Friday morning and our first committee breakfast meeting. An interesting idea made somewhat less effective by everyone holding their own conversations and turning up at various times and at various tables. As is the case with the majority of convention hotels the loss of guests from the rest of the world had resulted in the loss of some of the more exotic items from the breakfast bar but the ability to grab huge amounts of bacon, eggs and toast made up for everything.
Unfortunately for us the hotel had been busy every weekend since mid-December and so about half the committee had not had a chance to see the place before this week. There was also some confusion about the numbers of the rooms on the first and second floor where the video programme, the costuming workshop and the other workshop and seminar programming were going to be held. With this in mind I took the gang on a tour of these sights of special interest.
On returning to the Derby Room via the back stair case which some late night reveller had decided to re-carpet using only the contents of his stomach I received word of our first real disaster. With the absence of the Bar Manager, on leave, and the General Manager, visiting her seriously ill father in hospital, responsibility for ordering beer supplies for the weekend had fallen to the Assistant Bar Manager who had looked at our carefully worked out estimates, decided that we were either exaggerating or, more likely, lying through our teeth and reduced the order to a third of what we had suggested. The man was now being disciplined by his superiors who would then be scouring the city for additional stocks. There being little I could do to ease the situation I bought myself a pint of the "real" cider (which had survived the purge) and started to bring up my adrenaline levels for the start of the show.
By 12:00 the Video programme was set up with a printed out schedule on the door and the first film on the screen. The Writer's Workshop Introductory Meeting was starting up. BoSH's, the fan room, was in good order, the convention infra-structure (Green Room, Ops, Tech etc.) was set and my pint had been renewed. There was still no sign of Brian but Octavia and Langford are in the hands of Heidi and Janet. A brief discussion of running order, a piece of paper giving the names of helpful publishers thrust into my hand by Dave Power is thrust into my breast pocket and promptly forgotten. An arrangement of Guests and Committee on the front rows. A muttered run through of my introduction to myself. The membership shuffles in, I take up position, the music starts (not quite loud enough for my taste but let it pass) and we are off. I take a breath and start. "We are grey..."
In the middle of my introduction there is the vague warbling sound common to the devil's spawn which has replaced the Walkman as the scourge of the irritable commuter. Anne Green pulls the offending article from an inside pocket and starts chattering to it until interrupted by the arrival of Gary Stratman. "May I see that?" he asks in a tone that makes it clear that the only realistic answer possible is in the affirmative. He takes the object between thumb and fore finger and returns to the mixing desk and Richard The Rampant. The item is laid upon the ground. Richard jumps. There is a cracking sound. All around the hall people are fidgeting nervously. One or two hands are reaching discretely into pockets to check off switches. "Working perfectly", Richard announces with satisfaction and Gary returns the ruined item, its circuit boards clearly on view to the perplexed owner.
I had entirely forgotten that we were going to do that although I had worked it out with Andy Croft about six months previously. I was impressed; none of our panels were disrupted by cell phones.
In the maelstrom that now filled the main hall Brian Aldiss had showed up. I checked that he was clear for his first item at 15:00. Dragged up to Ops by an insistent Gopher I received a 'phone call from Pamela Buckmaster. She told me that Ken Bulmer was in Hospital recovering after a stroke. I sent my sympathies and passed the matter over to Steve Green, master of the Chinese Wall. Joanna had decided to do the item with Brian, Iain and myself. I sent her up to Green Room and, pausing only to acknowledge Ali and Chris up from Oxford, wandered up to join her.
By the time that I lead the panel into the Board Room all the chairs were occupied and more had been sent for. Just inside the door a man from "The South Bank Show", here to chart a day in the life of wunderkind Iain (M) Banks, had taken up station perfectly placed for any late entrant to obscure his view-an opportunity seized by John Dowd who stood with his head less than three inches from the lens until asked, politely, to move.
From the point of view of a moderator the panel worked excellently. As long as they are kept amused Iain and Brian are very easy to work with and both are possessed of the type of courtesy that made it simple to keep the conversation moving. Despite her earlier reservations Joanna fell right in to the pattern of the thing. Halfway through the TV crew wandered out as quietly as possible, which, given the relative sizes of the room and the crowd within it, wasn't very quietly but they did try.
Outside in the maelstrom again I caught up with Ali and Chris in Friday's Bar. Chris had not been to a convention before and Ali had been absent for several years. For my part I had been too busy to get up to Oxford for months. I had time for one pint before the forces of chaos kicked off big time.
Despite the name the members of the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool were now living in London. I had found this out when I had received an e-mail message a month before asking if the convention could find them crash space on the Friday night. I had written back saying that we might have difficulty finding rooms for just one night and that they might be better off going through Merseyside Tourism. Of course the convention would pay etc. If they did have any problems with this then they could get back to me and we would see what we could do. They had not got back to me, neither had they gone through Merseyside Tourism. They were at Reception now and they wanted somewhere to stay. Chris Bell was on it but she wasn't very happy. As I attempted to remove myself from the accommodation problem I was caught up by the backwash of the crisis emanating from the art room and dragged in to a new horror.
The idea of a publisher holding a private party in the Art Show had not been popular. Our publisher liaison had assured us that it was common practise in America and Pat had swung the vote by adding the proviso that the exhibiting Artists be invited. Getting drunks with money together with artists, he explained, was the major function of a gallery. This one party had continued to cause more problems than all the others for no apparent return for the membership. At first they didn't want to invite all the artists (we were firm on this point). Then they didn't want to invite the committee. Here we were somewhat less firm as the majority of us didn't actually want to go but still this rankled. The last thing I needed was to have to sort out the fact that the artists did not seem to have been told about any of this. Therefore that was precisely what I was being asked to do.
As it happened the cast of characters assembled for this act of the drama were all prepared to deal with the situation and normal service was resumed after plans were made to rope off certain of the more fragile exhibits. There was some slight tension when Pat came hurrying in, his hair still dripping from the shower whence he had been called, and I, anxious that past plans did not disrupt present accord, cut him off before he could explain to everyone once more precisely what had been decided. However ten minutes later the party was back in business and I had to get back to the Green Room for the next item.
The Board Room was much the same as it had been earlier with the same faces in the crowd. The item went well with lively contributions from stage and floor. We wrapped up on time and for once everything seemed to be going well. After I returned from dinner with Ali and Chris at the JD Wetherspoon's pub in Charlotte Row I was greeted with the news that Paul Barnett had collapsed with what is believed to be a stroke and has been rushed off, with his daughter in attendance, to hospital. Just as I take this in a runner came hurtling across the lounge to tell me that I was needed in The Board Room where all Hell was breaking loose.
It was my fault that Mark Ireland was in that position. He had told me that he liked to work with a script. I had told several people how the item was supposed to shape up but no one had got back to Mark. Now he was stuck behind a desk, accompanied by a less than sober Geoff Hill, facing a hostile crowd. I was lost. Caroline Mullan and Hans Loose were upset about something. Mark was too miserable to do anything and Geoff refused to supply any helpful information. This was too much. I lost my temper. After some shouting we came to the root of the problem. The "Read Me" was, it was being suggested, no bloody good. As the problems with the document were enumerated I felt a degree of sympathy, I also felt a reluctance to condemn the work of a member of my committee without them being present. In the end after a little more shouting a compromise was reached. The next three quarters of an hour were spent going through the programme for the following day with brief descriptions for items, mentions of names and time changes. By the time that I left I felt very tired and in no mood for partying. A quarter of an hour later I was in bed.