EASTERCON -HELICON 2 March 29th to APRIL 1st 2002
Though the centrepiece of this report is the convention itself, I have added a summary of my adventures on Jersey throughout my stay which took place between Tuesday March 26th and Thursday April 4th 2002. Readers wishing to read about the convention, but who have less interest in my adventures on Jersey itself, can go straight to the selection on just the four day con itself is at HELICON 2.
EASTERCON 2002 - BEFORE THE CON
This was to be a very special Eastercon for me. My parents kindly paid for the flight and hotel accommodation for me as a 40th birthday present. This meant I was able to stay longer and take in the delights of the Island of Jersey too.
There was some preparation to do particularly with regard to my Masquerade entry. I had decided to go as a Cthulhu, J. Alfred Cthulhu who appears in one of my own published short stories, Blind Date, which I recorded as narration material, with sound editing and effects added by Mark Slater. You can read the text of the story at BLIND DATE The mask itself was made in accord with the story and some basic design specifications from me by a friend, Tom Clarke, who I have seen in some stunning costumes of his own. Sadly neither Mark or Tom were able to get to this con.
The Hotel De France, where the Con was to take place was a little out of my own, or my parents price league for such a long stay, so I settled on a cheaper accommodation deal. Many hotels were already full, and there were also difficulties by my travel agent in getting me a flight too, but I was assured of a place in the Norfolk Lodge Hotel in St. Helier, Jersey, the same parish as the Hotel De France itself.
Plane tickets secured, it was now just a case of packing my things and waiting for the big day.
DEPARTURE TUESDAY 26th MARCH
The flight had an early schedule, 8.45 am take off that meant my having to get up at 6 AM to get to the airport, check in, etc, and such palaver, and then the flight was knocked back over an hour. I boarded the fully loaded Dash 8-300, delighted to se a small propeller driven plane like this. The take off, flight and landing were excellent, and I could barely stop gawking out the window at the scenery below throughout. It was my first time on a plane since a holiday in Torremolinos in 1980.
The Island itself had a distinctly Mediterranean feel to it even before landing. It was nearly impossible not to think I had gone abroad. That thought would recur to me throughout my stay. Seeing the Island leap out at me through the cloud cover was breathtaking, and for a small Island, 9 miles by five, Jersey actually looks huge.
Jersey Tourism laid on a courtesy coach to take myself and others to our hotels. Mine, being in the Parish of St. Helier (The Island being divided into 12 parishes mostly named after saints) I got my first look at the interior, spoilt only by road works and digging around the airport area itself. I felt like a child on a trip to the beach every time I saw the sea or a Jersey Cow. (they have amazing eyelashes).
The Norfolk Lodge Hotel, my hoe for ten days now, was very nice, though it would serve as literally a bed and breakfast facility for me. During the days I had little interest in being there at all. The staff however were helpful and kind. My room was on the first floor, approachable only by stairs and with several sunken steps on the room's corridor too. Not too good for anyone disabled, but adequate for my needs. My room had everything I need, and one thing that I didn't require - A television set. I generally never switch them on while on holidays. It would remain untouched throughout my visit. The world as far as I was concerned, no longer existed. I had no desire to see or hear from the outside world, of politics or current affairs, though one event on the UK would make itself known later in the week as you will see.
Barely unpacked, I was off out to explore the Island.
The police station outside the Hotel immediately made me think of Bergerac, the TV series that had featured the exploits of a Fictional Jersey Tec, and many people had whistled the theme tune to the show at me before I had arrived, but the immediate impression of Jersey for me was of a sleepy seaside town with a pace all of its own. The speed limit fixed at 40 miles per hour, there was a definite air of Manyana about Jersey.... Everything could wait until later. Nothing needed to be done with urgency.
The speed limit was useful as many roads even in St. Helier simply lack pavements, and what paving there was could suddenly vanish without warning leaving the pedestrian exposed to the road and whatever was coming down it.
I headed out with a map, but no set direction in mind, intent to see what there was to see and do what was to do. I found myself in the main shopping and banking area within ten minutes, and then down to the main sea front. Signposts everywhere pointed to places of interest and history screams at you from all sides.
The first true site I saw was the Liberation Square statue, then surrounded by scaffolding as they spruced it up ready for the Easter weekend. This was a statue of a family waving a flag banner, ambiguous enough to represent both the tearing down of their oppressor's flag and the raising of their own. The piece is surrounded by a fountain and moat representing freedom, the Island itself, and the circle of life.
It seemed appropriate therefore for the next stop for me to be the Occupation Museum, showing so plainly what the Islanders had been liberated from.
The Island's story from 1940 to 1945 is impossible to escape on Jersey, as the impact the Nazis made on the Island is terrible. That they recovered at all, and indeed so spectacularly well is bordering on the miraculous.
Pre-war Jersey was an Idyllic place, a seaside resort and a major tourist trap in its own right, where people spent hedonistic, happy lives that would often blind them to the troubles that were shadowing mainland Europe.
As war broke out and the Reich keep closer, taking even France... the plight of the Islanders became critical. Churchill made it clear that if the Nazis were to invade them, Britain would not defend the Islands at all.
Those who wished to leave were invited to evacuate to the Mainland. Many did so, but others chose to stay, unwilling to sacrifice their homes. The evacuation procedure was so desperate and messy that many turned away at the docksides put off by seeing ships crammed full like sardines. German Submarines in the Channel forced some ships to take 15 hours or more to make the voyage to England. Those who did try to leave but changed their minds at the last minute returned home to find their houses ransacked by neighbours who had stolen away all their belongings and cleaned out their houses for them.
The very strategic importance that had long torn the Islands between French and English Sovereignty up tot he 18th century was now abandoned. The Islands were left to whatever fate awaited them. The sense of betrayal from many Islanders ran deep.
In 1940, the first Germans arrived, sending propaganda from the air calling for white flags of surrender to be flown from government offices and warning of dire consequences if such rules as this were disobeyed. The Islands had fallen without a shot being fired, but soon, shots were being fired, as lorries transporting tomatoes in the harbour were attacked in mistake for armament supplies. Many Islanders died.
