I'd planned to take thirty copies of my new zine to flog but they were formidably heavy to carry and our two suitcases with wheels had been carried off to Scotland by university-bound offspring. Normally I'd have used our ancient wheel-less one, but ironically I had damaged my wrist with too much keyboarding in a despairing effort to get the damn zine finished before 23 February, and couldn't lift it at all. I had to settle instead for just 12 copies in the half-size wheeled suitcase. Things never turn out how you think they will. Ask Avon.
En route to Ashford, I sat across the aisle from a strangely familiar woman who turned out to be Paula, noted wit (see caption competition below), author and now Master of Disguise, for she had cunningly grown her hair two inches longer than when we last met a couple of years ago. Well, it sure fooled me. Together with another fan we took a few minutes to find the way out of the station and get a taxi to the International, Britain's premier convention hotel; why go anywhere else?
For the second con running, hotel reception had listed me as Mr Blenkarn. They had also separated me from my roommate, but nevertheless it is still my favourite hotel, and would be even if it didn't have Sainsbury's conveniently across the car park. I bumped into Ivan, Britain's joint number one chief steward, who helpfully pointed out that our room was handily placed just around the corner from the communal iron. Pity I hadn't brought the denim shirt. Inside the room I switched off the "welcome Mr Blenkarn" message on the telly, wondered what to do with the playpen in the corner, had a cup of tea, and set off for Sainsbury's. I brought back emergency rations for the weekend, including two reduced price chocolate cream doughnuts. A fan queueing in front of me had got six reduced price onion bagels, a bag of apples and two Cadbury's crhme eggs. Enjoy.
Back in the room I phoned home, allegedly to announce my safe arrival but really to check the video was set for A Fine Romance, and ask if the plumbers had fitted the new radiators without flooding a distant part of the house, which has been known. Have you ever noticed that Liberator never has any normal everyday problems with heating systems, fraying carpets, temperamental thermostats or such like, but Avon is always having to lavish care on consoles? Is there a comic song title here, something about consoling consoles? Just a passing thought. Rob told me the new radiators were fully functional and cleared for blasting heat. However we probably wouldn't be removing the ancient fitted carpet and sanding the floorboards as planned, as lifting it to fit the radiator revealed that some deranged previous owner had painted the boards a virulent shade of Zeeona of Betafarl pink.
Janet wasn't due to arrive for some time so I filled the washbasin with cold water and put a bottle of wine to chill for later, then remembered I hadn't registered. So back downstairs to the registration desk, then into the bar where I said hello to some familiar faces, and finally bought Neil the pint I had owed him since Whos'7 96. Was it really time for the opening ceremony already?
The main hall was dimly lit but I eventually found the table of Ares, God of War. Ares bore a strong resemblance to the Sandman of Redemption 99, but without the nice coat with red flashes. The opening ceremony went off splendidly, with Cpt. Spock and the Clangers declaring their last minute candidature for the Presidency alongside the traditional candidates. Spike of the undead was late, G'Kar had acquired a Scottish accent as well as a consort, and Sheridan got murdered. An everyday story of convention folk.
Mixer games, then Quiz Time! I was shocked to discover that I am a sadder person than I had thought, as I knew the answers to eight out of ten of the B7 questions. On the other hand, despite having just written five parodies of Mission to Destiny I had no idea what numbers whatsisname had scrawled in blood. What a relief. The rest of the team dealt with the other questions with such success that we ended up with 26 points - Victory! And against Neil's team. Wow. Sadly, when stern quiz supremo Servalan - eat your heart out Anne Robinson, or maybe Spike could do it for you - looking ravishing in red, checked our answers she discovered the team marking them were numerical challenged but eventually we won anyway, so there!
I missed the party in Rita's room as my Janet had at last arrived, with a heavy suitcase and notes for an essay on national identity and the British Empire in case she got bored. We retired to our room and retrieved the bottle from the wash basin. Unfortunately I had turned on the hot tap by mistake. Verdicchio isn't ususally drunk warm but we had some anyway then repaired to the bar for a cool beer. Why is wine so incredibly expensive in hotel bars when the price of beer is relatively normal?
