An experience to share …….

Memories from the last convention. Manchester 2014

Lots can happen at a convention. Fun can be had by all and often does.

But when I heard about this little adventure I thought I had to share it.

For those that attended the last UK con was held in a huge, rambling edifice that had once been the headquarters of a insurance company or some such. It was majestic and leaning so far towards the Gothic it was over the other side and positively Uberwaldian.

Almost two years have passed so its time enough for me to be able to share this without the person involved needing more counselling!

So here it is, verbatim, and let it be a lesson to us all…….

When I got to the hotel in Manchester I was tired, not really exhausted but definitely tired. I’d flown from the US overnight and hadn’t slept in about 24hrs.

I had arranged to have dinner with my friend Pete and was just looking forward to a shower, change of clothes and something to eat.

On the way to my room I noticed the other rooms were quiet, I’d arrived a day early to get over the jetlag so the other guests weren’t due until the next day.

When I got into the room I put the “do not disturb” on the door, got my mobile on charge, grabbed the essentials from my suitcase and went for a shower. I spent longer in the shower than I usually would, but felt better for it.

After I finished in the shower when I tried to open the bathroom door, the lever style handle just spun round and round.

There was a moment of “oh bugger”, well truth be told, it was a lot ruder.

I knew that shouting for help would be useless, there was no one to hear me, but tried a few times anyway. No, pure silence all around…

I guessed that the bar joining the handles on the inside and outside of the door wasn’t long enough and had slipped so it no longer reached the inside handle. If anyone tells you that size doesn’t matter, believe me, I would’ve appreciated an extra ½” on that bar…..

I gathered together everything that was loose in the room. Towels, tissue dispenser, bin, toilet roll holder, toiletry bottles. Not a lot to work with. The towel rail that I really wanted was firmly screwed to the wall.

The most promising item was the small metal pedal bin.Cistern lid

The bin had a pedal that used two small metal bars to open the lid. I took off the pedal and removed the two bars that were hooked together.

I thought I might stand a chance of flexing the door frame away from the door, using the bars from the bin, if the frame was flimsy enough.

I used the pedal from the bin as a knife to remove the sealant from the door frame where it mated with the wall. It let me see that the frame was a solid piece of wood that had no movement in it.

Double bugger. What now?

I tried a few more unconvinced shouts for help. Still useless. At least it passed a few moments.

If I was right about the door handle bar then the handle should still work from the outside of the bathroom. I just needed to get my hand outside of the room.

I looked around the room again for anything else that might help and noticed the toilet cistern lid.

I’d overlooked it initially because it was recessed in the marble work surface that ran down one wall of the bathroom.

After a bit of finagling, I got one of the bars from the bin down between the lid and its surround. It was a very snug fit and heavy. While I was trying to prise it out I was worried about trapping my fingers. Finally using the two bars I managed to get the lid free.

I knew I couldn’t risk hurting myself. That would be the end of any attempts at escaping by myself.

I didn’t know how long I’d been in the bathroom but I was definitely ready for out. Breaking through the wall really wasn’t my first choice, but now it seemed to be my only option – other than a few more sarcastic cries for help.

I chose the most likely looking place on the wall as being the best point to break through so I could reach the handle outside. When you’re only 5 feet tall judging distance to reach things is a way of life..

I fastened my towel around as firmly as I could, covered my feet with the floor towel, draped the hand towel over my head to cover my eyes and gripped the lid as tight as I could at one end for maximum impact.

Bloody hell…that was some recoil.

I uncovered my eyes and there wasn’t even a mark on the tile.

This was going to be harder than I imagined.

I tried a few more hefty blows to the tile. Nothing.

Triple bugger with a cherry on top.

After giving the wall a good coat of staring at, I thought I could try breaking the tile at what should be its’ weakest point – the cut edge exposed when I removed the mastic from the door frame.

After a few smacks the tile at the edge began to break. Now we’re cooking. It was just going to be a much bigger job. All the more tile to smash though!

With every impact there was a sharp smell of smoke and I could see sparks from under the towel covering my eyes. The slivers of ceramic where razor sharp so I had to keep replacing my bath towel which only stayed on for a few smacks at the wall.

