Welcome to the new style CONRUNNER 11 - same old boring stuff about conrunning but dressed up in fancy fonts and tiny print to save on costs. This issue published May 1989 (and hopefully out for Mexicon) by
Ian Sorensen, 7 Woodside Walk, Hamilton, ML3 7HY (Phone 0698 282288).
|Life, the Universe and Conventions||(drivel)|
|Support Your Local Eastercon||(indignation)|
|Speculation -A Bid Too Far||(excuses)|
|Guilding the Lily||(stirring it)|
|Racism, Positive Discrimination and Fandom||Helen McCarthy|
|Images of Time and Mind||Cardinal Cox|
|Anyone Have the Inclination?||Linda-Claire Toal|
|Uforia in Manchester||Helen McCarthy|
|Confetti Report||Nic Farey|
Conrunner nine was published at Conscription last September and number ten followed at Novacon. Unfortunately the distribution of both issues has been patchy due to a) pressure at work (where I have actually had to do some real work and not just publish zines) and b) a mix-up with the mailing labels that has led to me having about 50 copies of Conrunner 10 left and no idea who got sent the other 150. So, if you didn't get number 9 or 10 and would like a copy, let me know. I'm just glad I haven't gone along with the people who said I should take subsciptions for the zine or I'd feel a right Charlie! Sometime real soon I'll put together another "Best of" collection and see if BECCON Publications can sell enough copies for me to retire on. In the meantime Conrunner is available to anyone who wants it as long as stocks last. The new format comes about because I've now got access to an Apple Mac and a laser printer, so it seems worthwhile switching to photocopy reproduction and get the benefits of the Mac, like inserting pictures and diagrams into text etc. (I haven't done it this issue because I haven't had time. Maybe next issue will have pictures to break up the monotony of the text.) The main benefit comes with the use of a scanner to save on copy typing: the letters column this issue is nearly all scanned by a clever device that recognises the shapes of letters (as distinct from images) and turns them into text files. To make it easier for the scanner, in the future I'd like letters with print as large a possible!
Enough of this computer talk (which runs convention talk a close second in the tedium stakes), and on with the editorials.
Life, the Universe and Conventions
Since Novacon I've been vegetating in a fannish way while working harder than I've ever done before at school. To give you some idea of the pressure there, I went home on the last day of term before Easter with a dozen pupils' projects to mark. I sat from 4pm on Thursday until 6.15am Friday marking them, stuck them in an envelope and posted them to the exam board at 7am on the way to the airport for my flight to Jersey. I was truly glad that I'd decided to stay on for a few days after Contrivance as I really needed a holiday. (The last time I took a proper holiday was 1979 - tells you what an easy life I normally lead). Enough of this belly-aching, let's start looking at what's happening in the world outside reality.
Britain's first filk-con happened in February and was an outstanding success by all accounts. The American guest Leslie Fish proved as entertaining expounding her views on guns as she was when singing. I'm told that her trip was rounded off by a visit to Hugh Mascetti's gun club. For some reason I get an image of Calamity Jane with a propellor beanie floating through my mind..... In any case, plans are now under consideration for ConTwoBile with guests Frank Hays and Terry Lee. (I was told by one person before Contabile that they were going to propose the notion that it was really me who began filking in British cons with my musicals, but I haven't heard from them if this view got any support. Perhaps they were quietly killed by Ms Fish.)
turned out to be a very enjoyable convention - about 700 people attended and, travel sickness stories apart, it was a very pleasant weekend. In fact, a lot of people stayed on for a few extra days and played at being tourists which added to the overall enjoyment factor of the con - no sudden jolt from the return to work on the Tuesday, no paranoid fear that the con only really got going at the dead-dog party after you left (there were about 5 such parties!) and, best of all, there was time to finish off all those conversations you started over the weekend but had to leave in the middle of.
