27th-29th March 1998
reported by Kathryn A
This report has been known to cause emission of flames from unstable individuals. Do not read on if you were involved in this convention and cannot take constructive criticism.
Friday 27th March
The trip up from Dorset to Stoke-on-Trent was spent singing songs, then later listening to filk tapes. When we got into Stoke around 8pm, we overshot a few times, but eventually found the hotel. Then it was mega-stress, as we needed to sort out, ASAP, all at once, the con rego, the hotel rego, finding out where the dealers room was, where our rooms were, how to get the stuff there, getting back to Richard in the car, unloading all the stuff in the trailer and taking it to three different places. This was particularly stressful for those who were waiting and didn't know what was going on. But we got it sorted out eventually.
I stayed in the room a bit to sort out what was in the con pack, then we went in search of the pub quiz (rather unsure which particular bar it was being held in) and bumped into a few familiar names along the way. Calle is tall(*), with long blond hair and the expected accent. I saw Russ Massey as well, plus such non-new faces as Nicole Petty, Sarah Thompson and Mary O'Connor, whom I had met in the USA. The pub quiz was noisy and unserious, particularly when, halfway through the questions, a Servalan-in-drag took over the proceedings. (This was David Walsh, whom we would see more of later on in the weekend.)
When that finished, Mary & Judith & I departed in search of somewhere quieter, preferably the fan room where the filking was supposed to be. We found the room dark and deserted, so we turned on the lights, and did what we came there for, which wasn't to filk, but to confer about fancy-dress entries. We decided on three (one of which we had already done at MediaWest) and worked on them. Judith and I were running through Song Of Rebellion(**) -- me, as Avon, singing it increasingly sarcastically as it goes on, with Judith as Blake being oblivious at first, and then increasingly annoyed; with plans for stooges in the audience to leap up and die at the lines "You tell it to the troopers, as they shoot your followers dead." Anyway, I was singing this, and the noise attracted people thinking that filking was going on (well, it was a filk, wasn't it?) so after that we did actually do filking.
I went to bed only shortly after midnight. I got less sleep at this con than I did at Neutral Zone, which probably contributed to the 14-hour slumber that I had when I returned home, to Australia, despite the sleep I got on the flight.
(*) Everyone is tall compared to me - except Linda.
Saturday 28th March
Our plan was to take a few remaining things to the dealers room, then have breakfast, then take things to the art room. We did not. Ops were not ready with the keys, so we had breakfast first. We also asked about the fancy dress entry, but nobody had any forms, and we had other questions, but nobody knew any answers. However somebody did know who was supposed to know, so she wrote down our questions with a promise to ask them as soon as she could track down said person. When we got to the dealers room after breakfast, she tracked us down with the forms, but without the answers. Then I went and got my entries for the art show, went to ops, waited for the key. Then they told me it was now open, so I went up. The steward for the room was there, but I then had to wait for the organiser. In the meantime I arranged my pictures on a table. The best work that was already in the room was a computer-art composite of the Liberator orbiting around a red planet with a blue ring-system. It was stunning.
Then the lady whom we had commissioned with the questions arrived in the room, having been told that the fancy-dress organiser was to be found there. We told her that he was not here, and then in walked the person we were all seeking. It turns out that he was in charge of both the fancy dress, and of setting up the art show. So questions were clarified, and he asked me to move my art because the table I'd chosen was needed for the models because it was the only one near a power point. He gave me forms to fill out for my art. Yes, he did have the entry forms, but the same information had to be filled out again for the bidding/display form to be put next to the art itself. The same kind of thing happened for the fancy dress later on - even though we'd already filled out entry forms, we had to give the same information again on the order sheets. Ruddy inefficient. With the fancy dress it was understandable, but the art show had required you to have your entry forms in by the 28th of February! They had all that information already - what were they doing with it all that time, eh?
Then it was the opening ceremony. We had to queue to get in. They had a good, dramatic music clip - not a song, just music, but very well edited. The guests came on and were welcomed. Just before it started, I spotted Annie, and greeted her with a hug. The ironical news of the day - it was she who had won Data's head in the Neutral Zone raffle. One of the last people on earth who would want it, and she won it. Said head was later donated to Redemption.