As I inched my way across the wall, my spirits began to lift. There was light at the end of the tunnel.

You know it was going too well.

bathroom sideAfter getting past the double studded door frame, I hit another piece of wood in the wall. After a little investigation, I realised it was there to protect the power to the light switch on the outside of the wall.

Bugger doesn’t cover this one. Time to upgrade to bollocks. Bloody, bloody bollocks.

My mother always stressed the importance of self-control. In fact, she expressed how proud she was when none of us cried at my fathers’ funeral. I was just proud I wasn’t hit by lightning while in the pulpit doing the readings…..

Never was I more grateful to my Mother for all that training.

Then I had to start working my way down the wall, one sliver, one spark at a time.

It was so frustrating, but at least I didn’t have to start from the beginning again. I could see the other wall through the hole I has already made.

My hands hurt, I was tired and the heat and humidity in the bathroom was getting unbearable.

Finally I felt I’d made a hole big enough that I could start to work on the plasterboard wall that stood between me and hopefully freedom. I was worried about hurting my hands or arms on the sharp tile edges so made myself some gloves from the plastic bags the hotel had kindly provided for the disposal of feminine hygiene products. How thoughtful of them.

I used the pedal from the bin as a knife to score the paper on the inside of the plasterboard and the bars to poke some holes through in an attempt to weaken the wall.

After using the pedal to score between the holes, I hoped I weakened the plasterboard enough to break through. The only issue was going to be applying enough force across a 4”gap between the inner and outer wall.

I settled on using my shampoo bottle as a hammer.

Holding it at the top and hitting the wall where I had scored it there was finally movement. One piece after another came loose and fell to the floor in the bedroom. When there was a hold big enough for my hand, I reached through (still wearing the plastic bag) and snapped off pieces to make the hole bigger.

wall from outsideI was so apprehensive when I put my arm through the hole and reached out to the handle. If the door didn’t open when I turned the handle I hadn’t a clue what was next.

I put my arm through up to my shoulder and reached the handle just enough to turn it.

The door opened.

Relief, disbelief and most importantly, fresh air.

All the self-control, logic and composure had been worth it. Now it was time to devolve into a rabid squirrel – small, vicious and gunning for somebody’s nuts!

I was drenched in sweat and shaking from an overdose of adrenaline.

I made an attempt to get dry, but the sweating just wouldn’t stop. After getting dressed I checked my mobile and noticed a few missed calls. One was from my husband back home in America and one was from Pete whom I supposed to be meeting for dinner.

I called my husband who tried to call me back in the room. Reception was useless and kept disconnecting him. Since they weren’t able to transfer a call on the fourth try he sent them up to the room to check on me.

There was a knock on the door and it was the German receptionist who spoke nearly no English. She certainly didn’t know enough English to explain the situation to her manager on the phone and could only say “come now”.

When the manager arrived, he was a young man – oh god, I was feeling my age – and looked shocked.

He didn’t ask if I was alright, but did express that he was “gobsmacked”. I must admit that wasn’t what I needed to hear. His offer to get a cleaner to tidy the debris for me wasn’t especially helpful either. His idea of reassurance was to tell me I wouldn’t be charged for the damage…

At this point he must have noticed the barely controlled squirrel in my eyes and thought there might be another room available. I suspect he was going to hide in it.

I told him I was going out and expected my luggage to be transferred to the new room when I returned.

He made a hasty retreat.

DebrisI grabbed my camera and took a few photos. Capturing the moment can make for some happy memories later.

I called Pete. He had not only tried calling my mobile but came to the hotel to ask for me. He was told I hadn’t checked in. Hmmm.

I left my temporary dungeon without looking back and went to meet Pete.

He was listened to my tale with great patience and, at times, incredulity. It had been a stressful day without the bathroom drama, but right now, I was glad to eat and try to decompress.

When I returned to the hotel, a new room awaited me with my luggage therein. It was very similar to the original room and I immediately investigated the bathroom. Buggered if I was going to risk closing that door. There was also no way I could get the toilet lid out. It was too tight a fit!

