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NEWCASTLE 1974 - TYNECON




ONCE UPON A TYNE

by Bob Shaw

Does this happen to other fans? I look forward to a convention for six months and am quite keyed up on the journey to it - but as soon as the hotel comes into view I'm gripped by an inexplicable timidity and get an urge to turn around and go home again. This effect was more apparent than ever on arriving at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle for the Tynecon, perhaps because I was Guest of Honour and wasn't sure how a GoH should disport himself.

Another source of concern was that I wasn't completely myself. I have never been what one would call willowy or lissome in build, and towards the end of 1973 had been progressing from being burly to being downright fat. This prompted me to go on a diet on which I lost over 40 lb. The position, therefore, was that the Tynecon committee had invited the full-scale Bob Shaw to be GoH - and only three-quarters of me was showing up!

As it transpired, my whittled-down appearance triggered off a kind of dieting chain reaction in the British SF world which - in terms of weight alone - reduced our ranks by the equivalent of one good-sized fan. It became noticeable at the Novacon six months later, an affair which reminded me of that Dick or Sheckley story in which people could equip themselves with bodies of their own choice. Peter Nicholls showed up in a late-model Tony Curtis; John Steward, formerly built like two football players, appeared wearing a natty Anthony Perkins; and the biggest transformation of all was in Jim Goddard, always invaluable as a landmark ("The bar? Yes, it's over there behind Jim Goddard."), who walked in dressed in a nifty Robert Redford. Quite literally, nobody knew who he was!

They all said they had been inspired by me, so I guess I can claim to have improved the health of U.K. fandom, but I keep thinking about our "lost" fan and the fanzines he might one day have produced. But then, perhaps he is happily at work organising a separate fandom in a limbo world inhabited by all the humanity which has vanished from the face of the earth since Calorie-counting came into vogue. You can visualise them - jolly little round hominids composed entirely of banished fat - bouncing all over the place at their own little worldcons. They would be carefree creatures except that, presumably, when a person backslides on his diet and begins putting on weight again his counterpart in Fatland would begin to shrink. The word would soon go round - "Smithers is getting smaller, being recalled to his maker, looks like he'll never finish stencilling his second Issue." So, if you have lost weight and feel tempted to go back onto apple pie and cream, just remember you could be depriving a cuddly little cherub of his chance to win a Hugo.

Another weird thing about the Novacon was that Nudist Radish Squashing Competition held in secret on the Sunday morning. I was going to give the names of the three BNFs who won it, but this is an article about the Tynecon so those revelations will have to wait.

It is almost impossible to write a con report unless you have made notes at the time, but one event, or non-event, burned into my memory is the affair of my GoH speech on the Saturday evening. I was due to speak at 8.00 and previous to that was having dinner with a publisher, with a taxi calling for us at 6. 00. At first it all seemed very easy, then a panel discussion with Brian Aldiss and Peter Nicholls - who were also eating with us - overran its time, and our schedule began to slip. Then the taxi failed to show up, and we found ourselves setting out on foot at 7.00. It was a good restaurant, with a leisurely service intended to give customers maximum opportunity to savour the fine food and wine, but I was perched unhappily on the edge of the seat fretting and sweating about the time, wondering if I dared make a discreet exit after the soup.

A waiter advised me which dishes would be ready soonest, and - being a vegetarian - I chose venison. This perhaps requires some explanation. You see, I happen to believe that all these reports we hear about vegetables having emotions, and being able to feel pain, are perfectly true, and - as a creature like a lettuce has never done anybody any harm - I feel the only humanitarian thing to do is to be a meat-eater. Unfortunately, the venison took quite a long time to arrive, so I explained to the company that I would have to scoff it down and leave immediately afterwards. They nodded understandingly. I popped a piece of meat into my mouth, gnashed down on it with great force, and promptly discovered the second reason I shouldn't have ordered venison.

There was a piece of lead shot in the piece I had chosen, and it drove its way through a filling in a rear tooth like a ricochet from an Armalite rifle.

Now, there are pains and there are pains. There's the pain from a corn, which causes you to wince and manfully carry on; there's the pain of indigestion, which makes you writhe around a little; and there's the pain of a headache, which makes you look wan and thoughtful. The correct natural response to this pain would have been to emit a piercing shriek and fall to the floor with both hands clapped to the mouth.

