Una's Report

It all seems like a good idea when you say, 'Hey, let's put on a show!'

It also seems like a good idea when you say, 'Yeah, I'll do that panel, Steve.'

Thursday night

Matthew and I are rehearsing our lines for the cabaret sketch. I can't remember a word of any of my first set of exchanges, which means I'm going to stuff up Alison's cues. We're fretting about the final scene, which doesn't quite work, and has someone scripted in to start the clapping so that people will know we've finished: [RACHEL leads rapturous applause from OMNES]. Going for a gag about lawyers seems to solve some problems, so we stick that in, send it round to our fellow performers, and call it a night.


Iain and Rachel arrive just before midday to whisk me away zines and all, but first we need to print off a copy of the route to the hotel. Iain goes into my office for the first time, and sees the ranks upon ranks of armed penguins which line my cavernous subterranean headquarters. The expletive which follows is unprintable on either family or not-so-family orientated lists. I ply him with extra-nuclear-strength coffee and it seems to calm him down.

First stop is the costume-hire shop where Rachel and I had spent a happy Saturday morning last month choosing Fab Gear for the glam rock disco. Resisting the lure of the 'Instant Vicar' packs, we have chosen clothes - and, more importantly, boots - that will make the head of any casual passerby explode with envy. The woman in the hire shop mentions that she just hired out a Darth Vader and a Klingon outfit. We wonder if we'll see them over the weekend.

Sterling driving gets us down to Ashford by about 4pm. Register; and, as I'm standing at reception to check in, I get tapped on the shoulder. It's Neil. 'D'you know,' he says - and please bear in mind that this is the first time we've seen each other in two years - 'In profile, your nose looks disturbingly like a beak.' From then on, there can be no mercy.

Plotting a barbaric revenge, I head off to set up the zine library. The short walk from reception, down the boulevard, and up the stairs to the library room takes a long time for the splendid reason that I keep on seeing familiar faces, and also getting introduced to new faces with familiar names.

I unpack the zine library with Morrigan who has, incredibly generously, carried over a vast number of zines from the US for the library. The bag that she carries in is vast and unbelievably heavy. The library would have been nothing without Morrigan's generosity, and many, many thanks to her for this, and then staying to set up.

She has also very kindly brought over 'Trust, Like the Soul' - a story by Jean Lorrah which I have been trying to track down for nearly 11 years, and also mentions that she has seen it in the dealers' room. Mental note is made.

As we are unpacking, a number of people drop by. Kathryn brings a copy of 'Staked Blake', and someone brings a set of Babylon 5 novels which look like a remarkable read (sadly, I don't get a chance to do anything other than flip through them, and didn't jot down the title - if anyone has any details, let me know off list). It was great to have more than B7 zines at the library this time round.

Set up complete, I adjourn to the bar, then Matthew and Ian arrive, and we spend the evening moving from opening ceremony, to pub quiz, to Freedom City party (many thanks to Rita for her hospitality). Eventually we settle in the bar. People are dropping in and out all evening, and I do believe Neil accepts a detention from Mr Bronson. Ika's Travis costume is simply gorgeous. I'm in the bar till the wee small hours, but decide around 2.30am that perhaps it's time for a bit of shut eye. Busy day tomorrow.


My first stop after breakfast is the first panel that I'm involved with, with Steve Rogerson and Rita d'Orac: 'B7 - the radio plays: Canon or bull?' I fight the good fight against canonicity hard, and Pat C. and I form an impromptu alliance against blind acceptance of corporate authority. Alas, we lose on technicalities.

I plan to spend the next hour preparing for my next panel, but it's much more congenial to take my preparation down to the bar... End up spending the next hour chatting, of course.

Next up is the panel I've been dreading most: 'Blake: Terrorist or Freedom Fighter'. I agreed to take part in this ages ago. Then I had the good sense, about a month ago, to ask who the other panellists were. Steve revealed they were Judith and Gareth Thomas, since when I have been plagued by visions of a nightmare recreation of my short-lived and disastrous career in the school debating society. Added to which, on the day, I realize we will be on the stage in the main hall, with lights, microphones and, I fear, the distracting sound of a small gallows being erected behind me.

Just before, in the bar, Judith and I also persuade Pat C. to take part, and she is just fabulous. She and Judith get some good debate going, and I give it my best shot (I'm not a natural speaker even when I'm prepared up to the hilt - and even then I've been a bit shaky since I got slow-roasted giving a paper at a conference two years ago - and this is almost completely ad hoc). I end up enjoying myself, thanks to Pat's terrific points - which can't fail but make me interested in discussing the issues - and also the audience's interesting and varied contributions. But I am glad when it's over - if only because it means I can go on to Iain's panel and ask him tough questions, just like he's been asking me tough questions.