The first Germans to land were surprisingly friendly, and clearly tried to assimilate themselves in with the islanders. Some were under the delusion they were in the Isle Of Wight. One wished to know the directions of a local man for his proposed wish to cycle to Guernsey. These kind of observations were Intercut with photos and newsreel film footage of an English Bobby acting as a Chauffeur to high ranking German soldiers, and Germans cheerfully walking the very streets I had already strolled in my own first hours on the Island.
Many young women on the Island fell for the charms of the Blue eyed, blond haired troops, and embarked on affairs that were to get them branded 'Jerry-Bags' by neighbours who remained suspicious and hostile to the smiling invaders.
At first, the invasion force was small, but many more Germans followed until they represented a quarter of the Islands populace, one to every three Jersey Citizens. Strict curfew and civilian movement rules were snapped in. The Island was set to Central European Time, instead of England time. The small Jewish population of about 12 people was taken and deported to the vile concentration camp/ghetto processes imposed by the Reich. Cars and many boats were taken as property of the army. Radios were forbidden, and all such apparatus had to be handed in to the appropriate authorities. Those (many) defying such rules faced court martial, deportation or death. Forbidden Crystal radio sets came into use, on instructions from the BBC. Ownership of them, and passing of news gleamed by them to others meant potential death to. As one Islander observed in the records of the Museum, some were caught out because they were whistling or humming the tunes of the English mainland that they were not supposed to know.
Inevitably, people grew suspicious of one another, a few ingratiated themselves in the Nazis by telling tales on neighbours, dropping one another in serious trouble to settle old grudges. No one knew who to trust. I wondered, especially with so much of the convention talk focussing on Alternative history SF, if this was what my life would be like had Operation Sealion gone ahead and the Reich had taken the mainland of Britain itself.
Many attempted to escape the Island, to France to help fight the Germans with the Resistance, or more often to England, Most failed, and were either drowned, or captured, and incarcerated or shot. One man who made it safely and successfully to England was faced with Customs and Excise tax on the property he had managed to get on board his boat. There's gratitude for you.
Hitler, pleased to have captured at least part of Britain, began to send more and more troops there, much to Rommel's disgust, as the Field Marshall believed the men could be better deployed elsewhere.
Hitler directly ordered a vast fortification and bunkering programme that clad much of the Island in concrete and pill box. The Island's many castles and forts, some of which I would visit in the days to come were also used by the Reich. As the war drew on, and The Reich was pushed back in France, the risk of an allied attack to retake the Islands might have seemed realistic, and made such a fortification programme seem sensible, but none of it would ever be used. The real tragedy comes down to the extensive use of slave labour, mostly captured Russians, who were regarded as literally 'less than human' by their captors, many (exact numbers may never be known) of who were simply worked to death on such high folly, senseless projects.
In September 1942, the order cam through that 1,200 Jersey Civilians were to be deported to the camps and work teams of mainland occupied Europe. This was a direct tit-for-tat reprisal for the British forced deportation of many German citizens who had been in Iran when the country had fallen to the Allies. Many of the deported Islanders would die in the horrors of the concentration camp system as a result.
As the Third Reich War machine ground first to a halt and then a forced retreat, Channel Islanders (the other Isles were taken too) began to take hope of being liberated at any time). On June 6th 1944, they saw some boats and planes and heard the explosions of the ongoing Operation Overlord. They thought their liberty would son follow, but of course it did not. Cut off from the influx of supplies from their own lines, the Germans found themselves running out of just about everything. Food was desperately short in supply for islanders and captors alike. The danger of starvation became all to real. Eventually after considerable bureaucratic wrangling, the civilian population were granted Red Cross food parcels, and the SS Vega Red Cross supply vessel made the first of several visits tot he Island. The Germans were not allowed to touch such supplies, and this was a n order they were bizarrely willing to follow, despite disregard for many other rules for dealing with civilians in their captured territories. Some Germans helped ofload the cargo of the Vega, and assist Islanders in carrying supplies to their homes, but never touched any of the food themselves. Some Germans in the gruelling months to follow would be seen desperately foraging for tree berries and trying to shoot seagulls for food.
Hitler's suicide and the general German surrender through most of Europe was missed by the Islands, which were not to be fully liberated without force two days after the war was over for most of the UK. Many German POWs helped in the months to follow to remove the 165,000 mines planted around the Island's coast.
The main Occupation Museum offers a powerful legacy of the terrible period of captivity. A film-video documentary of the darkest period in the Island's very bloody history is shown in a little theatre made up of seats from an actual Cinema (the Empire, now demolished) from the Island, with the chilling notice by the screen, "Civilians to the left, Germans tot he right and in the balconies." Normally these seats would have been used only for the viewing of Nazi Propaganda.
Coming out of the Museum, look again at the Liberation Square statue.
I walked the length of St. Helier Harbour, its tranquil, looking beach, which is mostly rock and cliff, but with some stretches of sand. I saw Elizabeth castle, Sir Walter Raleigh's gift to his queen from his as governor of the Island under her rule. The Castle is huge and virtually a small offshore Island in itself, approachable by water at high tide, or by causeway at low tide. Later in the week I would go there, but it was getting to late now.
I walked by the marina, seeing the boats and yaghts of the well to do, and there are some fabulous craft there. I also saw Pierson Square, where the British, under Major Pierson, had narrowly defeated a French invasion intended to capture the Island back as a French possession. The invaders, aided by a traitor from the British forces, had managed to avoid being spotted by either the forces garrisoned at Elizabeth Castle nearby or any other fort on the South Coast. They had walked into St. Helier unchallenged, and kidnapped the Island's governor, forcing him to sign a surrender notice and sign the Island over to the French, but while many seemed intent to buy the scam, Pierson, sensing that the letter had been signed under duress, disobeyed orders and took on the invaders with a group of Scottish soldiers under his command. Both Pierson and his opposite number died in the extremely violent street battle to follow (the pub now proudly displays the bullet damage to its walls) and a famous painting and many a ballad (some of them on the walls inside the otherwise unexceptional pub) commemorate the event.