Then I hit the Horizon shop and the dealers room, for zines and photos. Then I went up to my room and sorted through my purchases. At 11:30 I went up to where the autographs were going to be, and a queue was already forming. I stood in line with Mary and chatted... for a long long time. The previous panel ran overtime - of course. (Why am I not surprised?) We eventually got into the room and were sat in seats, and waited even longer. The order of the guests on the table was, I think, Brian Lighthill, Jaqueline Pearce, Stephen Grief, David Jackson, Peter Tuddenham and Gareth Thomas.
The line wasn't moving fast, but each guest did seem to be chatting a bit, but some theoreticians had declared that the slowness of the line must be due to the garrulity of Gareth Thomas. I had decided that, since we were limited to two things per guest, that I would get them all to sign my Deliverance "souvenir brochure" (what a ghastly name - makes it sound like a commercial enterprise), except Jacqueline, because I wanted her to sign a photo and my copy of The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard (which had already been signed at previous cons by Paul, Michael, Janet and Gareth). When she signed it, she automatically passed it on to the next guest, and I had to retrieve it with the explanation that I wasn't getting anyone to sign it who hadn't actually appeared in it.
Now, Mary was behind me, getting some things signed for Judith as well as herself, because Judith was exactly at that time on Stewards duty. So the following happened in rapid succession. Stephen Grief spotted the email address that I had written on my badge, and then revealed that he himself was on the net, and liked getting friendly email, and that it was a bit of a let down if you logged in and there was no email, and I said that there was no danger of that if one was on a mailing list. Then Mary came along and asked him to sign her booklet, then Judith's booklet, explained that it was Judith Proctor, and he recognised her name because he'd seen her web site! Small world. Good site.
It was 1:30pm by the time we got out. Mary and I went to the main hall because we thought the blooper reel was being shown there, but we'd missed it, the hall was practically deserted. But we sat down anyway near the front (a) just in case and (b) because we wanted to sit down somewhere. It turned out to be a good decision, because the next panel there at 2pm not only had Gareth Thomas, David Jackson and Peter Tuddenham, but the newly-arrived Sally Knyvette, and we were in a very good spot. Photos:
- Mary as Cally posing in front of Zen
- Gareth Thomas, David Jackson, Sally Knyvette and the MC
- taking "Paul Darrow" for a walk
The guests unfortunately had spotlights on them while the rest of the hall was dim, which meant that they couldn't see who was asking the questions, something that put a strain on them, and I think contributed to a less relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately this practice was continued all through the con, despite hints that it would be nicer not to. I wonder why they set it up that way?
A young boy asked why Cally was always being taken over by aliens, and Gareth ended up trying to explain what telepathy was, and David revealed his love and knowledge of SF by recommending The Demolished Man for anyone who was interested in telepathy. When a later question asked the panel what they thought of SF, Gareth said it gave you more scope because it was boundless, and David revealed his knowledge again by mentioning Tiger Tiger (aka The Stars My Destination) another Alfred Bester novel, and he commented that compared to written SF, TV SF seems so old-fashioned, Babylon 5 being a notable exception. I think what he meant was that TV SF is decades behind written SF - which is very true. Sally confessed that she didn't know anything about SF, Blake's 7 being her only contact with it. Peter likewise.
Other questions were "Did you dream you would be doing this 20 years later?" (Answer: "No."). "What was Gan like before the Limiter?" Answer: a family man, a farmer, with a wife and kids, who just lost it when she was murdered, laid about with a plow, got the Limiter in his brain, had to do a Bhuddist calm in order for it not to kick in. "Calm, reasonable, boring," he said with a smile. "Was Blake lying when he said Jenna was dead?" Answer from Sally: "Yes - she's still out there in the galaxy." They had a bit of a discussion of the limitations of the series and around the series which resulted in characters like Jenna and Cally to be underused. They also told us tales of all their acting debuts.
It was after three when it ended. Ran around, got changed from my Barbarian (sorry, indiginous inhabitant of the planet Goth) costume to my Avon costume to be ready for the fancy dress. 4pm was the fancy dress rehersal. Unfortunately they had done the programme so that it was impossible for there to be an actual run-through in the main hall, because it was being used all the way up to the time of setup.
