ANDROMEDA CONVENTION SUPPLEMENT:
MEDCON OR BUST!
by Pete TaylorYou may remember that It was originally intended that an organised coach-party was to be laid on for Medcon-bound fen travelling from London…organised? I met Shirley Marriott (Bournmouth’s Lee Hoffman) at London Bridge Station, caught the 8.50 to Chatham, and we spent our time gazing out at each station just in case anybody happened to be on time to catch the train. By the time we got to Woolwich Arsenal the idea was wearing thin; but suddenly from out of the gloom of the deserted platform rushed a sinister figure flapping a copy of the official programme and crushing a battered trilby to its head. IT swung open our compartment door, and lifting its crushed headgear from its sweating features revealed Dave Newman. He flicked each of us with a malevolent glare, and reaching into his case brought out a handful of assorted gear, and donned beard and dark glasses.
"Now I'm dressed for the part, I shall answer all and sundry questions about the whereabouts of the others," he hissed, and pressed his nose up against the window to get a better view of a curious porter who was taking time off to press his nose up against the window for a better view of Dave…goldfish in bowls have nothing on Dave. The train lurched off leaving a hypnotised porter, and we gathered from Dave that nobody had turned up as arranged. But very soon after that, however, our compartment started turning into a Fan Accumalus, as fen types literally fell into it at every station, throwing bags and parcels at us and climbing into the luggage racks to make room for late-comers. We picked up Vince Clarke and Ron and Daphne Buckmaster on the way, and kept up all kinds of primitive pagan practices all the way to Chatham; things such as asking one-another if we'd read Statten’s latest, or discussing the virtues of using TYCHO'S FLOOR in '54. Poor pure Shirley was highly horrified at such flagrant use of ornery Ackermanese, and had to be revived with the smell of an extra-strong peppermint coughdrop, of which Ron had a liberal supply for other such incidents which were sure to occur throughout the day...
We finally found the Conhall as marked on the map provided—not by consulting the map, of course, but by following the direction from which the good folk of Chatham were hurriedly making their exits, as do all proper people in such emergencies, and found it situated in an ex-T-A... centre (well, it will never be quite the same after the con). A small notice up on the wall modestly proclaimed the words MEDCON.
Wotta surprise to start off a con! Just inside the door sat a brunette femme fatale recording the new arrivals by asking them to sign the visitors book. I gotta private hunch that Tony arranged to have blank cheques and a carbon sheet under each page; you've got to cover the cost of a con somehow, anyhow…
Through the next door stood Brian Lewis, waiting to pounce on people and persuade them to say what-a-wonderful-display-it-all-was, and giggle feebly before being allowed to escape into the vast expanse of hell which was later destined to be the scene of an unrehearsed little episode celled 'A Day in Manchester.'
The stand-displays were, as always, a very decorative and colourful presentation. Scion Publishers; NEBULA; Graysons; a set-up looking rather like a voting booth for an election by the SPACE-TIMES mob, who are running a research bureau for determining What exactly is the average fan, and how many slave-girls he employs for sorting out a day' s pickings after relentlessly searching the kerb-side for fag-ends; and of course, there was the London Circle's very own stand advertising our neo-zine Just as I'm doing here. Ron Buckmaster brightened it up considerably with some of those stupendous, ghastly pen and ink drawings by Lawrence Smith - only reproductions of course; and right over the poster he stuck a beauty of a fella riding a White Horse; nice touch.
The Medway bunch, not to be outdone by such extravaganza, occupied a long table in the middle of the hall upon which they were busily engaged in binding and enveloping the current issue of the MEDWAY JOURNAL, occasionally grabbing passing fen and pulling their tongues out by the roots, for something to wet lengths of gummed paper. Just think - some lucky cuss has a drop of preserved spittle from Ted Tubb's tongue in his copy, finder wins another money-token for next decade's Medcon auction.