I slept deeply that night, exhaustion had got the better of me, but it was a restless sleep. I can’t remember my dreams even though I woke feeling fretful.

The next morning included an apprehensive and swift shower with the door wide open and a suitcase sat in the doorway, you know, just in case.

When I got to the Convention I shared the story with a few people I knew and the Committee found out shortly afterwards. They set about getting me moved to a different hotel and had the doctor look at my hands.

By now, my hands were quite swollen from wielding the marble lid for so long. I couldn’t wear my wedding ring and even worse couldn’t make a full fist. The doctor suggested soaking them in iced water several times a day and maybe some painkillers. That didn’t sound too hard.

Later that day the angels from the Hotel Committee found me and let me know there was a room available in the other hotel. They had been to my original hotel and had quite a heated discussion with the management and explained they wouldn’t let me stay there another night.

They then helped me move my luggage to the new hotel. I couldn’t believe the beautiful room they’d managed to get for me. I checked out the bathroom. Victorian built hotels have brick walls. That door really was staying open!

Everyone at the Convention was so kind to me. I was never on my own for which I was thankful. I’ve heard people refer to the “family” at these events and that really came to the fore. I’m eternally grateful to my Convention family.

After the Convention I spent a couple of weeks with my family. There were a few get togethers and the story of “Carmel and the Bathroom” became an instant favourite. It surprising managed to replace the old favourite of “Carmel and the Dress”.

When I was 3yrs old I got a new dress. Within minutes of being dressed up all pretty I escaped to play in the back yard. I got into the outside loo, where unused paint was stored, and chose a nice tin of fire engine red gloss paint. I spent quite some time carefully painting the new dress the colour I really wanted in the first place.

To this day no-one really knows how a 3yr old got into the loo never mind how I opened a tin of paint.

I obviously set the bar high too early in life because someone said “of course you went through the wall, you’re you.” Sometimes there’s nothing more demoralizing than living up to what everyone expects of you!

After a few weeks I returned to the US. That’s when I found that the hotel was trying to charge for all the days that I had originally booked in for but didn’t stay. It didn’t happen.

My fingers were still sore so I went to my doctor. Apparently I had some ligament damaged which healed after taping my fingers together for a few weeks.

To this day I’m still careful about shutting doors when I’m on my own, especially in unfamiliar places.

What did I learn from my adventure?

Always keep your mobile with you.

Getting angry is ok, depending on what you use it for.

Never shut the bloody door!

Musings before the convention.

Musings before the convention.

Musings before the convention.

The days are passing by and the date for departure grows ever closer.

An old man’s musings take him on strange journeys as preparations are made for our departure.

Reb and the Ian are busy packing, sorting and hoping that stuff will arrive before the pantechnicon they are hiring has to be loaded.

Isobel, bless her is auditing the underpant situation and sorting out shirts and other items of a chaps wardrobe.

A huge disappointment was finding my evening suit had been ‘borrowed’ by the grandchildren last November for their Guy Fawkes celebration. Strange thing is I witnessed the bonfire and remember thinking how huge the ‘Guy’ on top was. It was like a re-run of that film with Edward Woodddwoood in it, The Wicker Man’. No wonder the little buggers were sniggering as this vast object was consumed by flames. Must have taken days to fill, the sods.

When I brought this painful subject up with herself she informed me that for one thing the suit had the moth and on the other it was far too small when I wore it last which I had to admit was a while ago. A masonic cheese and wine do I seem to recollect, all got out of hand when one of the goats broke loose and ate the grand masters sporran!

Anyway, as I say, pondering and looking forward to the end of the month and such jollity as can be afforded thanks to the tireless effort of the committee, bless them.

So I sit back in the shed of dreams and put a sort of list together of what are essentials in your stout chums life.

Namely, what pipes and how many. Snuff boxes. Tobacco of course and the lighters and other peripheries of the gentle art such as pipe cleaners, reamers and tampers. Then came to mind one item you just don’t see any more, Ashtrays.

Which led me thinking ………………..

For those of a nervous disposition – or if you are under 18, Don’t look.