Next it was time to visit The De France, as I wanted to pin down the location of the convention hotel itself. I also knew that there was a reasonable chance there of meeting other convention attendees who may have already arrived at the Island. For the first time, I got a map out and headed somewhere specific. On the way I discovered in some confusion that as well as the Norfolk Lodge where I was staying, there is also a Norfolk Hotel which I had ringed on my map instead of my own.
Though within site of the De France, I happened to bang into two fellow Mancunians, Gav and Cal, who were staying at the Monterrey, just over the road from The De France. Gav and Cal were also the editors of the FONTzine, the annual newsletter of the Manchester FONT SF group, (See FONT - MANCHESTER SCIENCE FICTION GROUP for details) presented to friends and potential Manchester SF fans attending the Con. I was delighted and amused to find that I had become part of the excellent cover art of this edition, along with Cal and Eira. The cover was done by SMS and based on a photograph he had taken of us all in Manchester's Satan's Hollow Night club. Stories, articles and poems by FONT members including myself greet the reader from the magazine. I joined Gav and Cal for evening drinks, and then for a meal at the Ramsbottom Fish Bar, a terrific seafood restaurant, traditional, but with huge generous portions at considerable economy. The restaurant was clearly a serious competitor to Harry Ramsden's in England, so I expect the name was quite intentionally a parody of that too. Then it was back to my own Norfolk Lodge and a relatively early night before the next day's adventure commenced.
WEDNESDAY 27th MARCH
Breakfast at the Norfolk Lodge was to be more or less the same daily, a full English Buffet meal that never really varied in the choices on offer but was always very nicely done. I managed to make the meal by 8.30 am no matter how late I'd gone to bed the evening before.
I am a little taken back by the insistence of waiters that i should have tea or coffee and inability to understand a polite no thanks on its many repeated offers. Fruit juices were available but only in a thimble sized cup from an automatic dispenser machine. This is not a problem confined to the Norfolk. It seems to affect every hotel I ever stay in, as does the tendency to cut toast and bread into cute dainty diagonally sliced triangles as a deterrent to the art of making sausage/bacon/egg butties at the breakfast table.
I would face difficult choices later in my stay as time ran out with much more remaining to see and do, but my first full day on Jersey was one I knew I would undertake before I ever setoff. Mention Jersey to anyone who has been before, and they will tell you that you really must visit The Zoo.
Before I went I was met by the Jersey Tourist Board tour guide, who asked me about being able to organise tours and visits for me. I assured him I would find my own way round, especially as i knew the Con would soon dominate the middle period of my stay. Realising that I was heading for the Zoo, the guide invited me to go with his party, with the incentive a of a generous 50p off my admission fee. I politely declined, preferring the freedom to seethe exhibits in my own time, even if it did cost me half a quid more to do so. He went away looking very disappointed.
Gerald and Lee Durrell's Zoo is a specialist centre for the study, breeding and preservation of endangered species of animals, (mammals and reptiles, and birds) who are in risk of extinction due to our own folly. I had taken the trouble to read much of the collected writings of Naturalist Gerald Durrell before going to Jersey, and in fact had the book with me during my stay, though I had little opportunity to read anything during my holiday at all.
I met Richard, another con attendee at the bus stop, and he too was heading zoo-wards. Once there I also met SMS & Eira and Chris Cowan.
The report from here on in should consist of "ooh look at that'. "god, aren't they big....", "where is it then.. oh it's there.. what good camouflage...." "aw.... cool", and lots of similar exclamations. Aye-Aye's, Andean Bears, orang-utans, Livingstone's Fruit Bats, Macaques, Lemurs, meercats, and Lowland Gorillas are just some of the many magnificent creatures on display who are so rapidly disappearing forever the way of the Dodo through unnecessary human interference. Jambo the Gorilla is particularly famous for being willing to protect a young human child who had fallen unconscious and into his enclosure, an event captured forever on camera.
For our visit, the antics of the orang-utans was particularly impressive. They have a large open plan park land area, full of adventure playground climbing frames and ropes to play with, as well as a glass cage they can retreat to for a rest. The bridge of glass between the two was where one Orang stopped to stare at me, making me feel as though i was the zoo exhibit and he had come to visit and stare at me rather than the other way round. Then there were the giant jumping rats that failed to jump once when we were looking at them. (Ha! ) these animals, like the people of Jersey live life at their pace and not anyone else's.
Durrell's legacy is a zoo that reminds us of the fragility of our world and protects these fabulous creatures - a zoo to educate us rather than to merely entertain us. A zoo to visit again one day.
I took a look in the evening at the De France Hotel, where many of the Co attendees could now be seen too. It was a big spacious and luxurious place, with an easy relaxed atmosphere, and big comfy leathery chairs to sink into.
The Admiral Pub, noted for its extremely generous pub grub supplies (before 8 PM) at a very reasonable price proved another major culinary success. I had also discovered a quicker route directly between the De France and my own Hotel now. Again, it was a relatively early night. Pre and post con, I would more or less stick to pub hours and be at the Norfolk Lodge Hotel before 1 AM.
THURSDAY 28th MARCH
With unofficial con activity likely at the De France on the eve of the Con commencing, I decided this as a day to stay local. It was time to visit Elizabeth Castle.
I walked down the coast to the Causeway near the bar known as the Upturned Boat for its resembles to the underside of a ship's Hull, The tide was not due in until five hours later, so i walked the causeway. I was passed en route by the DUKW, the amphibious landing craft that served as a bus-boat between the castle and Jersey. It was painted in garish, friendly yellow duck colours, and labelled Lizzie. (irreverent reference to the Queen obviously as a companion craft was called Walter (after Raleigh). I had rather hoped they would look a little more militaristic, like the ones used in the D-Day Landings. (still, mustn't grumble)
Reaching the castle, paying to get in, and sitting down beside a cannon, I wrote out my family and friend postcards. I was oblivious to the heat of the sun scorching my scalp. People would later comment that I looked as though my head was on fire.
The Castle is a stunning site with fabulous views of St Helier harbour and nearby bathing beaches. In fact the Saint, Helier has direct associations with the Castle's location. Helier was a hermit who chose a finger of rock in the harbour as his home, setting up house in a precarious cave on top of the crag of rock, where he stayed unhappily and uncomfortable until marauding pirates beheaded him in 555 AD. A monastery was established around the rock soon afterwards, until abolished in Henry 8th's Reformation attack on the Catholic churches and monasteries. Edward 6th started work in earnest to turn the site into a castle fortress and Raleigh christened it after Elizabeth.