Iain's panel on performance in B7 and B5 is excellent - well-prepared and informative. Several people have commented already, and I just want to add how much I enjoyed Rob and Alison's Avon and Blake. It was fascinating to watch a quintessential Avon and Blake scene delivered by a man and a woman, which I thought really change the dynamics. I offer when Iain asks for more volunteers, and then kick myself when I remember that we had been discussing his use of Anna's death scene for this panel, and this was bound to be what we'd get. Eternal credit to Calle for taking on Anna's part, because I wouldn't like to trust myself - three times - to stage-falling in a tiny space onto someone half my height.

Back to Iain and Rachel's room afterwards, where we spend an hour rehearsing the sketch. Ian and Rachel are still laughing at (most) gags even after multiple viewings, which is very cheering. This will be our last full rehearsal before the actual show; we don't want to do the full sketch at the dress rehearsal which follows since our secret gag might get loose, and we just check out lighting and technical details of where we can get the chairs we need for the sketch. Matthew and Iain do most of the boring sitting around here, god bless them.

I go to the telepathy panel, which is being run by Alison, Rachel, and Nik Whitehead. We hear all sorts of interesting perspectives, although I confess to being pretty sceptical about the whole thing. Rachel's readings are wonderful, and Alison asks whether what we think is psychic power is really intuition (my own belief). We continue this discussion with Calle after the panel, and it's fascinating to hear how other people experience intuition in their own lives.

On to the 'Political Systems in SF' panel. Alison opens up the discussion by mentioning utopias, and we run with that as a theme for most of the session. Iain also ensures at the outset that people don't get onto party politics, which means we can enjoy a lively and (mostly) intelligent discussion. Only marring features were, as Iain said, a persistent vein of anti-Americanism and, just as we were about to end, a sudden outburst from one attendee. But on the whole, the debate was challenging, well-informed, and conducted with mutual respect and cordiality.

We head off for dinner (although Alison has gone on to run another panel - I don't know how she managed it), and then Matthew and I decide to crash out for a bit before the performance. This means I get to see the hotel room for almost an hour, probably the lengthiest period of (awake) time I spend in there.

Then it's crunch time. We reconvene in the bar, ply ourselves with drinks, then head off to the main hall. First, the fancy dress. Special mention here to the chaos costuming entry from Nicola and Fi, a stunning Servalan dress which deservedly wins prizes in both the chaos and general costuming categories. It's astonishing that Fi made it in a couple of hours that afternoon, and Nicola performs her part like a star. David Walsh beware! My own other favourite in the fancy dress was Jem Ward as Herr Flick.

I'm very nervous indeed at this point, so apologies to anyone I forget in the cabaret. My own highlights were Fifi and Steve Kilbane filking; Kat and Anne Wells dancing (these people were persuaded into performing on the day, so particular kudos); Iain and Servie strutting their stuff...

And then we're on. The first bit is the exchange between myself and Alison; it goes smoothly, and it gets the laughs we want. It's going good. Then it's my bit of monologue with the Big Brother gag. If people don't laugh - we're doomed.

They laugh. From then on it's all systems go. Iain and Matthew camp it up superbly like the pair of shameless tarts they are. They're just so funny when they get going. Then Alison's bit about Gan is *electric*: she performs it so well, and plays the audience perfectly. They're all three bloody brilliant. Just afterwards we are able to spring Iain's birthday cake on him.

Then into our frocks for the disco. Rachel is a goddess, and I am her platform-booted goblin of evil. Alison is fab in long black dress, gloves, wig and feather boa. Rob, as Frank N Furter, is Just Plain Scary. Michael Sheard, not content with massacring the moondiscs in the evening's Wobblevision version of 'Shadow', goes on to conduct Bohemian Rhapsody. Mr Bloody Bronson. The man is mad.

Around 2am I am starting to crash, but am lured onto the dance floor again by 'Love Shack'. When I come out again, the keys and Matthew have gone, but a half bottle of Laphroig is still there. I take the chance that he has not been kidnapped and has instead just gone to bed (despite the puzzling presence of the Laphroig), and head off myself. On the way back to the room I pose - with a half bottle of Laphroig - for a Photo That I Shall Surely Regret.