Ashtray

ASHTRAYS!

Ashtrays, some full, some with just one lonely fag, some waiting empty for the consummation of their sacred use the place was littered with them.

Ashtrays, where are they now?

Pristine or crusted, bearing advertising or plain. Metal cheaply stamped into simple functional shapes or spun from brass, cast in pewter or hammered from copper.

Glass, square or round, cut or decorated, clear or coloured like a huge jewel.

Ceramic ones with jolly pictures peeking out from under the buts. Or huge great pottery lumps hand thrown and needing two hand to lift them.

No home was complete without some, even if the householders didn’t smoke one would be proffered. Sometimes with the rictus smile from a hostess who you knew, just the moment you were out the bloody door, would open all the windows and asphyxiate the cat with billows of scented air spray like some fragrant gas attack from world war one.

Ashtrays were made from anything in those days. The more bizarre the more amusing, the more unsuitable the better. The ‘novelty’ ashtray was the gift of choice to someone you really couldn’t be arsed spend intellectual effort in choosing a present for.

It was a default gift that was always useful and gender and age neutral.

Then there were pictures of people I know, SMOKING!

People who now are clean from the weed, who abjure the demon tobacco as much as they would shun running naked through Tesco’s with their private parts painted scarlet and waiving a bouquet of condoms whilst shouting obscenities at the top of their voice……. Mostly, well some might, but I’m not naming names, YOU know who you are!

I had forgotten just how only a few short years ago in hotels, pubs and bars, people smoked. These pictures brought back to me a memory of that taint in the air of old smoke and the fume of fags.

Sometimes I go into my ‘shed of dreams’ of a morning and still the pipe smoke lingers and the place smells like an ashtray. Even I have to open windows and put the extractor fan on full suck.

Not nice, but fire up a fresh pipe and all is fragrant again.

You could smoke in your hotel room in some restaurants and always the pub.

Of all of these I only miss the pub. Oh all right, hotel rooms which are a sort of ‘home from home’ and a pipe before bedtime is a blessing. But a pint in a pub without a pipe of tobacco is like a tonic without the gin. It’s all right, but lacks what it takes to make a really soothing tincture. This is something that I miss a lot as do many old farts like me.2011-07-28_020740pm

Now of course we smokers huddle in dark, draughty corners that are open to the elements and the sneers of passers by. Oh how we have fallen us few, us benighted few. Once the target of slick advertisements, wooed by tobacco companies with gifts beyond the dreams of avarice. Now we are pariahs, shunned, the target of jibes, insults and a government inspired witch hunt that positions us only slightly lower in the hate scale than benefit claimants. So far.

Some smokers have taken to the vapid ‘vapping’. They stand proud in doorways and corners sucking in the steam like babes on a robotic tit.

I tried it, once. Its like having sex wearing a condom made of bicycle inner tubes. No, not or me.

As some of you know, I am a heavy smoker and indeed somewhat heavy to boot.

I glory in smoking serious quantities of the glorious pipe weed. Made for me by skilled tobacco blenders in Cumbria who with ancient arts also mill the finest snuff.

Snuff. taken in moderation, a superb prophylactic against all manner of airborne infection and a comfort when unable to light the old pipe.

Snuff, the secret weapon against the health fascists. Also, sad to say littered with health warnings and rather addictive.

So being fat and a smoker I am indeed an endangered specie.

Looking back at those days depicted in the old photographs I wonder if any of those people puffing then miss the weed at all.

Probably not, Isobel who gave up 15 years ago says she never does as do others I have asked.

But to you, dear reader, I have one question you might wish to ponder on.

Where have all the ashtrays gone?

Are they in boxes and crates in charity shops throughout the civilised, smoke free, world, or are they in some other dimension waiting, waiting till one day in centuries to come when ‘Thank you for not smoking’ signs will be consigned to history and humankind lights up once more.

A conundrum that I shall ponder on as I light a good briar pipe, filled with a fine Virginia leaf, and gently dream those pipe dreams beloved by the old and gently content.

Thoughts on what would have been Terry’s 68th Birthday.