We talked to a fan whose name I can't remember, who came up with a brilliant explanation of one of B7's conundrums: why does Avon wear gauntlets on board ship? Because at night, in the privacy of his cabin, he is a cordon bleu chef, and the gauntlets are really oven gloves. It makes sense, y'know. Vila lives off pork scratchings, Tarrant and Dayna are young and therefore live exclusively on pizza, and Soolin wouldn't be seen dead in the galley. Pondering this insight, I took my zines to the new zine launch, where everyone's offerings sounded exciting. I was struck by the coincidence of two of us independently basing a poem on Noel Coward's Let's Do It - is this some Auron mind control technique? Why not buy both zines and decide for yourself?
By the time we finished we had missed the start of David Walsh's "Servalan and I" but were in time for the early overs of the Blake's 7 v. Babylon 5 cricket match, organised by the indispensable Harriet. This years' match was being played with new technology, we could spin instead of throwing dice. There was less time lost retrieving the dice from under the table, but spinning too vigorously made for seismic activity on the pitch. Blake won the toss but things started problematically for the valiant but somewhat headstrong B7 openers Jenna and Tarrant. Or was that the second innings?
I couldn't stay long as I was joining Predatrix in kicking off a session on clichis in sci-fi. As is traditional in workshops, we began by moving the furniture into a non-hierarchical non-threatening circle,then Predatrix started off the discussion and I made copious notes from force of habit. It's quite extraordinary how many clichis people came up with. I couldn't write fast enough to note them all, but if anyone would like to write the ultimate clichid story, here are a few you cannot do without. Some are peculiar- and we use the word advisedly - to particular series, some are generic, but all should be recognisable.
Back to the cricket match, where Blake's 7 had concluded their first innings in my absence but I was in time for the Babylon Five team's response. I am gradually learning to recognise who these people are, thanks to Harriet's cut-out figures. If ever I get around to watching B5 I shall however expect Ivanova to have no arms below the elbows, and Delenn to be constantly fiddling with he hair. Janet, not being a cricket fan, went off to Sainsbury's in search of lottery tickets. Steve R. strode past in one of his many costume changes, with a tribble impaled on a stick - for shame! People were scurrying around in search of competition clues, little furry creatures etc, and removing rival Ruler of the Universe posters.
We went to listen to Joe Nazzaro's talk on forthcoming American series, after which I returned to the cricket while Janet went to check out the used zine stall. Some time later we went back to our room to drink some coffee and devour cheese and biscuits, thus missing "When I'm an evil overlord." I'd meant to go, but I needed the caffeine. There was nothing much on the tv, a B-movie with Richard Todd, or Stewart Grange or some other unmemorable fifties leading man, and sport. Shrewsbury Town won their match 7 goals to 1 and we wondered if we should seek out Steve R. and give him the good news?
I can't remember what happened next, so it was probably back to the boulevard / bar. We'd been wondering where Val Westall and Linda Norman has got to, and were sorry to hear both had flu and couldn't make it. The Baskervilles were also absent as Baby Baskerville 11 was due at any moment. The con had already had a Marriage (Mollari/G.Kar or Lesley/David, depending on which universe you are in) and a Death (Sheridan) and Harriet pondered whether Baskerville II would do the decent thing and give us the full set. If so, Redemption Baskerville would be a memorable name, wouldn't it?
I saw Julia briefly, and told her about the attempted theft the previous week of two apple trees in tubs that she had given me when she left for foreign parts. The thieves got away with our bikes over the garden fence, but were apparently interrupted as they abandoned the two trees in our neighbour's drive. Steve came by in another costume change - give this man a prize - and reported that all the copies of my zine had been sold, startling and welcome news as I needed the money. The same week the bikes went, my glasses had cracked and I'd had to spend #180 on a new pair. This is not what you want just before a convention, which was why I stayed away from the dealer's room.
After roast lamb in the dining room it was time for the Fancy Dress and Cabaret, which as ever was a triumph of fans' skills and imagination. Nice to see some cross-cultural fertilisation with an appearance from Herr Flick, but no von Smallhausen, amongst other aliens. Servalan was without her feather boa and took the opportunity to shower us with election flyers. You just have to admire her panache, don't you? Suddenly there was another Servalan in our midst, this one costumed by Chaos. Nicola had mastered the sway and triumphal wave, and was armed with some witty retorts - well, she has worked as a chemist, I believe - lest Servalan 1 engaged her in repartee.