At ten o’clock precisely, after having Blewis booming "Zero minus ..." at odd intervals over the mike, Jim Guy, Chairman to the proceedings, gave us a big welcome, and left the mike to Tony Thorne, who proceeded to instruct his guards (the big toothy things that he keeps in the darkness of the Medway sewers) who to drag up to the mike to elucidate on who-and-why-I-am. Nobody volunteered, and dead silence fell as everybody suddenly became interested in a book or mag. He finally got me up first, and then calmly walked off leaving me gazing at a sea of fanphizzogs, until he consented to come back and ask me questions on London fanac . Dave Newman went up next, and confirmed my answers with a big boost. The mike sneezed a couple of times while Dave was up there; I think his newly-perfected handlebar was getting fresh with the mouthpiece. Eric Bentcliffe went up next, and chatted about S-T and the Research Bureau, and I think he stuck a plug in about next-year's U-No-Wot. Vince Clarke next gave everybody a clarifying description of the work that he and some of the other London Circlers were putting into a moment-by-moment report on the day, being composed straight onto stencils in one corner of the hall. It was to have been duplicated on a flat-bed belonging to Tony and distributed later in the day to everyone present; but at the time proposed for going to press, the thing began to bleed ink all over the floor after an accident with the silk-screen, and expired quietly leaving Vince to take everything home for completion and distribution.
The rest of the morning was left to fen to find their own amusement. One or two brought out H20 zap-guns and crept about squirting orange-juice and Brown Ale over their favourite enemies.
During this time, tape-recordings of greetings from Stateside fen were played over the relay system, the best of which was a crazy sesh by Bob Bloch and friends, but which came to an abrupt ending when the recorder which was running the tape suddenly started to go haywire, the speakers sounding like infuriated Donald Ducks.
Although dinner lists were drawn up for those wishing to have dinner on the premises, many fen turned up unexpectedly. Tony spent most of his time extracting buttered rolls from greedy fingers, and explaining the over-crowding situation. Still, perhaps Musical Chairs might have brightened up dinner no end.
Now, it is generally known that shop-keepers are in most respects cool, undisturbed types who want to sell their stock with efficiency and speed. One particular toy-shop assistant has finally been well and truly put to the test with regard to this, when a bunch of fen, intent on making war with the world, burst into the shop and demanded zap-gun water-pistols all round. With that usual calm efficiency the assistant got out his remaining stock of these fearful instruments and, seeing the light of battle in their eyes, made a special concession and showed them where they could fill up. Still dignified and composed, he bowed them to the door and out they rushed to single out practise victims.
A lone observer might have glanced through the shop-window a little later and observed a wild-eyed individual writing a long letter to Santa Claus, ordering sample makes of every new type of zap-gun…
The full effects of the water-pistols were felt during the first half of the afternoon session, when pitched battles commenced between the Northern and Southern types in earnest, the fire-bucket in the passage providing a convenient refilling station. When supplies began to run low, a steady flow of empty pistols were seen entering and leaving a little room upstairs, much to the consternation of the caretaker. Coming back through a passage after a refill, I bumped into a fellow wearing a huge motor-cycling crash-helmet and beard, from under which came the words:
"Hallo there, are the rest of the London crowd here?"
No other than Bert Campbell, just back from the States. Respectfully touching my forelock to one who has met 4SJ, I slipped downstairs (which fan greased the stairs?) and passed the news around.
A guard of honour formed up by the entrance to the hall – bearing zap-guns, and prepared to let Bert have it when he came in. But by some strange foresight on his part. Bert came fully armed himself, and was finally corned in the cloakroom before he would surrender.