Thoughts on what would have been Terry’s 68th Birthday.

Terry Pratchett would have loved it!

Well, mostly, you could never entirely predict with him.

Two weeks ago today I was at the Barbican together with over a thousand of Terry’s friends who had travelled from all over the world to attend his memorial.  

They came because of the regard we all have for that remarkable man.

They came because of the way that the very magic of his words binds us together.

And, a whole sodding multiverse was there along-side us as we all played our part in the celebration. I can write about it now because it’s taken a while for me to not just sort my thoughts out but also to recover from the excitement. Because really I didn’t think I would be able to make it. Mine own malady was being more than usually troublesome and I was laid up feeling more than a little poo.

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The ‘rotters’ Ian & Rob

But I have a wife who is made of sterner stuff than me and dear friends who are at the peak of physical fitness and as strong as golems who were more than prepared to haul me about should the need arise and, bless them, they all conspired to make it happen. Plus of course the thoughtful Rob Wilkins had organised a low-loader to cart me there and back. My mate, that well known jolly rotter, Pat Harkin and I had been asked to ‘do our bit’ Being the sort of show-off’s we are we didn’t want to let the side down and he and Jan had driven all the way from Leeds to Somerset the week before to go through some ideas.

So I had to be there.

The old Prince of Teck
A pub I knew well!

The journey took in parts of London I had not seen for close to fifty years. We drove past pubs where my brother and I had busked and which had been tarted up and renamed, past places where I had walked when the world was young and trousers flared, I must have driven my travelling companions mad with the ‘well I never’ and all the exclamations that an old farty makes when confronted with changed landscapes that fail to conform to memory.

From the stage
Every seat had a bum on it

At the Barbican I was decanted into a wheelchair, taken to a place I could smoke and presented with a bloody great G&T down to lay the dust. And then, girls and boys, the Discworld magic started to work.  Better than any tonic; even with gin. The joy of meeting friends who had come to be part of this special occasion lifted me up more than any nostrum or prescription drug.

Oh joyThe memorial celebration started with the music of Thomas Tallis and finished with Eric Idle.  It was opened by Larry Finlay the top honcho in Transworld and hosted by Rob who did the introductions like a professional, linking everything in seamlessly.

The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork put in a brief appearance; Neil Gaiman and Tony Robinson read tributes and Rhianna spoke about growing up with her Dad. We had songs (including Wintersmith) from Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span and the fond memories of three of Terry’s editors. I have no recollection of what Pat and I said but it must have been reasonably alright for the both of us to be invited back on stage later in the proceedings.

We stood in line with several other folk who had been chosen by Terry to become members of the ‘Venerable Order of the Honeybee’. We have been entrusted to hold Terry’s vision for the future, each in our own way and each with our unique skills. Such an accolade would be enough in itself you would have thought. But Terry had planned even more –the gift of a gold bee pin –created with exquisite ingenuity by master goldsmith Tom Lynall.  This is a true honour and a piece of jewellery that I will always cherish along with the memory of receiving it.   

And then Rob showed us the future: that this was not the end of the story but a beginning of something new. Terry’s world and vision is being carried on in film and television.

 

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Me and him making holes in sticky paper

Afterwards as I journeyed home through the night, playing back that wonderful evening in my head, I remembered an occasion some twelve ago when Terry, Rob and I were at the old Bath Postal Museum in Broad Street for the launch of Discworld Stamps. Amongst its collection was a Victorian perforating machine and after much negotiation and Terry promising to help with their publicity we were allowed to use it to perforate the very first stamps. We were in a small basement room, hot and crowded with TV and reporters milling about and getting in the way. Terry in a top hat, dressed for the part and me praying to all the gods that this ancient machine would not jam and tear the stamps to shreds. Terry did his bit, Rob made sure the museum staff were put in front of the cameras and I worried it all through.