At the moment it came, however, my host was leaning across the table telling me a joke, and there was the added complication that if I revealed what had happened he, being a very gentlemanly person, would probably have called the management on my behalf and I would have been later than ever for the speech. So I sat perfectly still, and smiled at the joke, and all the while I could feel each individual pore on my face opening and expelling a bead of cold sweat. This produced a curious secondary agony, rather like having a needle-spiked cylinder rolled across the forehead and cheeks, but I didn't mind because it helped divert my attention from the dental Hiroshima within.

When the power of controlled movement returned I swallowed the rest of the venison in whole chunks, just the way it was served, mumbled apologies and fled downstairs to the street. It was bitterly cold in Newcastle that night and the first gust of North Sea air triggered off the damaged tooth again. Into the bargain, I then realised I wasn't too sure of my way back to the hotel. I ran off up the hill, lop-sided, nursing my jaw and moaning like a wounded wolfman, alternately praying and swearing, trying to think up a few off-the-cuff opening witticisms for my speech, and taking every wrong turning possible. If a prowl car had glimpsed me in the darkness the entire Newcastle Constabulary would have been issued with revolvers and silver bullets; but, finally, I reached the Royal Station, loped up the stairs and encountered Ian Maule, who said: "No need to panic, Bob - we've postponed you till tomorrow night."

So far in this report there hasn't been much said about the convention programme. It was a helluva good programme, with lots of entertaining items, but knowledge of it is already in the public domain, and I'm too late for that sort of report anyway. So the next item is an account of the first room party ever given by the Shaws.

I've been attending conventions for over twenty years on and off, and love room parties, but somehow it had never before occurred to me to act as host. Sadie and I had a fair-sized room which should have been ample for the purpose, but the word must have got around that I was finally going to pay back some of the booze consumed in two decades of visiting other people's parties.

On the Sunday night our room was so crowded that if you spilt a drink capillary attraction made it go up! And there was so much smoke around that the only people who got fresh air were the ones sucking filter cigarettes. I managed to find a comfortable spot by nestling in between the embossings on the wallpaper, and spent the entire night there, trapped.

From this vantage point I didn't see a great deal of what was going on, and consequently was intrigued when - round about 3. 00 am - I observed Brian Aldiss shooting up into the air, almost reaching the ceiling, and then sinking back down out of sight. He repeated this feat about a dozen times, gracefully, each time seeming to hang motionless just below the ceiling in defiance of gravity, with a look of beatific contemplation on his face. I grew quite entranced by this spectacle, and therefore felt disappointed when the initially perfect symmetry of his movements decayed into ordinary parabolas and he began colliding with other people and had to abandon his ethereal ballet.

I must admit that for a while my faith in Brian was slightly shaken, but I needn't have worried. The thing that went wrong was that two legs of my bed, which he was using as a trampoline, had proved unequal to his artistry, and the weight of about ten other people, and had gradually folded up, inclining him further and further off course. Given a perfectly horizontal launching pad he could have gone on bouncing on the one spot all night.

When the party ended, about two hours later, Sadie and I collapsed without even noticing what had happened to the bed. We had that exhausted but happy feeling you get when you know you have hosted a really successful social occasion. Our contented glow lasted until we got up next morning with splitting headaches caused by breathing an atmosphere similar to the aftermath of a fire in a used clothing dump. All around the crippled bed were heaped up drifts of cigarette ends, beer cans, bottles, glasses, biscuit crumbs, cigar wrappers, lost fanzines, peanuts and quote cards. I was still hunting for my shoes when a cleaning lady opened the door. She stopped on the threshold, looked around, and backed away shaking her head.

I waved at her. "Don't mind us - you can tidy up now if you want."

She fled down the corridor and came back with two others. All three examined the room in silence, retired to the corridor, held some kind of a union meeting, then went away and returned with the hotel manager.

"Sorry about all this," I said. "We had a few friends in last night."

He nodded. "That's all right, sir. If you would like to take your luggage down to the lobby we'll try to clear up."

"Oh, but we're not leaving," I told him. "We're staying an extra day. For a party." The blood drained out of his face so quickly that hundreds of corpuscles must have been killed in the rush, but, to give that manager credit, when he learned the party was in Rob Jackson's house and not in his hotel he became quite affable. While we were being moved to another room he told us that four other beds had been wrecked on the same night, and thus he unwittingly solved a problem that had been perplexing me for some time. Lots of good conventions linger in the memory, so what was needed was a good objective and qualitative assessment of their excellence. Something similar to the star system the AA uses for hotels.

Now we have our rating system. And the Tynecon - probably the first "five-bed" convention - must be at the top of the charts.

-- Bob Shaw


(Thanks to Peter Weston for providing this text)







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