Around this time the Funfair started off with a swing, and the worst gambling instincts were brought out in everybody as pennies were rolled down chutes onto little squares of coloured paper, which seemed to shift just that little bit to prevent the coins from touching them; and darts were thrown at a board painted to represent a myriad of stars set against the deep blackness of space (Bradbury, you do things to me…)
A White Horse won three successive times on the Escalado Board - most appropriately, and much money changed hands until the announcement of the first stage item: a pseudo-scientific study of Robotics by Len Smith the Medgroup’s Treasurer, which ended abruptly with Len's voice getting stuck in the groove, his limbs twitching violently as a bunch of fellers dashed in to dispose of their precious robot, leaving behind a pile of assorted nuts and bolts littering the stage; very neat and original in presentation. The following item, FANTABLEAUX, was a guessing game that kept everybody on their toes. By watching the antics being performed on the stage the audience had to guess the title of the book represented. “Silence!” bawled Jim Guy during the game and the audience sat stunned for a moment while he looked enquiringly around the hall. “Well, what’s the title of that one?” “THE LONG LOUD SILENCE?” hazarded someone and was the the surprised recipient of a money-token. Clever, these Medfolk.
The Guest Speakers section, of course, included everybody who was somebody. Bert Campbell, during an entirely unrehearsed speech told us all about Stateside versus Himself, and how he pushed a car full of inebriates and slumbering BNF’s over the Great Divide in the dead of night. He told us of Las Vegas, fabulous gambling town worth almost as much as a single con-proceeds, where bleary-eyed individuals stood (or supported) row upon row of Fruit Machines, endlessly feeding in pockets of nickels; of a five-day non-stop car drive; of wild, red-blooded females; of a scene between an annoyed Bunff and a faned stood knee-high to a knzzxl at the Philcon, Bunff accuses faned of defamatory gossip via faned's rag about his worthy character. "What would you do if I hit you?" demanded Bunff of faned. "I'd lie on the floor and bleed all over everywhere," was the retort. The rest of the time Bert spent in plugging AUTHENTIC and plugging AUTHENTIC, plugging…
Pete Hamilton gave us a brief peep into the Future of NEBULA, and chaffed Bert about AUTHENTIC. Then Mr Patterson, representing Scion, and editor of a Great New VARGO mag, told the audience about his plans for the new mag, which will contain a fan-mail department for all us lucky fen to fill up…poison-pen letters are naughty so put away that acid and behave! Mr Patterson even showered flattery over Bert Campbell and Pete Hamilton in a most embarrassing manner, commending them for their pro-British attitude towards sf writing, in fact he was most modest about it all. Captaln (-)? from Grayson & Grayson was the last speaker, but being engaged in reviving Tony' s duplicator in one corner with the others, I completely missed all he said.
Next item to follow was a “Wotizit?” guessing game, Tony projecting pictures of ordinary everyday objects photographed in unusual positions and projected from behind by an Episcope onto a screen set up on the stage. Once or twice Tony's hand showed up, the only unrecognisable object of the lot, being so swollen from carrying bags of con-takings to the bank (for that crack, watch the MEDWAY JOURNAL for details of impending law-suit).
The next item was a rather sobering stereophonic-effected presentation of "The Listeners" by Walter De La Mare, read by Jim Guy in a darkened hall; the effect was quite surprising. At about five o'clock proceedings broke up for tea-break and shower-baths from still active-water warriors.
First presentation for the evening session was question-time for the Medway Electronic Digital Computing Rotary Analytical Numerating Kontraption, known by its best friends as the MEDCRANK. The curtain swept back to reveal a monstrous thing of metal and wire, the front of which was covered with an imposing array of indicators and dials, and a profusion of flashing lights to complete the effect. Brian Lewis then solemnly described the miles and miles of Memory Units that spread out under the streets of Gillingham from beneath the con-hall, the intricacy of which defied the utmost limits of the imagination to describe, and so on ad nauseum. Before being asked a question, the thing received a nasty bruising blow from Tony on its flanks and a polite enquiry as to whether the thing was receiving him, to which the machine cheerfully gave forth a deafening hooting like an H.G. Wells Martian, which earned it another brutal blow. After bravely attempting to answer questions about such baffling things as Campbell's Combs and Volstead Gridban, it burnt out in a cloud of smoke and mournful whoopings when some indiscreet fan raised its energy-flow to maximum with the words "Marilyn Monroe" (damn thing was suffering from a sex-complex it seemed).
