Neutral Zone 98

report by Julia Jones

Thursday evening:

Judith Proctor and Val Westall were staying with me on Thursday evening, since I live a good deal closer to Newcastle than they do. Collected Judith from Darlington train station, the Intercity was late - what a surprise... Val was collected from Middlesbrough train station by Chris Blenkarn, and duly delivered for dinner, which barely interrupted the flow of B7 chat. Bed at midnight, this was probably not a good start to a potentially sleep-free weekend.

Friday morning:

Dashed into work to do some last minute photocopying, including the A3 enlargements required for the "pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey" game at the Space City room party. This involved a quick glance down the corridor to check that none of my colleagues were in sight, as they probably wouldn't be amused by our version of a donkey :-> The paper dolls from Gambit 14 would be a little easier to explain, since they do have perfectly innocuous uses.

Note for future reference - three people and their con luggage can just about be squeezed into a VW Polo. Four, and I'd have to leave my costumes behind.

Friday afternoon:

Judith's table in the dealer's room proved to be a useful meeting point for the Space City contingent, most of whom were sporting SC badges by the end of the afternoon. Several of us were wearing Redemption teeshirts, which were also a useful recognition device. Much trogging back and forth to check if the rooms were ready yet (Reception kept promising 'another half hour'), then back and forth wih the luggage once the keys were finally dispensed. Pleasant enough rooms, but the so- called twin room was clearly designed for the business traveller with no companion and only carry-on luggage. Two beds, but nowhere to put a suitcase if both beds were in use, and not much space to hang things up. And the soundproofing hasn't improved since last year, even if they *have* tarted up the paintwork. I got to the room first. Complete with enormous suitcase, two camera bags, a couple of bags of munchies... The unfortunate Harriet probably thought she'd walked into the Bizarro cartoon showing Avon and Blake as con roommates :-)

Gareth Thomas (21K)

The Opening Ceremony included the introduction of "the fourth committee member", since Gareth has done this con every year for the four years it's been going. I get the impression it would be dificult to keep him away :-) Unfortunately, I'd left my notebook at home, so I have only cryptic notes scribbled on the back of an envelope, most of which I now cannot decipher. I think one of them involved a question about "What do the guests have in common". At least, that's the only explanation I can think of for

Joe: Well, I married one.
Sheelagh: I married two.

being on the back of said envelope. There is also the word 'poker', which is meant to remind me of a long story about poker playing, the details of which I have now forgotten.

A quick spot of filking, which proved interesting as we were working off at least three different print runs of Judith's filk book, which don't necessarily have the songs on the same page numbers.

I had stewarding duty in the evening, which had its share of incidents. Not least of which was the appearance of three extremely large gentlemen, in suits, rectangular id badges and comms ear pieces - but no con badge. Both myself and the other steward looked at these gentleman, considered that the pair of us together wouldn't make one of them and they didn't look like your typical gatecrasher anyway, and waited until someone with a headset came past. "Um, see those three there..." Three or four of the largest members of the crew arrived shortly and asked them very politely who they were. They turned out to be bouncers from the night club across the road, who'd seen lots of people in funny clothes wandering in and out of the Forte, and wanted to check that there wasn't trouble brewing for them.

By gum, it must have been a good con, because I can't actually remember what else happened on Friday, other than it involving long, complicated conversations with Gareth at the bar, featuring a large cast of Space Citizens. I think between us we monopolised him a bit.

Harriet and I both decided to be sensible and go to bed at a reasonable hour, so it was lights out by half eleven. This year's noise consisted of heavy thumping from the disco, but as I'd filched some ear plugs from work, this was not a problem. A pity I'd taken them out by the time the telephone rang at 3:20 am. Groped for phone, answered reasonably politely. (I was reasonably polite, wasn't I, Harriet?)

"Is Paul there?"
"Oh. Are you sure he isn't there?"
*You stupid man, if he wasn't here the first time you asked...*
*I wish...*
*No, mustn't say something like that*
"Oh. Sorry."