During the civil war the Castle was held by the Royalists, but fell to the Parliamentarians in 1641. The old monastic chapel, being used as a gunpowder store was hit, and destroyed in the conflict, resulting in some 40 deaths.
It was forces from here in 1651 who had assisted Pierson in his battle against French invaders. That the castle had proved unable to spot them arriving proved the need for another fortification, so Fort Regent, now the Island's vast horribly en-domed sport centre was built as a successor, and companion castle.
The castle at Elizabeth would se military action again when used by the Germans, both as a castle fortress in its own right and as a prison for Russian Slave prisoners who had been accused of attempting to escaper (along with Islanders who had dared assist them).
Soon after completing my postcard writing, I was drawn by the commotion in the main parade ground, where actors dressed in 18th century military garb had captured several male tourists and press ganged them into the army. They were being obliged to march in drill formation., Naively going closer to look at this I was quickly added to their ranks. Two men there, one a Malaysian, the other American, were targeted for particular merciless banter by our drill sergeant..... the American chap in particular, as a member of the 'upstart colonies' who had defeated us in securing their independence was ruthlessly referred to as "That bloody American.." We were marched to a set of cannons, one of which was set up for firing, with the American, the Malaysian chap and two others being singled out to drag the ropes to put the cannon into place, so it could be fired (it was very loud to put it mildly).
My term of service completed, I deserted quickly to climb against a stiff breeze, up the rock to Helier's Bed, as it is called, and realised how insane anyone would be to make such a miserable home for themselves even in the name of religion.
Elizabeth Castle also shows considerable damage from the Occupation, with Nazi turret towers added to already perfectly adequate ones. From the top of one of these, I watched the main Spring Tide, (the highest of the year) pour in. It filled the harbour from sand bed to 40 foot of water in 45 minutes. I t was like watching a bathtub fill up. Rocks and crags literally disappear before your eyes. Soon the Causeway itself had gone. Information at the castle told that several soldiers in its 17th century usage had drowned trying to swim back if they had missed the tide change. I had chosen to go back by DUKW though, and a terrific little ride it was too.
Safely ashore, I set off to The De France, where many Con attendees were now present, so there were many old and new friends to meet up with. The Con Registration desk opened up and I was able to get the pack of goodies, books, fliers, essential Read Me data, the programme of events for the days to come and my all important Con Attendee badge to be worn at all times. It was a very generous package indeed this year.
After a few beers in The De France, we set off to eat in the Max Tapas Bar, another fantastic choice, which we followed up with a visit to The Golden Buddhabar, a garish, grossly over-decorated place, with a lot of loud, but happy drinkers therein, one of Jersey's trendiest night-spots apparently, but somehow not for me.
Next we called in the Cock And Bottle Pub, where we had an upper room virtually to ourselves amidst the portraits of high court judges through the ages. A few more drinks passed at The De France, where one attendee's suggested short cut through the Multi-storey Car Park took us twice as long to negotiate as just heading for the front door (cheers Chris! LOL) A few more drinks and then off to my hotel, later this time, making it to well gone 2 AM.
FRIDAY 29th MARCH (BEFORE THE CON)
The con wasn't due to start until the afternoon, so the morning was taken up with more site seeing. Again, I chose to stay close to St. Helier, looking this time at the Maritime Museum and the Occupation Tapestry (both in the same building). The tapestry tells the story of the Occupation through work produced by many who were there and presents a vivid, colourful and poignant record of the most terrible years in all the Island's history. In some ways inspired by the Bayeaux Tapestry, it was produced for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Island's liberation. It shows hope and happiness can survive despite the tragedy and horror.
The Maritime Museum itself is deceptively huge. It seems a small building at first, until you move from room to room. Shipwrecks are a dominant theme. The harbour is surrounded by rocks and crags and navigation hazards that many a sailing vessel has floundered on with appalling consequences to passengers and crews. Some Islanders were also among the passengers of the Titanic and Lucitania liners, so memorabilia from those tragedies is also on display.
Beyond wrecks there are studies in boat building, the history of navigation, smugglers tricks of the trade, a chance to play with radar screens, studies of tidal and wave formation, singing whelks and other hands on displays, a huge globe that is mechanically operated to show ships sailing round, whales rising and falling through the waves, etc..... ships in bottles in bottles.... studies of the type of fish caught off the waters of Jersey, and much more besides.
This was one museum visit I should have given more time too, like those already described, but now the Convention was due to start properly.
FRIDAY 29th MARCH - (THE CONVENTION BEGINS)
The Terribly Splendid And Worthwhile Opening Ceremony was our first glimpse of the Con's special guests, Peter Weston, Harry Turtledove and Brian Stableford who made pleasant cheery and informal introductions was I have to confess guiltily, the only one of the many programme events I attended on the Friday. I was keen to see the dealer room and art room displays, which were both excellent. It was immediately apparent that I would spend a fortune herein books and weird memorabilia. I also signed up now or over the days to come for various future cons and magazine subscriptions, especially Eastercon 2003 and 2004 (Hinkley and Blackpool respectively).
After much loitering and lovely chatter in the Windsor Bar that would see more of me than my own Hotel bed would, I went with some friends for a Tandoori meal at the Shahi Indian restaurant. It was now proving a difficult thing to find a bad eatery on the Island. Even the Con daily newspaper, Helicodex would eventually give up reporting enthusiastic recommendations with a suggestion to just look any up in the phone book.
SATURDAY 30th MARCH
No touring today, but straight to the De France and the first programme event of the day, "Points Of Departure: The Reformation -" an excellent panel talk on alternative history speculating what might have happened had Luther's Reformation never taken place. The indication was that it would have happened later had it not happened then, as there were several unrelated outbreaks of rebellion to the Catholic dominance at the time. The Catholics, already bearing down heavily through the Inquisitions would have had to become extremely totalitarian to survive and suppress every such schism. There was then also the question of what would happen to science if Catholicism had held sway, considering the recantation made by Galileo under pressure from the Papacy. It was pointed out that the Jesuits were much more inclined than may have been believed to be scientific in their approach to life. (we were reminded at this point that the De France itself was formerly a Jesuit College). It struck me however as unlikely that Darwinism could have survived a totally Catholic dominated world view.
