Fen Without Hats

'Well, why the hats?' Convocation was illustrated with various pictures of hats with legs. Musketeers, bishops, hunters, clowns, wizards. The committee explained that the two main groups that have convocations are bishops and wizards, and both bishops and wizards have silly hats. So that makes sense, then. I carried Marianne into the con in her silly hat and her car seat. Quite tricky now, as she's beginning to be a considerable lump. Jaine Weddell spotted us. 'Don't think of it as a baby, but as the most portable 25 point disadvantage you're likely to see'.

Speaking of babes, we were once again sharing New Hall with a faunch of nubile American teenagers, spending a summer in Britain to soak up the local culture and the local beer. The programme book contained the standard warning that they were underage, and that the college would take a dim view of con members found with them, whether in flagrante or in vino. We were also pleased to spot Dr. Plokta, appearing in public for the first time.

Claire Brialey & Avedon Carol
Nubile American teenagers spotted in New Hall Bar

Our first task on arriving at New Hall Bar was to track down John Cox. We had arranged to stay with John and Diana in Uphall, their home -- a 16th century manor house in a previous life. Living in even an ex-manor house has its perks. Phil Nanson lives in Uphall Road, Cambridge; reputedly so named because it was part of the holdings of Uphall. Phil has been suitably obsequious ever since he realised this, and often refers to John as His Lordship or Squire or some similar thing. We found John and sorted things out. He was keen to ensure that there was someone home and awake to welcome us and show us where everything was. I was slightly surprised by this, as the fannish norm for arriving late at someone's house is to tiptoe in, crawl upstairs, and hunt out the spare room by the unfailing odour of vast numbers of books and a lumpy futon.

Fans in New Hall bar
Andrew Adams, John Dowd, Austin Benson, Caroline Wilson,
Julie Rigby, Dave Cooper, Peter Wareham, Gwen Funnel

Michael Abbott wandered past, and gave us our copy of Attitude. The restitching of the fabric of British fandom is now so complete that Britain's premier sf fanzine was being distributed at the National Roleplaying convention. He asked Steven to be on his quiz So You Fancy Yourself as a GamesMaster? The only catch with this was that, as we explained, Steven not only doesn't fancy himself as a GamesMaster, but has not in fact ever played any role-playing games of any kind whatsoever. Except on management training courses, and those probably don't count. 'Ah,' said Michael. 'Ah. I didn't realise that, of course. I thought that you were in fact a top-notch GM who had waged a long and obsessive campaign over several years and for some reason that subject has never ever come up in conversation in all the years I've known you and that's why I'm asking you to be in the quiz. Alternatively I might be setting you up for humiliation and scorn when you get all the answers wrong. What do you think?' Steven agreed immediately.

One fine feature of New Hall cons is the real ale bar in the basement, organised with the help of Ye Gerbish and manned by the delightful Steve Glover. Unfortunately, all the glasses were plastic. However, the Plokta cabal had come prepared.

Pint glass on pool table
New Hall: Do Not Take Your Glasses Into The Pool

Dr Plokta leaned menacingly over the gallery of New Hall Bar. 'Just to let you know that if you go to your room anytime after eleven o'clock, you can't get back,' he announced gleefully. 'If you're going to do this, take someone else with you to wait by the entrance till you return. If you forget, then you'll have to spend the night standing by the door forlornly hoping someone with a swipe card will let you in.' Phil Nanson added, 'If this happens to anybody, can we all come and watch them suffer?' I rejoined, 'tune in tomorrow for the next thrilling episode of Prisoner Cell Block New Hall.' Phil asked where we were staying. 'With your squire and his good lady,' I replied. Phil promptly tugged his forelock appropriately. And plenty of forelock he has too. 'You mean you're complaining about the security at New Hall and you're going to stay at Uphall?' He boggled. I dangled the keys John had given me. 'What's the problem?' Phil tugged his forelock again. 'Not for the likes of me to say, I wouldn't reckon...' Meanwhile, Mark's trousers exploded.

Jilly Reed eyes up Mark Plummer's groin
Jilly Reed approaches Mark Plummer with needle poised.
"Just a little prick, darling..."

We drove over to Uphall, getting slightly lost on the way. A huge house loomed. 'Is this it? This can't be it...' But now I remembered mention of the size of the place. 'It's really not that big,' Diana explained as she took us down passages and round corners, 'it just seems that way...' Meanwhile I wondered why I hadn't thought to bring a ball of string. '...and this is the spare bedroom,' she finished, throwing open the door to a room only slightly smaller than my entire house. I focused on the wall in the distance and worried about agoraphobia. The room was not only huge but alarmingly empty. 'This is our junk room,' said Diana. They can't have much junk. I wonder if they'd like some of ours?