5pm: Gareth Thomas and Stephen Greif workshop. We lined up beforehand, and it started late because the Mastermind ended late. It was a double session in more ways than one. Many good things were said about acting, what it was and what it wasn't, questions answered and anecdotes told, and the intent to get some participation on our part, but unfortunately it only happened the once; it got rather side-tracked by all the questions and answers. But it was good anyway. I learned a number of things I didn't know before, for example, the techical meaning of "upstage" - going up-stage from someone you are dialoguing with draws the audience attention to you, and forces the other fellow to turn his back on the audience. Later on, one of the hotel staff came in and put a jug of water and glasses on the table, and when he left, Stephen smiled ruefully and pointed out that that was another example of upstaging; the fellow was just doing his job, but he'd drawn everyone's eyes to him anyway.
The secret of projecting your voice is relaxation and practice. (Something I kept happily in mind in the fancy dress: even though I had a microphone, singing needs the vocal chords even more than speaking does.)
"More truth than real" was someone in the audience's suggestion when Gareth asked if we could describe acting in four words. He was impressed with that, but launched into his "real for now" anecdote to further illuminate the point.
They talked of the differences in the meaning of "acting techniques", and gave anecdotes about good actors. They were both agreed that the actor themself has no way of being able to tell whether they are a good actor or not. Only the audience can tell. Sometimes you fly, and sometimes you don't.
Judith and I left the workshop early because we were supposed to be assembling for the fancy dress at 6:30pm. Judith had wanted to stay ten minutes longer, but I was anxious because one of our acts was first up. Then when the fancy dress ran late, really late, Judith was kicking herself that we'd left so soon. Hindsight is 20/20. At least this time, unlike Neutral Zone, we had a pleasant bar area to wait in, instead of a drafty corridor. But also, unlike Neutral Zone, they gave us no idea how late it was going to be, and no opportunity to go away and come back. So I ended up munching a quarter of Judith's sandwich, and that was all the dinner I got. At least we used the time well, having several run-throughs, one of which sparked the idea of Blake marching Avon off at gunpoint at the end of Song of Rebellion. We were also wise enough to save ourselves seats in the main hall, (with the co-operation of someone's husband) to sit for the cabaret which was after the fancy dress. The organisers had not given it a thought, even though it should have been obvious that fancy-dress participants wouldn't have the opportunity to find any seats since they were in the fancy dress! This con had again cabaret seating, which I still think is a bad idea, because there is so many fewer seats, that people are left standing and sitting on the floor - gee, I wonder what would happen if there were a fire? It was so bad that at one point the MC had to request some people to move because they were standing in front of the tech crew and the tech crew couldn't see what was going on!
As per usual, being in the fancy dress meant that you couldn't see what the other acts were doing. I had an even worse view than at Neutral Zone, so I don't have the faintest idea what half the acts were. There were 15 acts including us who went on three times. There were going to be 16 acts, but #2 dropped out.
Henry Proctor won the under 16's with his Decima. He had the chutzpa and the act as well as the costume. Dave Walsh won "Best Servalan" - he was utterly OTT, with more chutzpa than anyone else combined. The best of show was the Clonemasters, very good costumes and makeup, and a good act. The standard was very good, though I don't know what the acts were, and the only ones I managed to take a photo of were the Clonemasters.
The Avon-Cally-Blake routine of ours that we'd done at MediaWest was first up. The guests judging it were up on the stage, while the acts were to take place on the dancefloor below. The spotlights stopped them from seeing us properly, so we stopped and stood there and waited while they sorted out and cut the spots and cheered when the house lights went on - then we had to start our act while already on the stage. But having done this one before, and having other things (like singing) to worry about, it wasn't a problem. Judith said of our acts -- we got a laugh, and that was what we wanted. I think it was a mistake to have the judges up on the stage, not just because of those dumb spotlights, but because it meant that they saw the back of the acts, they couldn't see what the audience saw. Unless of course the acts played to the judges, in which case the audience couldn't see what the judges saw. Normally the judges sit at the front of the audience. I think the reason they were put up on the stage was because the organisers couldn't bear not to use the stage in some way, after they had decided not to use it for the fancy dress acts because it could be dangerous for some of the more awkward costumes to be walking up and down those steps without stumbling - and because the dance-floor gave more room to manouvre.