There was a very good heated often angry panel lead discussion then on Sex In SF, which was not surprisingly very well attended, and really ought to have been on the main Lido Stage rather than in a quieter seminar room. The discussion focussed on Slash Fiction, written predominantly by Media-SF fans to allow them to fantasise about what it would be like if the characters in well known (or even obscure) SF shows were to move from platonic to sexual relationships, i.e., if Kirk was to Seduce Nurse Chappell.
One panellist argued against the tide by suggesting that the use of sex in SF meant the author was not telling the story any more but playing out a non-SF sexual interlude in the sex scene. Others argued that this was not the case. I suggested that a sex scene can carry an SF story forward, as with Barbarella where her sexual naivety is highly important to the albeit flimsy story line. Also, a sex scene in SF may explore SF as a fetish background, involving sex in zero gravity, with drug inducements, figures with multiple sexual organs, bizarre encounter suits, unusual forms of contraception, etc. There was also the question raised of Gay-Slash fiction. There was no doubt that most Slash, straight or Gay is badly written pseudo-porn (often without the pseudo) in which just about anyone can get sex with anyone. A Fun and thoughtful panel item.
The next Talk I attended was Harry Turtledove's own Guest Of Honour piece on his work, and he proved to be an exceptional speaker (sadly I never saw the other GoH's main addresses). Harry spoke of projects old and new, of the work of fellow Alternative History Writers, (i.e., Robert Harris, Kim Stanley Robinson), how he sees Alternative History as a branch of SF rather than an independent genre to it, etc.... all with good humour and a very clear voice.
The book auction followed, and I found the number of bargains I had secured doubling by the minute. The presentation of this was hugely entertaining, even to anyone not actually buying anything. It was stand up comedy at its best. One book almost sold by the page. At one point, one of the auctioneer's assistants begged to buy a book back, realising it was one he wanted to ad to his own collection, and there's the fate of J. Hunter Holly's dire little classic, The Mind Traders, 1967. Failing to sell for even a penny, it was cast into the audience as a freebie, and then rethrown and passed around the room until I finally decided something that doomed needed rescuing, so I have it here before me.
The next big event was The Banquet, a major and expensive but cheap at twice the price, meal with tickets available only on a limited first come first served basis. One criticism raised was that this left no alternative events for the whole Saturday night for anyone not wishing to attend, which was perhaps rather naughty on the part of the organisers.
I went, and it proved one of the finest meals I have ever been to. As the compere observed before hand "You're mouth will love you forever for this." It was after the meal that the World outside reached in at us with the announcement of the Queen Mother's death, and an invitation to gibe a toast in tribute to her. Some seemed happy to, while non-royalists, to whom this was merely a death of a celebrity, and hardly surprising at such an age, seemed less certain how to respond.
An after dinner speech followed from Ian Watson, a patchy but mostly amusing story of his own efforts to create an alternate history of how the Germans might have captured Britain, i.e., with warships so vast they could bridge the Channel with them and drive across. The speech didn't really end. Ian just stopped when he thought he had talked long enough, making the piece seem a little inconclusive.
The fun wasn't over yet, though it was already late enough. SMS, Eira and Cal had been searching all day for members of the Beyond Cyberdrome Sprokkette Binary Cheerleader team. This legendary division has cheered the demise of robots in Cyberdrome conflicts for several cons now, but the distance and cost of a Con in the Channel Isles had meant a low turn out from the full usual Binary Cheerleader team. Cal, as their main choreographer, was prepared to help SMS and Eira audition a new team for this Con. I myself had been approached, but was unable to attend as the audition clashed with the banquet, and I was deeply depressed throughout the banquet naturally for having missed my chance in a lifetime.
However, joy of Joys, the initial attempt to secure auditioning Sprokketes had failed so a second recruitment drive, now much more successful, gave me another chance, along with many others, male, female and ursine alike. So far, Sprokkette Cheerleading had been for women only. Half the Con audience seemed to turn up to watch history in the making as Beyond Cyberdrome became an Equal Opportunities Employer.
If you've ever seen the Kids From Fame this was more like the Kids from Shame. Several ladies, some barely dressed, took their goes. Then it was the turn of Beeblebear, a two headed bear with an obvious Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy moniker, and a stylish punk bin-liner look for half his Siamese girth. Another performer, in heavy armour and carrying a large projectile weapon, from which he took his label, Big Gun, also did well. I realised I didn't have a prayer.
However I didn't run away, I took up the fierce challenging questions from the judging panel. SMS, Eira, and Sprok-Senior, or Sprokess-Superior, Cal, as to my credentials and experience. I quickly pointed out that I had formerly been a Robot in the Beyond Cyberdrome conflicts (true, I had presented myself in the arena suitably attired at the 2-Kon year as R U R D-NUFF, a cardboard Glaswegian bottle-battle droid (he carried a broken bottle in his armoury) droid.
This clearly impressed the judging panel, who allowed me to show my performance in Binary dance, (inspired by seeing someone do the YMCA dance at a disco). It was my radical move from zero zero one one zero zero one one one type sounds to introducing 'two' that almost lost me the day. I was however given a chance to go again, dumping two for the traditional ones and zeroes. I also bared my midriff to add some sex appeal to my science lesson) A few competitors, heartened by my dismal efforts took to the floor to do their own bit.. and then the audience judged us. The girls did extremely well... the bear also did extremely well, possibly aided by my subliminal advertising campaign on his behalf, holding up a bit of paper with the vote for bear on them... I got a decent but unsuccessful vote... it was however Big Gun who won the day, by holding the audience and judges and competitors hostage at gun point and securing twice as many votes as there were potential voters. I, realising I had failed in my life's ambition, tried to use his gun to end my misery but experienced Samaritans in the audience assured me it wasn't worth it and then we were all invited to be Sprokettes anyway for doing so well.