We just about had time to get changed for the disco before going to Gareth's Shakespeare talk. Being in a hurry I put on odd earrings but didn't notice until much later. Gareth interspersed readings with anecdotes about his career, and intermittently attempted to find the Falstaff speech he had given at the outset of his career. It was all absorbing stuff and unsurprisingly overran, but not before Michael Sheard put in an appearance in bra and suspender belt, innovatively worn over his suit. The rest of the night was spent in the bar. We made three attempts at entering the disco but withdrew immediately because every time the music (sic) was dire and way too loud. Perhaps we were timing it badly, but the bar was more fun, and more full. Neil turned up with a camera and his hair unleashed. Exciting stuff. For once we were back in our room before 2.00am, but sat up for ages talking and starting the second bottle of wine, or was it the third? Can't remember.
Breakfast finished, I was keen to see if the cricket match was ready to resume in the boulevard. Harriet had got everything ready for the second innings, the pristine green baize cloth, the indomitable cardboard captains sternly gazing at the pitch. I wondered not for the first time how Blake was ever going to catch anyone at first slip when he was holding a gun.
Blake's XI fared badly in their second innings. Zen did not display his usual dexterity at number three, and Orac just couldn't get on to the back foot with any regularity. However, my hero Vila had one of those moments where he (almost) saves the day, and enjoyed a gratifyingly spirited last wicket stand with Cally. I always thought they'd be good for each other. Janet returned from Sainsbury's with a Sunday paper and disappeared into the auction, but I just couldn't bear to leave at this exciting juncture.
Ares and Katherine were busy sorting papers at the next table, and had also been put in charge of Ian's birthday cake. Kat came over to give the spinner a twirl and left somewhat later, committing the cake to our care. A very small child bore down upon it at standard by seven, but was intercepted by a pursuit parent. . I had the unexpected honour of assisting the Supreme Commander herself when she caught the heel of her shoe in the hem of her dazzling gown. Such exquisite ankles! She neglected to grind the heel of her shoe on my hand, and even gave me a hot tip on where to get false nail multi-buys. What more could anyone ask?
In Babylon X1's second innings, Londo Mollari seemed abstracted, no doubt dwelling on his sensational marriage earlier that day, and was quickly out. G'Kar proved more difficult to shift; perhaps Avon should have taken his parka off when bowling to him. Vila's bowling was a disappointment after his bravura batting display. He should have got a wicket with his first ball but the umpire gave Not Out and so he got disheartened. Okay, so I'm biased, but it's true, ask Harriet. Janet emerged from the auction with a gleam in her eye and clutching a mysterious bundle, but nothing could drag me away from the match as it drew to a conclusion. Alas, oh anguish and despair, Blakes X1, despite flashes of brilliance couldn't quite get it together and lost. Story of their life.
So, what was this thing that Janet had bought? A Vila tee-shirt, specifically, Sheelagh Wells's Vila tee-shirt and so doubly blessed. She was going to take it home to Shrewsbury and hang it on the wall, when she could have given it to me! First she sabotages the bath, now this! It's no use, she'll have to go out of the airlock. We missed the start of the hustings talking to Sheelagh, so we only caught part of the speeches. Outside the hall we carefully punched our chads and placed them in the super- techno ballot box. There were mysterious ladies in red fur commandeering it, and rumours of many dark deeds and dirty tricks, even by the Bear Tendency. I cast my vote for Ares because he had the best boots, then we went to admire Paula's winning picture caption of Avon giving Cally her worming pills. I bought a copy of Paula and Steve's zine because of its great cover, but haven't dared look inside yet.
The rest of the afternoon blurred into talks by Gareth and Michael, with intermittent forays by the latter's drilled troopers, and the closing ceremony - what, already? No, not before a brilliant film of the workshop space craft, ingenious models of washing up liquid and bits of cutlery; marketing executives would kill for this sort of product placement. The space craft were almost as good as the BBC versions and wobbled in the grand tradition. Those old Blue Peter skills never leave you.
Then people won prizes, organisers, stewards, tech crew and everyone else involved in the hard work got cheered, and Servalan retained the title of Ruler of the Universe for the second time, slaughtering the opposition. Could it be true that more votes were cast for her than there were attendees? Time the Red Dalek made a come-back.
Another superb Redemption, and I got through the whole weekend on just two paracetemol. Many, many thanks to everyone.
By the way, where were the Klingons this year? At the other Ashford?
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