Thursday Morning saw me up with the lark and downstairs bathed and shaved, and trying to find out why the 'phone in my room had rung while I was in the bath, by 06:30. At dinner the night before I had finally got details regarding the planned pick-up of Octavia Butler and had promptly invited myself along. It wasn't that I didn't trust Geoff and Janet (well, yes it was - Geoff has long been noted in the SHSFG for his ability to make a first impression and Janet was wound up tighter than I was) but three struck me as the minimum for airport pick-ups. Besides of all our guests Octavia was the one that worried me most. We had no experience to call on with Octavia. Brian Aldiss had met her once and been in awe of her. Diane Duane (while she was still speaking to us) had said that she was a lovely person but tended to be reclusive. Getting her as a guest had been terrifically exciting - being told about it by Paul Dormer who had read the announcement from the 'net before I had been informed that we were even approaching her was rather less delightful. Getting her to talk to us had been an effort. The last thing I needed was for her to arrive at Manchester Airport terminally jet lagged, immediately take offence at something and spend the rest of her first visit to Britain shut in her room waiting for the return portion of her ticket to become valid.
Picking up the mini-bus from the hotel garage we made excellent time out of the city and on to the M62. Indeed our time was so good that when Geoff asked me to look out for the junction for the optimum route for the airport we had already passed it. Rather than turn about we decided to press ahead to the Manchester Ring Road and approach from the other direction. Our timing was perfect, unfortunately the airline was not quite so on the ball. Leaving Geoff with the bus Janet and I found ourselves at Terminal 2 with 25 minutes to wait until touch down.
Janet had been astounded that somewhere as far away from civilisation as Manchester should have an airport with more than one terminal and so we had come across Terminal 2, the correct one for our flight, more by luck than judgement. On the whole I would have to mark it more impressive than Southampton or Bournemouth but that would have to be it. We entered by the information desk and strolled casually to the cafeteria at the far end of the hall. We stopped, turned around and strolled back. This took up nearly four and three quarter minutes so we did it again. On our third trek we noticed that Geoff had not shown up to tell us where he had left the bus. Janet's nerves were getting worse. Every so often she would catch a glimpse of someone in he crowd who she was sure, for a second, that she knew although, on second glance, it became clear that they didn't even vaguely resemble the person she had taken them for. For a moment I thought that I knew what she meant but then it turned out that the figure I had glimpsed was Mike Scott after all.
We need not have worried about recognising Octavia. I don't know how many 6' 2" black women there were on the flight (Octavia was fairly prompt in clearing customs) but the first one who came wandering through the gates in the daze of the truly jet lagged turned out to be the one we were waiting for. Geoff had materialised briefly less than five minutes before Octavia appeared and told us where to find him and the bus. So pausing only to pick up a bottle of mineral water we bade farewell to Mike and wended our way back to Liverpool making the desperate small talk of the tired and the terrified.
The hotel took away Octavia and gave her a bedroom. The travellers found themselves with a quarter of an hour left before the end of breakfast. On arrival in The Compton Room (the location chosen by the Hotel for the feeding of the early arrivals for the weekend) there was little food left and what there was was cold. There was however a splendid waitress who vanished briefly and returned with a tray of freshly cooked bacon - the staple of the one true apostolic breakfast. She wanted to know how many of us there were as they were anxious to reset for lunch before too long. I told her that as far as I was aware there was Janet, Geoff and myself. Then Mark Ireland staggered in. That, we said, would be it. As soon as we said it Martin Hoare appeared. Anxious not to commit myself to any more prophecies I finished my coffee and left in search of "set up".
In The Derby Room the great circling dance of pack stuffing was under way. The participants shuffling round a long table picking up pieces of brightly coloured advertising bumf, a programme book, a "Read Me" and a hand full of ballots and slips thrusting them into one of the plastic bags printed with the convention name and jamming the lot into a cardboard box. We had 1,100 programme books and when these ran out we would stop. The dance was accompanied by the strains of Miles Davies from my Ghetto Blaster in the corner. It had a three CD auto changer and could play for hours. It would need to. In another part of the room stuffed envelopes were having name tags attached. In a third badges were being sorted out and dropped into the packs. Something about it struck me as shambolic but I was damned if I could see any way of improving the situation.
Elsewhere in the hotel Keith was locked in his room with a laser printer churning out copies of the programme, tech were in the banqueting hall building lighting towers and a small party led by Andy Croft were driving electric buggies down corridors looking for places that they couldn't get to. Andy's eventual report was grudging and included a recommendation that the majority of doors in the building be re-hung to open the other way.