I woke up at seven, and read Attitude in bed, pleased at the number of favourable mentions of Marianne's fanzines in the loccol. Tucked away at the end of the letters was the delightful Review Fanzines the Paul Kincaid Way. I smiled, then chuckled, then let out a deep, satisfying belly laugh, then giggled helplessly for a little while. I was impelled to poke Steven in the ribs. As he began to wake grumpily, I passed him the article. He was sufficiently amused that he forgot to be irritated that I'd woken him. Clearly it was a bona fide emergency.

A little later we got up, needing to get back to the con for Steven's juggling workshop. I grabbed the keys with the intention of grabbing things from the car. I turned the key in the front door. It stuck. I jiggled it a bit; it didn't help. Hmm. I tried again. It turned a little way and then stuck. I looked at the other keys. No, this was definitely the right one. I wandered to one of several back doors. Nope, didn't work there either. I called Steven. He tried the key. No luck. We looked for other keys. I found one in a cupboard door with a label on it saying front door. I've played lots of adventure games and know to try all the keys in all the doors. This didn't work. I put it back. I looked at the patio doors in our bedroom. They needed an entirely different sort of key. Was there one like that on the keyring? No. Steven managed to get the original key to turn in the back door. But there was another lock. But wasn't there a key like that somewhere? Success! We opened the back door and emerged into the garden. I was overcome with memories of the fine text adventure Curses. We ambled around the main gardens and the formal side gardens, and the rose patio, enjoying the fresh air, the fine summer morning and the sense of freedom. We just needed to find the door leading to the front where the car was parked. Gradually elation turned to despair as we realised that we didn't have a suitable key. We wandered back inside. Diana had got up in the meantime. 'You weren't here. We thought you'd gone. Then we noticed you'd left the baby... '

Fans in a bar
New Hall Bar

After we were released, I watched Steven being ritually sacrificed in SYFYAAG? Michael started off by asking him to name an RPG to use as his specialist subject. Steven looked blank, then cheered up as he remembered a name. 'Hint. Try to pick one without the word 'and' in the middle.' Steven suddenly looked dejected again but managed to dredge Champions from the dark recesses of his mind. Mornington Crescent was played. 'Each player should name a game, until somebody can play Tales of the Arabian Nights, when they win.' (Tales of the Arabian Nights being a fine and completely unobtainable storytelling game.) Clearly rattled by this time, Steven had difficulty coming up with any games whatsoever, and was even forced to make moves with the word 'and' in the middle.

After all this silliness came my first glimpse of the guest of honour. Steven Brust looks, of course, like a character from one of his novels. Except slightly lumpier, slightly shabbier and slightly less well-preserved. The lack of a cute fire lizard was a dead giveaway. He talked of the principle of doing things that made him go, 'hey, that's cool'. He injured Loiosh in, I think, Orca. 'And then I realised that the next line could be I buried him by the side of the road in the moonlight. That would have been cool. Way cool.' He grinned. There was an audible intake of breath from the audience. Why, it would be like killing off the Soup Dragon.

He deplores the tendency of publishers to believe that readers can only cope with lead characters with whom they identify by reason of a similar background. (I refrained from wondering why it is that he writes so many stories about men with long black curly hair and a severe silly hat problem.) 'A good writer can make the reader identify with anybody...' He stopped. 'Have any of you read Perfume?' A murmur of assent. 'A wonderful book. The writer has you identifying with a murderer. I might be able to do that. But I wouldn't want to. I want to write about main characters I think are cool.'

Steven Brust signing
"Can you dedicate this to my pet lizard?"

Cool was difficult at Convocation, held on a blazingly hot summer weekend. The Americans were supposed to be studying, and were all lying around on the grass looking picturesque. "Jeunesse brulée," remarked Kari. Meanwhile, international student of cool Michael Abbott came out of the dealers' room as I was going in. 'Look what I've got,' he said gleefully, brandishing a copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights. I congratulated him, cursing the fact that I hadn't seen it first. Luckily it did at least turn out to have been rather expensive. I ambled round. Brian Ameringen had a copy of Perfume. I'm a great believer in synchronicity, and so bought a copy. 'It's very good,' said Brian.

A convention panel
Marcus Rowland, Dr Plokta, Peter Wareham, Tom Nanson

We did a stint as the DCM's assistant, otherwise known as Kenneth, in honour of Kenneth Bell. (I am asked to refrain from mentioning at this point that a certain member of the Plokta cabal would like to have Kenneth covered in chocolate, lightly whipped and sent to her tent. Not, however, all the other Kenneths.) This was not particularly arduous, as the three hour shift involved buying seven drinks and finding a committee member once.

We had a long drive after the con. I picked up Perfume and began to read it. I gradually became absorbed with this rather vile tale of an amoral and compulsive collector of scents. I read it all as we drove. It's a fine book, which left the literary equivalent of a malodorous stench clinging to the various folds and creases of my brain after I'd cast it away. The sense of having been entirely too close to something nasty didn't really leave me until we reached the clean air and fine English beauty of the Lake District.

-- Alison Scott

Previous Article

Next Article

Issue Contents

Plokta Index

Visit the Plokta News Network: News and comment for SF fandom