestered him to get me one also:

"It's all right, don't worry. I'll give you the money."

"Uhh, four bob... that won"t go far in this place."

"You can get me a vodka and lime, surely. It'll cost only eighteen pence or so."

"Come on! It must be more than that."

"Well, Tom, it's what I usually pay."

Penman wasn't convinced by my show of innocence, though. I saw him consult at length with the bartender; nevertheless, he did buy me something.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Gin."

"But I didn't want gin."

"Look, a vodka costs more than you gave me, I bought gin as it's the drink I hate the most."

The ratfink. I drank the gin anyway. It wasn't all that bad. During the session I tried the same ploy on Kettle, and it didn"t work with him either. He spent the money I gave him on a drink for himself.

It was during this drinking session that the concept of holding a party in my room was finalized. Pete Presford took his van out to get some beer (possession of motorised transport covers a whole family of sins) while the rest of us drifted off. In one corner of the bar now lurked a selection of Chester citizens (it was they who had christened Ian Williams 'Tiger') whose antics, we discovered, are a regular part of day-to-day life at the Blossoms. Rumours were flying about that on a previous occasion the lovely Lisa had found herself alone amid this clique of queers, though I consider the story unlikely to say the least. We all know Holdstock would never have let go that long.

At the auction I had almost no money left to spare, having just lent Pickersgill a quid in a fit of insanity. However, I did acquire one bundle of old zines containing a few Retributions for 4Op. From afar I saw Mike Meara buy twenty Hyphens for £ 8, and there was another guy near the front who seemed to own a money tree in his back garden as well. Pete Weston was proving quite a good auctioneer, that is when he managed to get a word in edgeways against the booksellers. But after a time we left the auction to try and get this party started up.

We sat around for a bit, and nothing happened, so we went around looking for people. But it seemed nearly everyone was watching, 'Barbarella' or some such barbarity, and so about six of us sat in state in the room. Greg arrived with bottles of a clear, watery liquid which he assured us packed a powerful kick, though I wasn't convinced. At length, people started arriving in decent numbers... the Gannets, Pete Weston talking shop, Fred Hemmings with his clock, Presford and Penman soaking each other, my bed, the walls, me, and others with their ubiquitous Ethils, Ramsay Campbell looking like the Prototype of Nicholas van Rijn, and other specimens. Roy Kettle, in a mad fit of evil scheming which I'll never forgive, attempted to crush me into Fred's clock, cleverly contriving that while I resisted I should shatter a glass against my teeth. His vile scheme worked beyond all his hopes, and as blood surged forth into the room for a second time Ian Williams turned bright green and rushed to barricade himself in the toilet. A sound of retching was heard by the more fanciful at this point. Luckily my cut lip was not badly done in (though I now have a scar with which to titillate my grandchildren and future con-goers) and the blood stopped flowing after a short time.

About this time the party broke up, most of the attendees (and most of the hosts!) leaving for other pastures. Penman was left to repel all boarders. He told us later that Larry Niven had arrived in search of a party, but had left when he found it was over. Reports that he went away muttering, "Gee, I thought I'd made the kzinti pretty weird, but that guy's accent...!" were generally discounted as slightly exaggerated.

But it was now two o'clock, and nothing much was happening; We had investigated a party being given by Jeanne Burger some time before, but it hadn't appealed. Someone then told us there was a party in room 23, and a search was organised. Rooms 2l, 22, 24, 25 and 26 were found fairly easily, but not 23... We concluded it didn't exist. I proceeded back to my room, where I discovered the two water-guns unattended. Realising what a heavensent opportunity had presented itself, I filled the guns at the tap, and when Penman appeared I let him have it with both barrels -- a fitting punishment for the myriad indignities I had suffered at his (and Presford's) hands.

Ambling down, I lit on Chris Priest, whom I suspected of having originated the room 23 hoax. He threatened me with a fate worse than death if I squirted him -- "I'll dedicate my next book to you!" -- and casting my mind back to the extreme nausea of 'The Head and the Hand', I scuttled off, eventually finding Fred Hemmings, trailed by Ian Maule with John Brosnan who was nursing his broken umbrella. An amazing game of chess (two-a-side) ensued. This lasted for two moves only, since Fred and Ian could not decide which pieces to move, and we emerged to find certain fans making messages on the hotel's notice-board. Several of these inscriptions were photographed and I could give the names of the perpetrators; Lisa would probably kill them, though, if she found out who they were.

Later we wandered back to my room, where we were stupefied by the fearsome apparition of Greg's body lying prone upon my bed, For a happy moment we thought he was dead, but our fond illusions were shattered beyond all repair when he started giving vent to a raucous snore. We considered for some while this gruesome sight, wondering whether the joy of being relieved from the foulness of the noise would be worth the effort of carrying him to the window and throwing him out. Suddenly who should come in but Peter Roberts, Greg's unofficial guardian. We immediately decided to give him the problem to solve. The Easter Bunny wasn't very interested, though, and eventually Greg solved our dilemma for us by waking up and walking out of his own accord.

The two Ians and I wandered about the hotel corridors for some time, eventually gaining the ground floor after a series of adventures. Greg was there, peacefully sleeping upon the floor. I suppose one of the hotel staff must have come along with a dustpan and brush at some stage and swept him up, since later when we passed he was gone.

We stood awhile by the side of a card game, watching Peter Roberts adjust piles of money in front of him. His long hair was matched only by his long face, and though, as we later found out, he had ended the game with a ten bob profit, he must have been richer than that at some stage and lost the excess. But bed was calling. As the sun came up we went down...

... but not for long were we asleep. Only an hour, in fact. The Gannet morons wanted to leave at nine o'clock for some totally inane reason. So after a very early breakfast, Ian Maule and I went to pay our hotel bill... £ 21. I threw two £ 10 notes casually on the desk, as if it were the kind of thing I do regularly, and Ian contributed a fiver. After receiving our change we adjusted our mutual resources to ensure each of us paid the same contribution to the bill. This seemingly simple manoeuvre, involving merely the transfer of £ 9.50 between Ian and myself, nevertheless took us twenty minutes to accomplish; and after that the Gannets left, and I was alone.

I had a bath, on the theory that since I had paid for the thing I might as well use it, and then I forayed into the lounge where Terry Jeeves was huckstering OMPAcon memberships with expertise. I paid up my ten bob with some misgivings... do these OMPA people realise what they're up against? Outside, in the foyer, people were packing up and getting ready to leave, all the time bombarded by Presford's two children throwing paper aeroplanes. He's got 'em well trained, has that Presford guy.

Everyone left was either wandering around er else sitting in a bemused state, myself included, At length I decided it was time to part with such sweet sorrow. Pete Presford kindly offered me a lift to the station, but he nearly killed me by driving into my legs just after I'd got out. I hope it was just tiredness, else god knows what he'll do to me when he reads this.

At length, swallowed up in the British Rail network, I resigned myself to oblivion...

-- John Piggott

(Thanks to Ian Maule for providing this text)

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