Terry asked me if I had ever seen the Bath Lemonade Factory which forms part of a museum called ‘Bath at Work’ full of old machinery including a bottling plant just a short walk away from where we were. He and I left Rob to finish off and wandered into this amazing place. He had used a bit of this building in one of his books and knew it well. Anyway, the sun shone and we meandered around enjoying each other’s company. A funeral cortege drove past and the conversation got on to funerals; ones we had been to, ones we would like to have been to, ones we hoped to go to and what we wanted for ourselves. Not morbid, not maudlin, just chatting. What he did want he told me was a good wake. Then he said to me ‘Bernard if I die first, Lyn will give you the cash and you can organise my wake’

‘But if you die first, I’ll pay for yours’. This was years before his embuggerance and there was an unspoken acceptance that he would outlive me.

We shook hands on it and walked back to collect Rob.

Of course things never turn out to be as simple as that.

The Barbican memorial was not a wake it was a bloody great wave, not of goodbye but of friends across a divide. A divide that will be bridged by the things yet to come, set in motion by those who loved him. 

I think he would have liked that, I really do. 

TP coa 2

Clare Craft Pottery. Part 2 Going to the chapel.

Clare Craft Pottery. Part 2 Going to the chapel.

Title page

‘Will you come to the mission will you come, come, come.
There’s a free cup of tea and sticky bun, bun bun’

The things they did years ago to get you in to the chapel and away from the pub.

In 1982, Isobel and I moved our pottery to Stansfield Chapel. We’d set up Clare Craft Pottery the previous year in an old council garage in Clare. It was small, dark and very cold. On winter mornings we had to break the ice on the glaze buckets before we could start work, and to protect the clay from frost we covered it with straw bales, the latter attracting an unwelcome host of small rodents who shared our space. In spite of the difficulties our pottery was attracting a lot of interest; we were selling all we could and we needed more space and bigger kilns.
The chapel in Stansfield had been converted into a home and studios by a man called Colin Turner who was, and still is, an extremely talented professional photographer. http://www.solidair.org.uk/
Our first floor workshop was large, light, airy and warm. We installed a new gas kiln and set about making our stoneware figurines ever more fantastic and complex. Karen, a clever potter and our first employee came with us from Clare and I took on David my first apprentice who continued to work with me for many years. Another pair of hands was needed so Melinda joined us and soon learnt the skills of hand building and glazing ceramics.

Isobel, Karen and Melinda in the chapel
Isobel, Karen and Melinda in the chapel

We also rented a ground floor studio in the Chapel where we produced a range of plaster reliefs. Not your usual common or garden plaster that goes on walls and such. This plaster was really special, it was extremely hard, capable of reproducing the finest details and of being stained or painted to look like wood, ceramic or metal. Not many people were using this material and British Gypsum, the company producing it, used us to trial new products for the production of fine art pieces.

Polished by Grace one of the first plaques. Dereham in Norfolk.
Polished by Grace one of the first plaques. Dereham in Norfolk.

This range of work called ‘Suffolk Images’ was a series of wall plaques depicting towns and villages around the county and later the whole country. A craft shop would commission ‘their’ plaque and then send photographs or better still picture post cards of the town and I would select buildings that would suit a bass relief plaque. Not always easy and sometimes a challenge to create something attractive from what were architecturally nondescript buildings. Sometimes ‘artistic license’ got the better of me and I added features that were just made up. It was round about this time that we felt the need to invent a sculptor called Albert Thwaite who we blamed for any inaccuracies and who had unfortunately left the country and could not be contacted. The Albert Thwaite file grew quite thick over the years. Belated apologies to anyone reading this who was Thwaited! Grace and her son, another David, came to work for us and did all the plaster casting and finishing.

Staining and polishing a plaque. A filthy job that you smelling of wood polish.
Staining and polishing a plaque. A filthy job that had you smelling of wood polish.

Now we were seven and Clare Craft Pottery was commercially successful, with a reputation for quality, originality and innovation.

One of our exhibition pieces.
One of our exhibition pieces.

We exhibited at The British Craft Trade Fair and the International Gift Fair at the NEC where we came away with enough orders to last a year. We took on more people including another potter. A bright, funny and clever fine art graduate called Pip Whiteside who later went on to run her own business. And once again we were running out of space. The search for bigger workshops began, along with plans to employ and train more people together with all the ramifications of growing a business from a very small outfit to something a bit more serious.