I've had about a minute's sleep, but my body is telling me that's just fine, and can we get back to the convention, please? Stuffed with danish pastries, I head off for the Trial of Roj Blake. Ika and her defence team (Pat and Morrigan) are simply *majestic*. Kudos to Jem Ward, as Travis, who, I understand, hadn't known he was doing this panel until just beforehand, and manages quite a very funny few off-the-cuff comments. Servalan issues threats throughout the proceedings, and it is particularly amusing to watch the judge and the prosecution plotting throughout. But how could we not acquit Blake after such stirring speeches? Only four hard-hearted individuals vote against him - but Blake is held over for psychiatric treatments. Very B7, although I'm sure we can break Ika free.

Next, I find myself trapped in a world of INTJs... It's a panel on space stations. The various panellists (Iain, and two others whose names I didn't catch) know their stuff very well, and the attendees are remarkably well-informed. Not being terribly 'sciencey', I am surprised to find myself very engrossed.

I pop into the dealers' room where, as Morrigan said, 'Trust, Like The Soul' is on sale. Hoorah! I also pick up Horizon 22. This, with my tribber's copy of TTBA, should keep me busy for a few days. (I'm gutted, incidentally, that I didn't pick up a copy of 'Steve and Paula Go Down the Pub' - Steve, put me down for a copy for when I next see you.)

I say goodbye to Matthew and Ian, have a spot of lunch, then head off to the panel on the proposed TV movie. Tanja does a terrifically professional job chairing this discussion. Neil and Deborah Rose give opposing 'no' and 'yes' views. It's fascinating to hear the different visions of what a movie could be, but there is a general belief that we will get none of these from the current proposal.

Sadly, I miss the fan fiction writing workshop as I have to go and pack up the zine library. I'd love to hear some reports from this. Zines all packed up, I take the bag out to Iain and Rachel's car (they're very kindly dragging them back to Cambridge for me while I stay on till the Monday), and then say goodbye to my shiny purple platform boots (with stars), which have to go back to the costume hire shop <sob>

The closing ceremony involves the first showing of the B7 movie... OK, it's a film made using the models from the chaos modelling sessions. This movie is a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I pray to god that somehow copies or pictures from it will emerge so that you can all marvel. The model of the Liberator is just *extraordinary*. And then there is the fantastic news that Chris Boucher will be a guest at Redemption 2003. I am still singing praises to high heaven.

I have to close up the zine library, so I rush in very late for my panel on wobbly sets, and Nicola and Fifi are already doing sterling work. It's a relaxed, fun panel; a great way to wind down after all the intense sessions that have taken up most of the weekend. Most interesting to hear the comments of someone's son who had just started watching that he didn't see the wobbly sets, and it wouldn't matter if he could.

I go on to the slash debate, and this is a very impressive occasion. Kudos to all the panel (Kathryn, Neil, Predatrix, and Judith) for conducting themselves with grace and mutual respect, and for the attendees for holding an informed debate. Only one participant seems to be operating in a different continuum from the rest of us, stamping her foot and storming out of the room when we are discussing child abuse and its treatment as a subject in fan fiction. As Pred shrewdly points out, you can see why the Federation chose that crime to blacken Blake's name.

I duck into the continuation of the slash panel, but am feeling rather tired, and move into the bar. It proves incredibly difficult to get rid of the half bottle of Laphroig, but eventually Tavia is persuaded that if she doesn't take it, it's going down the plughole. Much as I want to keep on talking in the bar, I have to go to bed around 12.30am; I read a little bit of 'Trust, Like The Soul', and am dead to the world within the hour.

Monday morning

Slept well, breakfasted well, and then a long series of goodbyes. Harriet has woken up to be greeted with the news that, just as they have gone to press, Don Bradman has died. Fortunately, the printers have had the sense to hold off until speaking to the editorial team, and the situation is under control.

I'm delighted to learn from Morrigan that the hotel are packaging up her zines and mailing them back to the US for her, and that her bag back will be considerably lighter.

I spend the morning saying goodbye to people, then the taxis arrive to take a bunch of us to the station. We send people off on different trains, and one by one people disappear. Three of us reach Cambridge station mid-afternoon, tired but very happy.

I had a wonderful time, of course. I do wish I'd had more time to talk to people, but it serves me right for rushing around so much and then crashing out so early on the Sunday. I've been jaded about B7 for a little while now, and all you fantastic, creative, intelligent people have fired my enthusiasm back to normal (i.e. insane) levels once again.

So, despite the gut-wrenchingly awful nerves the conclusion has to be that putting on a show and doing a bunch of panels are without a doubt one of the best ways of spending a weekend. Thank god for the committee and all their hard work.


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