The hotel was outstanding from the point of view of the committee: anything they wanted done got instant attention - example quoted by Mike Molloy and Elda Wheeler who organised the art show: they commented that the double doors into the art show room didn't look too secure, and within ten minutes a carpenter was down there changing the lock. The duty manager was exceptionally helpful - his philosophy being to treat us like paying customers and provide a top class service for us. The staff implemented this policy until the wee small hours without a moan or scowl that I detected. The Hotel De France certainly deserves to be considered for future cons. I did have its bad points of course: the worst was the hill you had to climb to get to it, and another the need to trek across the car park to the cinema and one of the function rooms. As far as I know there are some serious plans being made for another Easter convention there, the deciding factor being the time of year. If Easter is too late it is into the holiday season, too early and many small hotels are shut and booking accommodation becomes difficult.
(One useful traveller's tale here: my flight from Glasgow to Jersey was changed by British Midland 4 times, causing me to cancel a night's stay at the De France as well as withdraw from a programme item I was on, so I wrote British Midland a nasty letter complaining about their poor organisation and demanding compensation for the inconvenience this had caused me. Being inefficient they didn't manage to reply to my letter until a week after I returned from Jersey, but they did apologise and enclosed a letter of authority entitling me to a complimentary return flight to any destination they serve! Moral: it pays to complain. And now I know that my travel to Holland next year is already covered.)
Support Your Local Eastercon
Eastercons are definitely having a bad time. Each of the past three Eastercons have had fairly vociferous campaigns mounted against them. BECCON '87 was criticised initially for it's out of town location, Follycon for being a "media/filk" convention and Jersey for being too costly to reach. These criticisms were levelled before the convention, mostly by those who did not intend to go and who did not seem to want anyone else to go either. I think it's time that people disparaging conventions were firmly squashed - if they don't like what has been arranged by a committee and voted on by as good a representative sample of fandom as you'll ever get then they don't need to attend. But why do they expend so much effort rubbishing the con in advance? So that they can say "I told you so" in the event of a disaster? Or because they feel so deeply that the Eastercon should be in a better place/offering different programme/run by someone else? If they feel so deeply then I expect they will have been on the losing bid, otherwise it's just malicious knocking.
Eastcon is currently the prime target for the knockers. Many Birmingham fans, having failed to defeat the bid in Liverpool over the question of how much traffic there is on Hagley Rd, are now saying they won't attend it as it will be a disaster, and discouraging out of towners with tales of horror about the hotels and the area. This just isn't good enough. The Eastercon is going to be held in Birmingham no matter what they say, so why not encourage as many people as possible to go so that there are loads of fans around to see off the evil denizens of darkest Brum late on a Saturday night?
This is not to say that Eastercons are above criticism. Far from it: they should be the most responsive of all conventions to criticism. But the time for negative criticism is before the bid is won. After that only positive criticism serves any purpose. Should the knockers succeed and an Eastercon goes down the tubes it will be to the detriment of all conventions and all fans. So, resist the easy jibe, don't repeat the latest scandal about the committee, don't think it's cool to stay home at Easter. Either support the convention by joining it or suggest ways in which it could be improved to increase the chances of you going along.
With reference to Eastcon: there have been some fairly public disputes between committee members in recent months but following a public airing of opinions at Contrivance I believe they've got their act together. In many respects they are attempting the most ambitious Eastercon for years with a split site and novel science programme, so they deserve as much financial and moral support as possible. Let's give them both.
Speculation - A Bid Too Far
Speculation was duly selected as the 1991 Eastercon in an interesting bidding session at Contrivance. I'll start with my excuses: I was very ill at the bidding session and had to present the Speculation bid sitting down, the rest of the team were largely unprepared for the job they had to do because I'd assumed I'd be able to do most of it myself. So, we bombed. The spoof bid (INCONCEIVABLE) by Chris O'Shea and Alison Scott wiped the floor with us, and in the first vote we lost to "hold over funds"! As a desperate move to get the people who voted for the spoof to switch to Speculation I asked for a lobby vote which, after an agonising wait, we won by two votes.