Our accountant gave us a name and an address and we met up with a farming couple called Bob and

Trish Baker who thought they might have something that would do. One day Isobel and I drove along a lane to the top of a rise and looking down a wide dirt track into a vast disused quarry saw a large concrete block building with huge sliding doors and metal windows on all sides standing in a landscape of sand, small trees and bushes. We drove down the track and parked outside the factory. It would do, it would do nicely.
The place was called Windy Ridge and here magic would happen.

Concerning conventions.

Concerning conventions.

Up the stairs and in the wall - the huge attic
Up the stairs and in the wall – the huge attic

We have an attic.
A real attic with a sort of hidden door on the bend of a stairway. Access is not easy you need the sort of agility found only in tomb raiders, or sprightly grandmothers. Until you climb in you have no idea that it leads to a huge space with a window that looks out over the roofs of the town. Because it is big it has become a repository of anything we don’t want to throw away. It contains old furniture, children’s toys, suit-cases, loads of books and of course boxes and bags full of old papers. Because access is difficult stuff goes up but rarely comes down.

 

Isobel had been rootling around in this attic on some quest for old accounts and, by chance, came across a box full of old Convention programmes and newsletters. This was certainly much more interesting than old numbers so she brought it down and we delved into the dusty pile. It was full of history and each booklet was so larded with memories of conventions and the people that made them we both thought it worth sharing. Some people reading this will have been to them all. Old campaigners like us who can sit around and chew the fat over those early years, dunking memories in nostalgia like biscuits in tea.

1998 con me 2The first ever Discworld Convention was in 1996, when the world was young and Alzheimer’s happened to someone else, not your best friend.
In 1996, dear reader, the Spice girls made their breakthrough, there was a breakup by the boy band ‘Take That’. The royal family had a divorce and, although we didn’t know it at the time, our prime-minister, John Major, had been shagging Edwina Curry the junior health minister. By 1996 Terry had published twenty books and was the top selling and highest earning UK author that year.

 

The convention took place in Sacha’s Hotel in Manchester from the 28th to the 30th of June and was a truly international event. The guest of honour was one Terry Pratchett and also attending were Stephen Briggs, Colin Smythe and Josh Kirby. For those who weren’t born then and for the rest of us that have forgotten, on the 15th of June that year Manchester had suffered a particularly destructive bombing by the IRA. The buildings opposite the hotel were boarded up and the police presence on the streets was highly visible. Walking into the brightly lit hotel foyer full of fans, many in costume, from a touch of the blitz outside was an even more unusual transition to Discworld than the one we have become accustomed to.
The committee was headed by a fan whose non-de-plume ‘the bursar’ didn’t do justice to his level headedness and organisational abilities. (In fact it was Paul Kruzycka aka Paul Rood, now older and wiser and a purveyor of very fine Discworld Beers) The idea was first mooted as a fan gathering of a few dozen like-minded individuals who would, in the name of pTerry, enjoy harmless fun in some pub back room. But once you kick an idea like this into the great gumbo of fandom it’s inevitable that a lot of people will want to take up a spoon and enjoy sharing it. And so from being something small and simple it grew into something quite major.

Many of these fans hung around on a street corner of the world-wide-web in a news group called alt.fan.pratchett. Although 1996 was not at the dawn of the www it was certainly just after breakfast or at least before lunch! It was in this forum, littered as it was with some seriously clever and ingenious reprobates, that the plans for the convention grew. They knew no fear, were used to doing strange things in unlikely ways and were as artful as a bunch of monkeys. They were ‘up for it’ and made it happen – bless em all! And there was ‘L’ space –after the UU library – which still acts as a repository for most aspects of Discworld fandom.