Repeated other side of conversation to Harriet, whose reaction was much the same as mine had been:-)


In spite of which, I didn't feel too bad the next morning. Time to play one of my favourite con games - just how much full English breakfast can be fitted inside someone who normally has a bowl of cereal? Answer - enough so as not to need much to eat for the rest of the day. And to regret not bringing a longer belt.

The morning was largely taken up with having a quiet rest in the room, reading some new zines, and in Harriet's case, the teletext. Again. Finally realised (I can be a bit slow sometimes) that I was sharing with a cricket fanatic. At least they're quiet :-)

Assorted wandering through the hotel nattering to people ended up in the charity auction, with the Jeff and Stef show. J&S from the local Forbidden Planet do the auctioneering every year, with some lots done by relevant guests. Jeff demonstrated his famous "I'll sit on your knee until you give me some money" technique. He's not quite big enough to be a bouncer, but this could still be seen as a threat to the more lightly built members of the audience:-) They're extremely entertaining, so I sat through the auction in spite of being totally disinterested in most of the lots. One highlight for me was Val's original artwork for the cover of Judith's filk tape going for 35 after a brisk little bidding war.

The Auction was followed by Joe's guest panel, but as he was talking about B5, which I haven't seen, I pushed off to find some lunch. The baked potatoes were excellent. Lunch also involved plotting the use of various costumes in the masquerade, and we came up with something which will be repeated at Deliverance, so will not be described here.

Judith - What we did was essentially a piss-take of the Sevenfold Crown. We presented a revised version in which Avon gets cloned into three versions of himself. Julia's Soolin costume was identical to the one Avon wore in 'Warlord', so it could serve for either character.

Not entirely sure what I was doing for the rest of the afternoon/early evening, other than it involving further conversations with Gareth in the bar, and I seem to recall having a bag of crisps for dinner. My next clear memory is of trying on the Soolin costume from _Warlord_ and making a mental note to go on a diet - you'll see why when the photos go up on the web. Then a quick bit of sewing before scuttling off to the autograph session. No doubt someone can remind me of whatever other way I was embarrassing myself before the autograph session.

Gareth with Sheelagh Wells (25K)

Ah yes, the autograph session. Harriet and I got involved in a long conversation with Joe and Sheelagh, and I managed to buy most of the things I wanted but had missed owing to not ever being in the dealers' room at the same time as them earlier in the day. We got away with having a long conversation because Gareth was further down the line, and as usual talking to everyone who came past, resulting in a slow queue. He made his usual attempt to get me to blush, failing dismally until I read what he'd written in my con book... Evil man. At least this year I could answer back.

The Avons? (37K)

On to the masquerade, where Judith, Kathryn and I didn't win anything, but did get a laugh - which suited us fine because it was what we were aiming for. Some excellent costumes, but the prize deservedly went to Data reading Ode to Spot.

And then it was time for the Space City room party :->

The drawings for "pin the tail on the donkey" were kindly supplied by Val, and photocopied to a generous A3 size by myself. Although in one case, it might be better described as "pin the donkey on the tail", as it conformed with the theories about Blake's equinoid ancestry. One full frontal of Avon, with beautifully detailed appendage to convert him from limp to erect. One full length of Avon lying face down, hips propped up on a pillow, along with a detail from Blake's anatomy, intended to reflect the "more like Blake's eight and a half" remark.

This was followed by colouring in and cutting out the Blake and Avon paper dolls from Gambit 14, accompanied by a remarkably silly conversation inspired by readings from the comparative anatomy chapter in a sex manual. Has anyone else puzzled out the clitoral legs yet?

The completed dolls were then used as the actors in a puppet play performed by two people kneeling behind the bed, to selected readings from Forbidden Star 2. It's quite amazing how unerotic a really hot story becomes when read aloud and accompanied by paper doll actors.

This was getting well past my bedtime, so I wandered off at this point, but I'm told that the game of Consequences got very interesting.

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