So, what went wrong with what was meant to be the best organised and slickly presented bid of the decade? Well, as an un-opposed bid there was little incentive to hustle people into going to the bidding session, so there were only about 150 people there and most of them were the sort who care about Eastercons and therefore ask searching questions. The chairman wasn't there as he'd had to take his family on the holiday they'd missed when he was ill last year, and as the bid was based on the premise that the programme is the most important aspect of the convention, it would have been an advantage to have the person responsible for programme there. Unfortunately, he couldn't afford to go to Jersey. So there were certain difficulties in answering some of the questions brought up by the people attending the bidding session.
The main problems they detected were with our advertised single room rate of £53.00, which is simply double the twin room rate. Our intention was to take advantage of the Hospitality Inn's pricing structure which encourages triple and quadruple occupancy to get as many people into the main hotel as possible. Therefore, it made (economic) sense to discourage single occupancy in the main hotel and instead have the singles in nearby overflows. This, it was forcefully pointed out, left single people, especially the elderly or infirm, in a very difficult position. (It is worth noting that the Hospitality Inn has a limited number of special rooms for the disabled). We will now set aside a number of rooms for single occupants at prices still to be negotiated, but much lower than £53.
Another complaint was that we had not negotiated a firm price for the overflow hotel rooms. This was seen as a lack of thoroughness. However, it is impossible to get most hotels to quote rates two years in advance and we wanted firm rates, as we'd achieved with the Hospitality Inn. Some thought these rates too high in any case. The good news is that, although we haven't got contracts signed for them, we have identified over 200 bed spaces (over 40 singles) within 600 yards of the hotel, the dearest being only £18 per night B & B at today's prices, while most are under £15. These are in two small private hotels and a Hall of Residence.
The next problem was the perception that the programme was going to be a single stream. I'm afraid I made a mess of explaining how the idea of a single programme does not mean the same as a single stream. Our idea is to treat the whole convention as a single programme - in other words to have a theme running through it - in the main hall, the art show, the Forum area - every aspect of the con. We want everyone to attend the programme, so we will have different types of programme item approaching each topic in a particular style so that there will be something that appeals to everyone. Another misunderstanding arose when I said we weren't having a fan programme. By this I meant that we weren't having a separate room where fans have private little discussions or whatever on the subject of fandom. Instead we want that to be incorporated into the overall programme. At this very moment the programme team are meeting to discuss preliminary ideas for the programme, and an encouraging thing has already happened: our Guest of Honour Rob Holdstock has asked if he can be present at the meetings so that he can be fully involved in what we're trying to achieve.
Another problem came when the subject of Tech Ops arose. At this stage in a two year campaign we wanted to keep the numbers of people involved as small as possible and, outside the organising committee of four, only one person had been allocated a firm job; Chris Donaldson as membership supremo. So the question of who was doing Tech had not really been considered, there being a number of people who had said they were willing to do the job. Unfortunately, in naming one of them as a possibility I upset the Tech crew at Contrivance, losing six votes which were eventually won over by Kev Anderson pouring oil on the water. Thanks Kev!
As you can tell, it wasn't the best start for a convention, but it was a humbling experience which has certainly led to a strong desire to get all the problems raised sorted out pronto. And, after I'd thrown up a few times, I felt that the experience was, on the whole, a good one. If there had been the usual few hundred people in for the bidding session then I doubt that there would have been such a close vote, and then we would have been a bit more complacent now. My connection with Speculation was meant to cease after the bidding session, but I feel so guilty about screwing it up that I've volunteered to man desks from now till 1999 as well as oversee publications for them. I'm sure I'll love every one of the next 24 months...
Speculation will take place in Glasgow from March 29th to April 1st 1991. The committee are: John Fairey (Chair), K.I.M. Campbell (Finance), Mark Meenan (Logistics), Paul Oldroyd (Programme). Membership is £15 attending, £10 supporting. Cheques payable to Speculation may be sent to 35 Buller Rd, London N17 9BH.