By 1996 Terry was really into his stride as a writer and from the early 90’s was often producing two books a year. This meant he was hitting the road on a punishing schedule of signing tours where he met hundreds of his readers and fans. His signing queues were huge and I don’t think any popular writer had ever caused so much congestion to pavements and book shops as dear old Terry did in those days. But this convention was the first time that hundreds of people from all over the world shared uninterrupted time with him and with each other. Because it was the first it set the blue-print for all future Discworld conventions. Some of the organisers had been to science fiction conventions so there was a scaffold of sorts with key events like the ‘Maskerade’ and grand dinner and the various workshops being almost universal to any convention.
I seem to remember that the programme included a discussion on ‘The Cannibal Lemmings Theory of Discworld Rotation’ and advice for the “Bring Your Own Custard Packet Appeal”. Various signs around the hotel urged attendees to “Talk about Custard” which must have confused the hell out of other guests.
At the end of the convention the unresisting chairman, Paul, sat in a paddling pool and was covered in custard. This was something that stayed in my memory for longer than I would have liked. It was fabulous and a heady brew that just had to be repeated

1416476835And it was, two years later, in the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool.
More of the same; traditions have to be maintained after all and because so much had been learned from the 1996 convention there was a bit more ‘polish’ but still the same manic joy and fun that had made the previous convention so memorable. The Adelphi hotel had featured in a ‘warts and all’ documentary a few months previously which did not exactly show the place in its best light. The hotel was quite a challenge; old, decrepit and with long dark, hot corridors that still seemed to echo with the last goodbyes of those passengers who embarked on the Titanic. A subterranean bar opened on to the street which seemed always seemed to be filled with argumentative men fuelled by drink and looking for entertainment. It was something of a challenge to an old soak like me and certainly a novel experience for some of our younger and more sheltered attendees. After a while people in costume tended to stay away and found alcoholic respite in other places. This convention also had a Gala Dinner, Maskerade, Charity Auction, Guest of Honour Interview, and a plethora of fan activity involving making things out of basically, rubbish. Programme events included, among other things: Two Rampant Hippos and an Incontinent Chimera, Build Your Own Religion, Thogg’s Masterclass – Live! And Quantum Weather Butterflies

Con98_06My abiding memory of these two conventions especially is of fans wandering in and out of the large public rooms or just sitting around and chatting. They occupied every inch of space taking up all the chairs, sofas, tables and floor. Being young, they sprawled in that way that only the young and nimble can do, across the chairs, in bundles on the carpet, sitting cross-legged, across legs and wrapped around the walls. Wonderful! It was like some huge wave had deposited all the rare and special sea creatures that had previously swum in disparate oceans on to one beach where they enjoyed the company of fellow travellers and that of their hero Terry Pratchett until, a couple of days later, another wave took them off to their home waters once again.

After 1998, Conventions took on a sort of convention themselves with various chairman and committees who always managed to put their unique stamp on their event. But all the UK DWCons can trace their lineage and many of their customs back to 1996 and Manchester.

So the memories go back in the box and the box goes back in the attic.
One day – hopefully many years hence – one of our children will have to clear that attic, gods help them!

A box full of programs, convention lanyards and memories of some of the loveliest human beings it has been our pleasure to share time on the beach with.
The tide might have gone out, but his imprint is still on the sand, and will be for years to come eh?

physics

There are a few pictures with this thanks to:
Carl Muller, Leo Breebaart and the other ne’er-do-wells who have documented these momentous occasions and the folly’s of their own youth.

If you fancy seeing more – or even how you looked when young have a dib on http://www.lspace.org/fandom/index.html
Where you can follow the story of these and other conventions writ by those who still bear the scars.

The story in the first part – Clay and Romance in Clare, Suffolk

Early Troll Pots and vaseIn this lump of blog Isobel and I tell the story of how we first met and because we had clay and kids in common we started a pottery, it seemed like a good idea at the time anyway.
There is more in the ‘album’ but a bit here I thought would not go amiss.
Not only but also.
After much thought and not a little prodding from friends I have started to write down some of the stories I tell by camp fire and convention about my adventures in the constabulary.
Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty and embellishments abound. Isobel is on the edit and some time before too long I’ll post one up and see who salutes it.
More later on this then, perhaps you can read the story of how I went from being one of ‘them’

Trusty coppers
Trusty Coppers of a rural persuasion.
                                                                               

To ending up like this …………………………………………………………………….

 

me and troll pots