Lots more beer followed to celebrate till we realised that the clocks had changed and we had lost a vital hour of sleep and went off to our Hotels at about 4,30 am (clock change allowed for).
SUNDAY 31st MARCH
This was a busy day, Binary sprokking and Masquerading in the same day.
Chaos costuming where many masqueraders make and/or refine their costumes kindly allowed me to hang J. Alfred Cthulhu's gear up in their room, along with his bouquet of flowers, which was going to save me a lot of moving about between the two hotels.
Cyberdrome went incredibly well. The sprokks turned up in force, except for Blue Fairy Sprokk, who by way of apology for being in another event, sent us all Blue Fairy Cakes to keep us going.
The robots were less and smaller in variety than usual due doubtlessly to the cost of travel and the difficulties of getting wire-and electrical equipment looking not unlike a small bomb on board aircraft. Rumours abounded of robots quarantined by customs (see Helicodex reports) but those who made it were pretty impressive, a giant alligator droid that moved like lightning, to the so small many didn't believe it was real Murphy's law Nanobot...... The compere's SMS and Eira, were assisted unusually by Mark and M@ despite the fact that neither Mark or M@ had made the con. Claims that they had been replaced by puppets must be dismissed as evil rumour-mongering by the terminally jealous.
When the robots started hitting one another the Binary Cheerleaders, known as The Sprokettes, of which I am proud to be one, launched into binary, followed by ad lib shouts of "Carnage Carnage Carnage..." and the football chant "You're not fighting any more.... You're not fighting any more."
Droids destroyed, Blue Fairy Cakes consumed in triumph, it was time now to prepare for worst to come.
Photographs and other information on Beyond Cyberdrome are available at the official BC website at http://www.beyondcyberdrome.org.uk/
There was a calm before the storm, in Tony Keen's very well presented talk on references made to Classical history from Greece and Rome in shows like Dr. Who and Star Trek, showing some terrific knowledge on Tony's part of the historic subject matter, with a generous supply of clips from the shows to highlight his point, and other points at which he declined to show a clip or two simply for being 'rubbish' even when we wanted to see them anyway. Tony was very keen to finish in time for Brian Stapleton's talk that was to start soon after, regrettably while I had a date with destiny at the Masquerade.
It was now common knowledge to everyone that the masquerade involved two competitors in Cthulhu related costumes, (the other one being James Steel who would be accompanied by Cal and Marcus Streets who looked very fetching in a bearded lady sort of way in his lovely dress to play Cthulhu Pus's Emily.
It was just before the rehearsal that i discovered for sure I was being invited to play a second part in the masquerade too.
We did various walk ons, and sound checks, and we got sneak previews of the costumes to come. The Cybob piece was a great feat of achievement, a cyberman who would break down only to be repaired by a galactic Bob The Builder, (as presented by Sabine and Karen Furlong), Heather Petty's Fantasy Airlines costume, Jane Weddell's delightful and scary Chaos Fairy.... and many more, but for a time it was looking like helicon had turned into Cthulhucon.
The show started in earnest soon after the judges had admired our workmanship. I had to put J. Alfred's outfit on for that, then lose him to do my other piece before putting him back on in the nick of time for his show.
After two children had done their bits, it was time for SMS, Eira and myself to sneak on as a children's entry, The Bell Children, singing, as in Bagpuss mice fashion, we will fix it, we will win it....Our costumes were merely blankets thrown over our heads so we looked like really rubbish ghosts. We chirped like deranged ovaltinies about our wish to get lots of Chocolate as a prize, but Sue Mason, compering told us to get lost and we cried our way off to much audience sympathy......
Quickly changed, with my latex mask and glove, clutching my flowers, it was J. Alfred Cthulhu's chance to find romance... as he danced off to the sound of Madness' One Step Beyond. The text of J. Alfred's story is online at www.arthurchappell.clara.net/cthulhustory.htm and in print in Ride The Night Mare Arrival Press 2001.
As performance art it was clearly well received, if dark in presentation and mood. James's Cthulhu Pus was shamelessly hysterical, and fun, and with accompaniment by two such lovely ladies, he could not fail. J. Alfred was rather unsporting about this, commenting to James Steel that he was an impostor, and that the only 'galaxy' he had ever devoured was made by Cadbury's, which seems rather ungentlemanly to my mind. After the BSFA and Fhlosk Awards and a supurb on the spot off the cuff discourse by Compere Sue Mason, our results were forthcoming
I did win a prize for best Novice (though in fact I have masqueraded before) (not referring to The Bell Children piece of course) while best in show (which makes it seem disturbingly like Crufts) award went deservedly to James, Cal and Marcus.
The audience showed considerable appreciation to us all, and took many photographs. It's a shame the two Cthulhus never met together on stage somehow but one can't have everything. The flowers were dedicated to Sue Mason for her excellent work in presenting the event, and then given to various ladies in the Masquerade including the delectable bearded one who served the false Old God.
As things had gone on so long from one event to the other that I was half starved, and saved only by the kindness of Eira in presenting me with an apple and a sandwich I got from the bar.
MONDAY 1st April 02
Still hungry from the previous night I savaged the breakfast buffet most severely. Then it was back to the con, to which I was kindly offered a lift by an attendee who had brought his car along on the ferry.
The first Item was an important discussion by the 2003 Eastercon committee on just what we want Next Year,. Options included an improvement in the Voodoo Board communication channel, and better events for children to attend, (though it has to be said that the children and toddlers at this con were exceptionally well behaved and clearly seemed to enjoy the whole weekend). The Con Committee have a very interactive website set up at.......to further this discussion.
An event I missed (among many I missed in fact) was the theological debate on just who it is that does or should rule our Universe, which concluded that we are created and destroyed by none other than Small Clanger. This raises some serious ecclesiastical issues for me. I have in my possession a whistling model of said Small Clanger and I need to know if this is an Icon or an idol.
I may also add that my poem in Small Clanger's honour, written and in use before his divinity was made public to us, was immortalised by me in verse, now dedicated to the deity which you can read at THE LITTLE PINK THIEF
J. Alfred Cthulhu, still licking his wounds at being deprived of his grand prize in the masquerade, has however asked me to forward his desire to declare ware on The Clanger homeworld if the little upstart isn't kneeling before him sometime in the next 8,000 years.