By midday the packs had been stuffed, Keith had come up with the printing I had asked for and the city centre was sealed off in response to a bomb warning at Marks and Spencers. Plans for skipping out for lunch were put on hold and we worked on waiting for the all clear. For the next hour and a half I marked up programme sheets for participants and passed them to a couple of volunteers who put them into the relevant programme packs or, as I found out later, left them in a heap on a table to the side without telling anyone. By now the stream of arrivals was steady as were the demands to put equipment into rooms that would not officially become available until Friday. One major area of concern was the Art Show as it became clear that no one on the committee had a clear idea of what the Art Show sub-committee had agreed with anyone really. Information coming in from various sources indicated that people had been told a number of stories and that opening times were either from that minute or not until Saturday Morning. More in the interests of getting people to go away than anything else I told the small cabal of Art Show exhibitors that was growing in the corner to go off to the Art Show room and, if the Masonic regalia had been cleared away, to see what they could do.
Janet came in to announce that Liverpool was now open and that she and some others were off on a shopping expedition for provisions for staff. Fortunately she did not get to the last bit until after the Hotel general manager had wandered off. Ken Slater requested aid in getting his truck unloaded. We had just piled the last box into the corner of the Derby Room when Pat came round to tell us that the Dealer's Room was now available. Looking at the heap we had just built and which would now have to be shifted through the hypostyle and across the main lounge. I decided that since it was now 16:30 it was time that I took a break.
There were now several groups of Fans in Friday's Bar. In the corner we had inhabited the night before Martin Hoare was talking to a party of Swedes. At the bar I ran into a pair from The Wirral SF Group whom I had met on a couple of occasions when we had made site visits and just coming through the door was Iain Banks. Time to come back on duty and sort out programme participation. Iain was one of the people whom I had asked someone else to contact, someone who already had their own job to do and not enough time left to do it. Consequently this was the first he had heard of the item. However the purchase of a pint and a conversational inquiry as to the state of his Porsche worked upon Banksie's normal good humour. He would do the item. We walked back to Martin and company where I met Joanna Hilken - a young lady from Oxford too inexperienced to know that when a moderator is talking about the form that an item is to take the last thing that you do is join in. By the time that I left the bar two hours later I had her hooked. She might be protesting now but by the time that the item was due she would be there.
By the time that I returned Langford had arrived giving us two out of our four guests. We were expecting Jon Bing in another hour or so and Brian Aldiss was due to drive up on Friday morning. Phil Plumbly and Pat McMurray were transforming themselves into the Airfix kit Borg equivalents that seem to be required by all properly organised conventions of the modern era. (Phil's foot had forced him to requisition the most heavily armoured of the electric wheel chairs we had acquired from Shop Mobility and he was trundling round the main hall festooned with radio equipment with a single minded determination that would have forced all but the most determined Dalek to give up all plans of planetary conquest and settle down to study at the castors of a master.)
Plans for the Evolution party were well in hand. However Bug was missing presumed broken down. Still there seemed to be nothing I could usefully do and so, having informed Ops of my intentions, I decided to set off in search of dinner.
In the foyer I ran into Chris Bell and her daughters about to venture forth on a similar mission. I suggested that we join forces and so we wandered out into the night together. Turning left we crossed the road and headed toward Duke Street. The up market Hamburger joint was crowded out and none of us felt much like Indian food so the first place to catch our eye was Zorba's, the Greek Restaurant on the corner opposite the bombed out Church. Chris and the girls had not eaten Greek before but seemed keen to try. Perhaps I should have made more enquiries about fads and allergies but I didn't.
We returned to the Hotel after about an hour and a half. I was feeling rather guilty for not knowing about Chris's allergy to chick peas and their ilk and not taking proper account of the natural conservatism of the young. I was also feeling rather full having eaten the majority of a set meal for three in an effort to avoid the wrath of the kitchen staff. Back at the ranch Bug had arrived and the Evolution party was off and running. However hotel reception still had no sign of Jon Bing. An hour later Janet 'phoned his number in Norway to find him at home and in bed. He had got his dates wrong and was not planning to arrive until Friday. This meant that he would not be here for either the Opening Ceremony or for his first panel. Over one last drink, interrupted only by our first bomb scare, I worked out the alternatives and then retired to bed.