Entropy & The Heat Death of Winchester

by Graham Charnock


What a grey wet god-awful place. But at least my Satnav was clever enough to avoid the route the AA had suggested through the grey industrial estate on the outskirts and the depressing town centre full of fat girls in leggings, and take me round the back way through the various Worthy Hamlets. I think we've gone wrong, said Pat. Yes, I'm sure we have, I told her, but let's get the convention over before we seek marital guidance.

And then we arrived at the hotel and there were people we knew standing on the steps of the front entrance that we actually recognized even if it was only Ian and Janice Maule. Not much later there were more people we actually recognized, and not much later Frank Lunney and Ted White who emerged into the main lobby like twins joined at the hip. I imagine they had been knitting bedsocks in Ted's room in the interim, or whatever the current euphemism is, but we were pleased to see them and they were pleased to see us.

"Where are we eating," said Frank . "And when?" He looked nervously at his watch. "And what? How many starters do you think we should have? I think four is the minimum, especially if there are only four in the party."

As it happened, much later, children, there were nine in the party, but we only had four starters. Entropy caught up with Frank and his best laid plans, as indeed it caught up with us all later that weekend.

But first there were plans to be made, official committee meetings to be held. Rob Jackson blew his whistle, started his stopwatch and watched us scrum down in the bar (the real bar, that is) while he tossed us important issues to discuss like, Should there be a communal box of tissues on display, and if so should we charge a small fee per tissue, or should we simply get a Kurdish woman to sit in one corner of the lobby with a paper cup and a notice round her neck saying "Corflu Widow, no work except collating, please give."

Ah, the collating. I'd almost forgotten the collating, but a shot of whisky brings it back. I think this was in fact the first collating party I have even been to, despite a long and illustrious career in fandom (it says here). I always used to collate my own fanzines myself and even Dave Copping's fanzine when he let me print them for him. (Nobody remembers Dave Copping these days. He was a young estate agent who even then looked like an old estate agent, except the spittle of his clients hadn't yet congealed on his smart pin-stripe suit. We printed and I collated his fanzine in my father's garage in Alperton, and I warned him (David Copping, not my father) to watch out he didn't get engine oil on his brogues. But he wouldn't listen. My father, not David Copping. My father had a habit of not listening to many things I said, especially 'No, Dad, don't open the door!' when I was masturbating in my bedroom.)

How did we get on to David Copping? Ah, collating.

I didn't realize it could be so much fun. We had these gussetted envelopes to fill you see, and after we'd all fallen about giggling on the floor about how comical the word gusset was, and had decided that it should be mandatory that it was introduced to every programme item by every participant and mentioned at least three times, we finally got on with the task. Well, we didn't. We fell about laughing a lot more, then Rob blew his whistle and we marched on inexorably in double file stuffing gussetted (ho ho) envelopes as we went. Soon the fun and the real reason for us being there was over, so, all mumbling "What do we do next?", we went back to the main bar.

Frank Lunney cornered me. "What do you think about starters?"he asked. "Maybe , we should go for five starters even if there are only four in the party," he said. "What do you think?"

After a while this became a real and not a fantasy issue as a group of us marshalled ourselves to find lunch in Winchester. "We'll go to a pub I know just down the road," said Rob displaying splendid but misguided leadership since it was already two o'clock, as I pointed out, and no pub in Winchester would be serving lunch after two o'clock, as I also pointed out. But apparently I wasn't forceful enough. Really must take an assertiveness training course.

So we set off, manfully and several womanfully. Ted kept up manfully despite a chronic inability to walk for more than a hundred yards without pausing to lean against a wall and complain that the pavement had disappeared because the streets were so narrow, and we could easily get mown down by non-existent cars. I reminded him that this was the future and cars now flew, so there was no danger of that. He laughed appreciatively at my joke displaying distinctly feral teeth.

When we got to the pub everybody was extremely surprised to find that is was no longer serving lunch. Jay Kinney said he was kind of glad because he suspected the pub had surveillance cameras and he wasn't happy about eating under those circumstances in any event. Ted had had enough, of walking that is, and collapsed in a heap on a portion of the pavement (sidewalk) which hadn't yet disappeared. We considered putting a paper cup in his hand and hanging a notice around his neck saying: "No Wife, No Family, Need money for dope." but decided against it.