The last event I went to was a discussion forum for local groups, attended by members of SF fans from all over the UK, and some from abroad (Encouragingly, this was a very Internationally attended Eastercon). It also attracted one genuinely local chap, who comes from Jersey itself.
Groups here lamented the frustration of much often expensively produced publicity material falling on deaf ears, the fine balances between media-fandom and general SF fan based groups, the hiring of rooms, the use of pubs... fans who feel that they are trying to join what is too much of an elite, where fans seem to know each other well already and pay insufficient interest to the questions and needs of the newcomers...... One man who has been to Manchester FONT meetings (Web page FONT - MANCHESTER SCIENCE FICTION GROUP ) observed that while we are very nice people (as we are) he felt we were just not what he wants in a group, which is sadly fair comment, and it will be impossible for any group to please all comers.
That said, a group should be economically run, meet somewhere not to expensive, be sure of what SF expectations its members and would-be members want, and be in regular communication with other groups. The internet should be exploited where possible, along with local SF shops, i.e., Forbidden Planet branches, and libraries. There should be leaflets and fliers and some source of information that tells people roughly what to expect.
If you are looking for a local group in
your area in the UK, then I recommend that you go to the ANSIBLE LOCAL GROUPS
http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/Ansible/ansilink.html#groups Ansible in general is a superb resource on all things SF - The Ansible home page is at http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/Ansible/Ansible.html
This event went on so long for no one having need of the room after us that we completely missed the closing ceremony of the con itself and carried on chatting and gaining vital insights into how one another's groups run. Then it was feeding time again, so we set off to the Chinese restaurant, Ming's Dynasty. Could it be the Cthulhu influences from the previous day that lead so many there to pick squid from the menu?
We returned for the Dead Dog Party, an event held annually for those con attendees who don't fly off home right after the closing ceremony, which as the Con was so far from home was better attended than usual. It was also the latest night out of all for many of us, and a thoroughly enjoyable end to a fantastic, extremely well organized Eastercon. I left for the Norfolk Lodge in the sorrowful knowledge that many of my friends would be going home before I had a chance to see them again.
Details and official websites of the next two UK Eastercons -
AFTER THE CON
TUESDAY 2cd APRIL
Waking up and automatically adding the con badge to the shirt I was wearing for the day, realising I no longer had to wear it made me feel down. I took it off and packed it away. There was still however a lot to see and do in Jersey to save me from utter despair and post con depression.
However, I chose to visit one of the least happy places in Jersey, the German Occupation Underground Hospital.
This is a large bunker network of rooms and tunnels gouged into a mountain, dug almost entirely by slaves imported from the rest of Occupied Europe, to give the Germans a place to deal with the heavy casualties they might have received if attacked by the Allies had we tried to recapture the Channel Isles by force. As no such attack came, many slaves died needlessly.
I arrived at the ticket office, where a very rude receptionist was arguing aggressively with an old man who had quite reasonably asked why there was no Concessionary discount ticket for Old Aged Pensioners, (the very generation who had fought in the war). Her tone was so hostile to him that I thought she was actually impersonating a German to give the museum a sense of realism. As the old chap went off with his full price ticket, she turned to me, snatching my money with barely a word and hurling my ticket at me with contempt. She was the only unpleasant individual I met throughout my entire stay on the Island. Other staff at the Museum were much more friendly and polite.
With your ticket you receive an ID card, a facsimile one for one of the real prisoners incarcerated there, so you can try to learn their fate from the display boards, which have hundreds of people on them, but sadly not in alphabetical order, so I was unable to learn the fate of the man on my ID card.
The hospital complex itself is vast. That they built so much of it in the five years of the occupation is breathtaking. The tunnels are cavernous and spacious, but somehow ten times more claustrophobic than the mine workings of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, that I recently potholed my way through.
The museum here is a chronologically set record of the occupation in general, and a much more interactive museum than the main Occupation Museum visited on my first day. Computer games take you through a day in the life of an islander, you get to make and listen to a crystal wireless set (the reception clarity quality of which surprised me. There are also some very strange tailors dummy/waxwork effigies of German soldiers in friendly polite poses, for instance one holds out his hand in a 'shake hands I want to be your friend' kind of way that the early arrival troops did to the islanders and asks on a card whether you would return the greeting or try to ignore him, a dilemma the Islanders must have faced many times. What really makes these dummy - models freaky however is the overkill television sets on their heads, allowing the face of a young actor to speak the words of greeting as the dummies invite you to see pictures of their children, or to help you carry some heavy parcel you have on you..... It doesn't ad realism at all, but makes the Germans look like Doctor Who pace invaders in German uniform.
The interactive stuff actually ruins this museum for there being so much of it, but as you proceed through, that slowly druids up and the long sterile vast chamber corridors speak for themselves without commentary or read-me cards.... You come to the unfinished tunnel area, where the slaves had been digging when the project was finally halted. The tunnel is left exactly as they abandoned it. The conditions they worked in are appalling. You move round this atrocity on a safe path, and come to a simple dignified grave marker with some flowers there to commemorate the many who died there building a hospital that never saw a patient, and the silence of it overwhelms you. Despite all the fun interactive stuff, this was a real place of torture, slavery and death. It tells its own story so much better than the electronic toys ever could accomplish.
On the way back towards St. Helier I visited St. Matthew's Church, noted for its glass design. Mention a church noted for glass to most people and like myself they will think of stained glass windows. St. Matthew's is different. A modern looking church, it is the Alter, the rails, the cross, the fonts and pillars of the church that are intricately presented in heavy crystal white glass, looking as though the church was made of ice. The traditional Celtic look to the work, by architect, Rene Lalique, from Paris is very beautiful indeed.
I met up with friends Gav and Cal and we dined at The Admiral pub we had used earlier in my visit.
I was acutely quite exhausted by this time, and left soon after the meal to return to my Hotel by the frighteningly early time of 9 PM. On the way I passed the main football ground, where a game was in progress. The low walls around the ground were easy to see over and more people watched the game for free from shop doorways than had bothered paying to go and sit in the decidedly undercrowded spectator stands.