Straight on then, to the first part of the film-show. This was a bizarre mixture of Micky Mouse and Barry Fitzgerald, interspersed with factual science shorts, and not one teeny episode from a Buck Rogers space epic, not even a trailer for METROPOLIS to mar the proceedings. By hasty conference on the Thursday before the con, the London Circle decided to hold the premiere of that colossal five-minute epic of Film History, the film of the White Horse. It flashed onto the screen in full colour, the opening scene showing Ron Buckmaster driving up to the WH with a dozen fans and filthy pros in a mixed and entirely un-segregated mob squeezed into the backseat of his car. Pulling up at the entrance to the saloon-bar, the car dashes in and orders a gallon of high-octane neat – no! I mean everybody dashes in en bloc and sprawls over the counter in their accustomed poses - a horrible sight which is spared from the audience in the nick of time by a close-up of Lew pouring Brown Ale all round, a sight which reminded many of the drinking-types present that there was a perfectly good bar within a few yards of where they were sitting (exeunt furtively for a quick one and back).
Just as everybody was witnessing the enthralling sight of a late arrived fan peering into the camera and blocking out a shot of Bert Campbell sorting out multi-coloured paintings, the lights in the hall went up, the projector slowed to a stop, and Jim Guy, with a face as straight as the line which many a drinking fan was perforce requested to stagger along at the local hoosegow, went up on the stage and announced that at seven o'clock an announcement of National Importance would be broadcast on the radio before the news. Most of the audience sat petrified at this, and somebody from the back shouted: "Ghod, we're not at war again, are we?” Cries of: "Get your tickets to Russia cheap, you can spend fifty pounds travel allowance now…” went up until the Greenwich time-signal for seven o'clock. With bated breath the hushed audience heard that from all parts of the world, unidentified objects had been observed landing and spilling out cargoes of... The radio went dead for a moment, then various reports from screaming announcers conveyed the terrible news that - of all things - Earth was being invaded from another world. Orson Welles must have spun in his grave (OK, OK, I know he's still around, just dramatizes the issue when you say things like that) to hear such a foul take-off on his masterpiece, but it shook the audience some, until some enterprising fan noticed that the clock in the hall said 6.55, and blared it round until the Medway lot realised it had all been perfect - but...
After much pacifying the more nervous types, the second half of the film show proceeded. This consisted of more or less the same stuff as the first half.
Jim Guy, versatile chap that he is, was next for the last item on the entertainments list - a perfectly ghastly short story of a Thing in an ancient mansion chasing a feller around in demonic glee, refusing to lie down when killed, and all the while tension builds up until suddenly Jim staggers to his feet with a dagger protruding from his neck, and with a flourish that would have become an actor of silent-film days, drops to the floor dead as a doornail. What else can any con finish off with but an auction? Everybody who had won money -tokens throughout the day scrambled for front row seats, their treasures firmly grasped in sweaty palms, and the usual frantic hoo-hah of bidding was entered into in earnest, the added attraction being that absolutely no BREs of any description were being offered. Raffles were held for a couple of rocket-ship bed-lamps, one of Tony's most prized productions and rightly so, and the prize-giving for the winners of the "Locate the Crashed Moon-ship” were awarded.
The official end of the con was originally set for ten o'clock, but with one thing and another the auction fever made Tony relent a little, and not until eleven o'clock were the last few fen swept up and put in cold storage, the lights dimmed and furtive swigs from a couple of bottles found under a chair by thirsty tired Medblokes really indicate that it was all over bar the clearing up. A big hand for the bloke who undertook to bale out the hall after the zap-gun wetting!
The great thing was that however far a fan travelled to make the Medcon, the expense was worth every penny. Full marks to the Medgroup; the praise is all theirs.
From ANDROMEDA number 3, Autumn 1953 (editor Peter Campbell)