Rob ran back to the hotel to fetch his car (or ambulance as he was now calling it) to pick up Ted, whilst the rest of us strode ever onwards manfully and womanly. Eventually after going down several cul-de-sacs, along several unsigned paths and across mud-soaked mires (it was only drizzling slightly) we found the high street.

An incredibly fishy odour surrounded us. This appeared to be issuing from a restaurant called the Loch Fyne Fish Restaurant. We went in to have a look and Sandra Bond immediately retched and threw up on the floor. It was incredible fishy, enough so to cause us to back out on the pavement wringing our hands and shrivelling in disgust. "I don't like fish" said Sandra and that seemed to settle the matter.

Next stop was a pseudo Italian pizza restaurant. This looked better. There were nine of us.

"We could probably have eight starters," said Frank. "If not nine."

They offered us a table for six and a table for three which since there were only six of us there at the time, Rob and Ted and Linda following on in Rob's car (do keep up), we leapt upon.

"How big are the pizzas" Frank asked.

"Six inches," I replied. "This is England and there's a recession. That's the maximum size for pizzas under the current government."

"Gee," said Frank "I hope they're not limiting the number of starters you can have."

Eventually Rob, Ted, and Linda arrived.

"We've got tables for six and a three," I said.

Linda looked at me directly with a steely glare I later came to know and love.

"Is that the best you could do?" she asked, rolled up her sleeves (actually she was wearing a short sleeved top, but I think you understand my expression was a colloquialism) and marched off to confront the management. That was, after all, what we had been paying her for.

A man eventually appeared grovelling profusely, wearing sackcloth and ashes and a big sign saying 'MEAL CULPA', and directed us to the back room where they had fiendishly managed to push four tables together to accommodate all of us.

Frank was looking distinctly nervous now, because he feared we might have offended the management and they would somehow restrict the number of starters he could order, but we mopped his brow and comforted him. Eventually the pizzas arrived which turned out to be at least ten inches in diameter.

Frank looked at me balefully.

"You misled me," he said. "If I'd known they were going to be this big, I'd have left room in my stomach for more starters."

I didn't ask him how this could be humanly possible. Maybe Americans, like cows, have two stomachs, I thought, one for starters and one for the main courses.

Then back to the hotel. It may have been that we actually collated our gussetted envelopes after this meal, and not earlier as I might have intimated (do keep up). You know how it is when entropy catches up with you, and the Einsteinian time dilation effect kicks in.

Back at the hotel, in the bar, Frank started planning the next meal, but we happily left him to it, because even more people we recognized had arrived. You can see their names on the Corflu Website if Ian Maule hasn't already taken the whole thing down in a fit of pique at not being thanked enough, along with Peter Sulliivan for his sterling role in organizing ethereal internet things. But If I were Frank and I had a starter for every time someone thanked those two for actually doing what was basically their jobs, Frank and I would be much fatter people.

I ended up recognizing virtually everybody I saw at the convention, except for a walk-in on Saturday called Peter Wilkinson who loomed about for a while. He resembled a younger thinner bearded D. West, looking totally out of place and not so much bemused by what was going on, so much as like a reporter sent from the Daily Mail who had heard something involving Polish immigrants being hired for less than the minimum wage was going on at the hotel. I thought of approaching him and telling him to speak to Jay Kinney about this, but then thought better of it and directed him over to Frank to ask what the starters were.

Suddenly, after sandwiches and beer it was Saturday.

I realized this condensation of events may not please everyone but that's what it seemed like to me when entropy caught up with me about 12.00 midnight. I can't even blame Ted for sending me to sleep by telling me the same anecdote he'd already told me several times before. Well, of course, I can.

Uncle Johnny and the incredibly beautiful Audrey arrived, having reluctantly dragged themselves away from following the horse racing at Cheltenham where they had singularly failed to win anything on a horse called 'Dun Shagging' or something.

Uncle Johnny and I hugged and embraced as if we'd never recently insulted each other on-line.

Roy Kettle arrived. We hugged and embraced as if we'd never recently insulted each other on-line.