WEDNESDAY 3rd April 02
Refreshed by a long night's sleep I was off again to see as much of Jersey as I could before leaving the Island. My travels started with a trip to Mont Orgueil, the biggest and best preserved castle on Jersey, with France visible from her keep. Dating from the 13th century, many Islanders regard the castle as the greatest symbol of the Island itself, a monument as distinctive as Tower Bridge or Blackpool Tower.
When Phillip Augustus took Normandy back for France, King John recognised the importance of the Channel Isles for their position between the two bitterly opposed nations. The castle moved through two distinct phases of development, first as a bow and arrow castle and then as a gunpowder fortress by the 15th-16th centuries. The castle is gigantic and offers breath taking views of the sea, and Gorey's delightful fishing village community. The sea was misting over, but the French Coast was just barely visible on this visit.
Some renovation and archaeological work meant some areas were closed and shrouded in what looked like very rickety scaffolding to me. The climb up to the castle from Gorey is very steep, but well worth it. A museum room displays many of the castle's finds, including a skull from one of many prisoners who's heads were pinned to the castle gates from time to time as a lesson to the people below.
From Gorey I walked through two miles of Jersey's lovely countryside, getting to look closely at a herd of Jersey cows, that seemed just as interested in me, a brief walk round the tip of a reservoir that has been turned into a nature reserve, and then I came to my destination, and stepped into the more distant past, at La Hougue Bie, an extremely well preserved Neolithic ritual, burial site with a passage grave at its heart. The site has produced finds from 6,000 years ago, 2,000 years before the druids. Found in 1924 though widely believed to be there for some time before, the Burial site is a narrow little corridor, barely lit even now, through which you have to crawl. The grave areas, from which at least eight bodies were moved, are secreted with great dignity to the sides of the path. It is an awesome and silent place, a very fitting tomb.
The grave is buried under a vast man made mountain mound, on which the Christians, in order to make the site less pagan and very much their own, slapped the Notre Dame De La Clarte Chapel, dates to the 12th century (a wooden church may have preceded it on the same site). A faint painting, barely visible even when the timer switch lights focus on it, of two angels is very reminiscent of Michaelangelo, but well worth seeing. What isn't appropriate is the audio tape that plays a loop of choral evensong endlessly - the church deserves to speak for itself without such undignified sound effects. It's patronising and it should be switched off forever.
A museum of the archaeology and geology of the Island is very impressive, with a stage by stage look at rocks, crystals, and fossils in the orders they have been formed, in a very impressive presentation. There are also skulls there of mammoth and rhino that the Palaeolithic hunters may have chased over cliffs to kill.
The site is a place of immense archaeological importance, and new finds are still being made there. Sadly, the Germans during the occupation, drove several bunkers and trenches through the area and devastated much of it. One of their bunkers is itself a museum and monument to the suffering and courage of the slaves and imported labour forces condemned to work and die needlessly for the great folly of preparation for a never to be allied attack. The bunker is simply a series of rooms with prison bars pinned up with quotations from many of the people who worked there. It is mercifully unspoilt by silly commentary devises like the site's Chapel is.
Returning to St. Helier, I took a drink in the Pierson Pub, to be able to read the ballads they have kept there amidst football screens and unexceptional decor and then met up with Gav and Cal who were keen to try out the Max Tapas Bar so my last meal out was a welcome return visit to there, followed by a few drinks in the cosy Prince Of Wales pub. It was the last time I would see Gav & Cal during the visit, and they were such wonderful friends to have contact with here.
THURSDAY 4th APRIL
My last day, last getting up in The Norfolk Lodge, last Breakfast, last chance to tour, last everything..... I had to vacate my room before 10 AM even though my flight home wouldn't go until 17.45 PM so I packed quickly and realised I was seriously over the 20 kilos recommended as acceptable baggage for the flight. My many souvenirs, which included many books, and two cuddly Cthulhu toys, a whistling Clanger, and the complete poems of H. P. Lovecraft. My suitcase felt like a hod full of bricks on dodgy casters.
The Norfolk Lodge hotel kindly promised to take care of my luggage for me, leaving me free to go out for a final site-seeing/shopping expedition.
I headed to the St. Helier based Jersey Museum, which was actually three museums in one. The deceptively large centre takes you through every aspect of the Island's history, from early settlers to the present day. Pictures of the St. Helier police force from the 1920's reveal that there were only about 12 of them in the entire force. The horrible treadmill from the Newgate Street prison of the Victorian era shows how hard they were on crime though. Many of the displays overlap neatly with stuff I saw at the other museums, so there is much on the Occupation, the maritime history of the Island, the prehistoric settlers, etc.
The second level of the Museum is its Art Gallery, dominated not surprisingly by seascape studies, many from the causeway edge looking at Elizabeth castle. There is also a nice touch of putting several paintings at floor level so children can see and study them, which made it very awkward for adults of my size to look at them so easily, (nice to see such a reversal of fortunes). There is also a very strange display of modern art,, focussing on Androgyny, showing women with beards, men with breasts and other women's genitalia, etc.
The third tier showed a renovated Merchant's House, a complete look at how a well to do businessman's property looked at in the 1860's. This has a nice touch in the nursery room where children are openly encouraged to play with all the traditional toys there, from spinning tops to the full sized rocking horse.
After a leisurely last look at the Shops, it was back to the Norfolk Lodge to wait for the courtesy airport bus, though no one seemed to have a clue when it would arrive. It did arrive however in plenty of time, and there were SMS & Eira, who would be there to chat too all the way home, and we left Jersey like a bunch of giggly school children, perhaps the Bell children would be proud of us. Mike, a friend of SMS and Eira's had arranged to drive them home and kindly offered me a lift on the way too.
Thus ends one of the most fantastic holidays of my life. My thanks go to so many people, My parents of course, for helping to make it happen for me, Gav, Cal, SMS and Eira, the people of Jersey, the Convention organisers, the various fan-friends I met, and of course, our new official God, Small Clanger. Do not whistle his tune in vein, for he is a jealous Clanger.......
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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