Guilding the Lily
A while back I was pointing out in an editorial that conventions are now the repository of fannish traditions and not so much the fanzines. I also suggested that conrunners should become more aware of fannish traditions and help preserve them. Another thread in my argument was that CONRUNNER was part of a move to pass on experience of conrunning from one group to another to save them making the same mistakes all over again, and that there was a need to pass on the wealth of experience to the future. Well, part of this is coming about in the world of Technical Operations. The idea of a tech-con was mooted at Conscription last year and may happen in 1990, and we have seen that an identifiable group has appeared, mostly wearing the black T-shirt with red lightning bolt that marks a veteran of Conspiracy. And they are doing a very good job. Notably at Follycon and at Contrivance.
However, there is a down side to this. It became most evident at Contrivance that the Tech Ops crew were, how shall I put this delicately?, getting a bit full of themselves. In an attempt to keep to the published programme there were occasions when items were unceremoniously stopped by having the plug pulled on them by the tech crew, as distinct from the programme controller. While I'm in favour of programme items running to time, there has to be some leeway for discretion in allowing over-runs of items that are going well. I'll give two examples: I was in a silly game that started late, around 11.30, and was going well with an audience of around 60. At midnight the microphones were switched off and it was announced by the Tech person in charge that there was a film scheduled for that hall now. A quick check revealed that there was nobody present in the hall who was waiting for that film and that everyone wanted to go on with the game. After a consultation with the nearest committee person the film was started anyway and we all had to wander along the corridors in search of another venue, losing half the audience and two of the contestants in the process. The other example is, I fear, hearsay, but it was told to me by someone who was on a panel where there were four people having to share one microphone and, when a tech person eventually set up another two mics near the end of the item my reporter was told he couldn't use them as they were for the next panel only.
As I said at the start, I think it is an excellent idea for more people to learn how to do the jobs that fall under the banner of tech ops, but the reason for having more people involved is so that the work can be shared out and sensible shifts relpace the 24hrs on call that were the norm a few years ago when tech ops was Martin Hoare and his toolkit, or Chris O'Kane and his. The impression came across to many people that what we were seeing was the start of the Guild Of Tech Ops and that only the chosen would be inducted into their mysteries in the future - indeed, there were many gags throughout the convention about the need for a Guild of Repro Room Collators, a Guild of Fan Room Organisers, a Guild of Panellists' Drinks Purchasers and so on. In a drunken conversation on the Monday night in Jersey Martin Hoare confided to me that there were aspects of Speculation that would have to be changed because he'd heard that tech ops didn't like them. God knows what they are, but I feel sure that, come the day, Speculation will manage to run smoothly even if it's only got Martin and his toolkit to rely on.
I'm sure that the above will have put the back's up of many of the fine people who give of their time and talent in the technical line: that, I assure you, is not my intention. (Do you think I really want 20,000 volts put through the microphone next time I'm on a panel? Come on!) I wish merely to point out that, valuable though their services are, they are just that: the function of tech ops is to service the programme. We don't want to get into the position where the tail is wagging the dog. Ye Gerbish was a great one for building up the mystique of film projecting, giving the whole business the aura of a craft second only to diamond cutting in the skill and precision required. I admit that at times I have myself exaggerated the difficulties I've had getting a P.A. working in a hall in the minute before an item began (usually it's on standby and simply needs switched on), but, when you get right down to it, most of the jobs are pretty simple; they are the sort of things I do every day as a teacher: operate a video, show a 16mm film, use an overhead projector, a slide projector, use the p.a. in the assembly hall and, on occasions, the stage lights there too. It just requires someone with the minimum amount of experience to be there at the right time to operate the equipment. And there's a hell of a lot of equipment at cons these days so you need more and more people to set it up and use it. What I wouldn't attempt is repairs to electronic equipment - that's where you really do need a knowledgeable Tech Ops person. Even then, I'd rather have backup equipment than rely on being able to do running repairs. I'd like to hear from some tech people about how they see their role developing in the future. (Assuming any of them are still talking to me!)