D. arrived and we hugged and embraced like two men who had been starved of anal sex for too long.

This was an on-going theme for me throughout the convention (not the anal sex). People I'd insulted in the past seemed to have forgotten all those well-meant and thoroughly justified insults and the basis for them. This principle even worked in real time at the con like when I insulted Ian Sorensen and he forgave me when I pointed it out to him; several times. He forgave me even though it was obvious he had in fact forgotten all about it, or, more likely, that my insult had been so subtle it hadn't impinged upon him at all in the first place. Isn't entropy wonderful?

It occurred to me quite early on Saturday morning (about 4am) that since it was Saturday morning and I was in charge of programming I was supposed to do something. I did. I went back to sleep. Then I woke up again. It was half past ten. Fucking shit, I yelled, jumping straight out of bed and into my clothes just like that cartoon character I can't remember and have possibly just invented. If I have just invented him maybe Dan Steffan can draw him for me.

Pausing only to down several vodkas I lurched down to the con hall.

Martin Hoare was there and had actually turned on the PA. He was sitting back relaxing in an insouciant fashion filing his fingernails with an emery board and occasionally adjusting the silver hardware that hung from his ear-lobe. Someone was knealing at his feet painting his toe-nails. At least I assumed that was what they were doing, but Catherine had just washed her hair and it was frankly all over the place, so I couldn't see properly.

People were entering the con hall.

'Panel," I managed to croak into the microphone, pointing at four people who had turned up to sit next to me as if I had actually invited them.

After that it got easier, as long as I managed to avoid Frank who was now carrying around a notebook, in which he was listing potential starters for the next meal and who might be interested in what. Later I managed to tear a sheet out of the notebook in an attempt to deflect him. It didn't because he'd memorized it but at least I can replicate it here:

Sandra: Fish Balls, Sushi x2. Roll mop herrings.

Jay Kinney: Those little krepisches with gravlax on them, deep fried bugs.

Dixie: Shrimp, possibly double or even triple shrimp.

Linda: Clam Chowder, Creole whatnots, bayou dumplings.

Graham: Vodka tartlets.

Rob Jackson: Balls, any kind of balls. Sheep's testicles, peeled.

Ted White: Crabby Cakes, Sid Caeser salad.

Malcolm Edwards: Pate de Foie Gras with truffles, blinis with caviar. Thinly sliced expense account crepe suzettes.

Uncle Johnny: Momos, thentuk, baglep, pocha, tubo.

The programme passed in a blur, mostly because I hadn't cleaned my glasses since Ian Sorensen had spat on them.

Saturday Night .

Claire Brialey, Mark Plummer, and James Bacon decided to take Pat and I out to dinner, and furthermore pay for it. To this day I don't know why, but I suspect they might have been trying to ingratiate themselves with us, because one of us might have been able to do something for them in return, like change the wheel on their car, except they don't have a car. But one day they might well have (when Mark gets paid) so this would be a kind of obligation on us. I could see we would meet at a future con sometime and Mark would sidle over to me with a wheel-spanner in his hand and say, '"You know when you agreed to fix my wheel..."

Obviously this general tit-for-tat principle would apply to Pat, rather than me, since she is far more capable of doing something for people than I am, unless it is helping them to sit down and putting a paper cup in their hand and a sign around their neck, which is what I rather specialize in.

Pat had earlier expressed some degree of nervousness at meeting and interacting with James Bacon.

I reassured her, "Don't worry, he's just a C**t, but at least he doesn't make lists of starters."

Claire had earlier warned Pat that James, being James, and Irish, and a git, would try to make a pass at her. I suspect this remark was meant as flattery but Pat, although clean and well kept, is hardly a stunningly attractive sex goddess. In fact I think only a blind man or someone so totally lacking in taste as Tobes Valois could ever seriously entertain fantasies about getting off with her. As it happened, James didn't try anything. Neither did Claire with me, to my eternal sorrow.

Also, in the same restaurant that night were most of my other friends at Malcolm Edwards' table. I call it 'his' table because he apparently picked up the entire bill for twenty-six people. This was an act of amazing personal generosity totally unrelated to his expense account. If James, Claire and Mark hadn't paid for me, I might have felt I'd lost out somewhere. But they did and I didn't.

Suddenly it was Sunday. 4.00am. I rolled over in bed and kissed the pillow to which I had foolishly pinned the picture that Claire Brialey had sent me as a Bonnie Bairn. It's all over, my darling Claire, I whispered. You and I can run off into the sunset together and have sexual congress with a flock of goats (well you know what dreams are like).

Then, fuck no, Bonnie babies. Group Photo. Phew, thank God I asked Bill Burns to do the photo. I rushed down to the lobby. Bill was there. Thanks for offering to do the group photo, I said. He looked at me blankly. Aaaarghh, I screamed, rushing out to get my camera and tripod. As it happened, Mike Scott stepped into the breach, almost as if he had been asked to, and consummate professional that he is proceeded to snap away.

The Bonnie Bairns thing gave me the most bother of the entire convention for something so trivial and unimportant (apart from the duplicator thing which was so unimportant it never happened. How could I have been so stupid as to envisage fans getting together, putting on rubber gloves, taking up wire wool and WD40 to strip down a Roneo? Memo to Curt Phillips: This might be something you wish to consider for your convention).

For a start, late-added photos didn't get on the master list. Anne KG Murphy complained as only a grumpy young girl can do that although her photo was put up, she wasn't on the list. I did my best to appease her later by fixing the vote to make sure she won the prize for the most beautiful bairn. I don't feel too bad about this because she is quite good looking, although she will never entirely supplant Claire Brialey in my fantasies, especially where goats are involved. Then it was time to eat again.

"Are you happy with vol au vents?" Frank asked scribbling in his notebook. "Although I'm not entirely surely what they are. Do you think they will have Black Sausage?"

We went back to the pub that had rejected us earlier. Art fell over in the car park outside the hotel, and I almost feared another John Brunner Convention Death Incident. But after Art had been helped to his feet and Dr Rob had fixed him with vinegar and brown paper, we pressed ahead. Art did in fact suffer a nasty gash to his forearm, but at the time of writing I believe he is okay and has gone back to stay with Rob Hansen and Avedon who are not at all worried that he will pass away in their care.

This time we had booked ahead for the pub. Unfortunately so had Ian Sorensen's party but they were sufficiently far away from us for the sound of his voice only to be a faint barely audible whisper in the background as he bayed for the blood of others and unselfconsciously promoted himself.

The pub was a real find, the food excellent, the waitress young and charming, attractive and attentive and kept calling us loves. Even Frank was happy with the range of starters.

Back at the hotel in the bar Frank screwed up his copious notes about starters and threw them away, realizing entropy had finally caught up with him, as it was soon about to do with all of us.

Roy, Harry Bell and Pat Mailer, Pat, Frank and I found a corner to settle down in. But entropy it seemed was going to have the last joke.

Ian Sorensen wandered over and fake-flattered us with a remark about us being the cool people.

He then spoke very loudly about whatever subject came into his head, none of which were interesting to us. Martin Hoare came over. Martin is a very nice man, but he lacks certain social graces, and Ian talking very loudly seemed to provoke him into responding with equal loudness.

Frank beat himself on the forehead with his glass and discreetly retired. As soon as the rest of us were able to we did the same. A game of human chess then ensued with us positioning ourselves in the lobby so that Ian would not feel comfortable about approaching us. This involved many tactical and on-going manoeuvres , to which we gave names such as The Good Knight Gambit, and Castleing when Ian actually moved from one side of the lobby to the other, all of which much amused Linda no end who was sitting at the bar observing.

Ian later chastised me for running off and leaving him stuck with Martin Hoare. He really didn't get the point.

When the bar finally closed, Frank, Linda , Colin and Sandra emerged. They had been sniffing nitrous oxide in Sandra's room. Frank was keen for Roy and I to experience the ten-second hit it apparently induced. It had certainly seemed to make Sandra look very happy but that may have been because she was taking ten second hits every ten seconds. Because Roy and I were both old men fearful of our reputations in fandom, and the state of our hearts, we declined, made our apologies and left with the crack whores we had hired earlier.

Suddenly it was all over. Breakfast on Monday was done. The lobby filled and emptied with departing fans, some of whom were Pat and I. Emotional goodbyes were said. And even to Jerry Kaufman. Never got to say a final goodbye to Frank and Ted but they know I love them, as I do you all.

When we got home our two cats looked at us and stalked off in disdain as if wondering who these two strangers were who had suddenly invaded their tiny world, and where our son, the handsome Virologist who had been regularly feeding them, had gone.

Entropy, see.

--Graham Charnock 22/3/10