Then there was the cabaret. David Walsh did a couple of acts, raunchy cabaret. He danced on the table at a couple of points. Peter Tuddenham did an excellent round of stories. Gareth Thomas did a reading of "If" (Rudyard Kipling) and another poem. Stephen Greif read out "The Selfish Giant" and a poem. David Jackson did a brilliant set of music-hall routines and linking anecdotes. Jacqueline Pearce did an adults-only version of Cinderella. The punch-line simply would not be understood by someone unfamiliar with erotic concepts. And, no, I don't wish to explain about the melon.
The auction was meant to be after that, but I left because it was after ten. On my way up, I spotted a Dalek in the bar.
Sunday 29th March
Daylight savings meant that we didn't get down to breakfast until just before nine, but as everyone else was in the same boat, it wasn't too crowded. My brain was mush, so the ordering of the following may be inaccurate.
I did join the queue for the morning autograph session, but as the queue was already down the stairs, I didn't have much hope, but I thought I'd try anyway. Mary was with me. Then when I found out that the only person there who hadn't been there yesterday was Michael Keating, I left, since I had seen him at ZenCon II, and though I like him, and would very enjoy a one-minute chat, it wasn't worth standing in line for two or three hours. Neutral Zone was much better in that respect, with their allotted timeslot system, but it is probably true that any system would break down with so many guests and so many attendees. Mary stayed in the queue, and it turned out later that Jan and Sally did get there by the time Mary got to the front, but I'm still glad that I didn't stay.
One of the things that I did instead was do another trawl of the dealers rooms, lucked out in finding Sheelagh Wells there at one point, and got her to sign my copy of The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard. I also chatted to a few people I knew, and looked at the Blake's 7 exhibition downstairs, which was good. Particularly of interest to me were the costumes.
I went to the Terry Nation Tribute & Liars Panel, and Sheelagh got off the stage when the Liars Panel started because she didn't want to try to lie. The others there were David Maloney, Gareth Thomas, Michael Keating - and Joe Nazzaro was asking questions. It was funny. It got so that Gareth remarked, after answering "Paul Darrow" several times to questions, that it almost didn't matter what question was asked, he could answer "Paul Darrow" - wherapon someone immediately called out a ridiculous question which I can't remember precisely.
To answer "Who was the best/worst actor in Blake's 7?" Gareth answered "Paul Keating" and Michael made some remark about Australia. (For those not politically aware, Paul Keating was our Prime Minister before John Howard.) After that they put on a tribute video, and I left in search of lunch, having learned a lesson from the day before.
2pm: "The Women of Blake's 7", Jaqueline Pearce, Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappell. Usual questions, and unusual ones. Someone asked tongue-in-cheek: "With all this Girl Power, do you think that Servalan was an inspiration for Scary Spice, and what advice would you give her?" Answer: "I've never seen them, but if she wants advice, she can ask me any time!" Jan looked rather tired, which was no surprise, I don't know exactly when she got to Stoke, but it would have been late. They all look just as beautiful as ever.
I left after that, to go up to the art room to see that was happening with the art, and found a room full of people and a dispute going on, because even though the rules about bids on art had been decided upon ages ago, and put in the art info, that was only sent to people who inquired about it, and it was not actually written in the art room, and the people in ops had been misinformed about it, so they gave the wrong info, so they actually got a committee member (Judith Smith) to come and sort things out. Another problem was with the reserve prices: because there was no section to put the reserve prices of artwork on the display forms, and because one person put their reserve price intelligently there anyway, the implication was that all the other art had no reserve price. Which meant that many pieces went for a lot less than they might have. But at least my being there meant that I could have a nice chat with the lass who actually bought my one piece that was for sale.
It turns out that there wasn't actually anyone in charge of the Art Show - the ones who we had thought were in charge had actually only volunteered to set it up. There wasn't a proceedure in place for picking up the art either, so they made do by saying that I could take mine, because they recognised me, and sign on the display form that I'd taken it. All that took a while.
Then I went back down to the main hall and sneaked in to the tail end of the "Men in Blake's 7" panel, in readiness for the closing ceremony. The first thing that happened in the closing ceremony was the raffle-drawing, which felt like it went on forever. Then all the guests came on stage and were asked what they liked best about the con, which turned into a stream of thank-yous by the end of the line. Sally basically said that they were exhausted but had a great time. Then the usual thank-yous of people involved in the con (though I can't recall that the Stewards were thanked at all). One disturbing thing was the way Diane Gies referred to the guests as "my guests" -- excuse me? Was there no-one else involved in this con but her?
Then the guests left, and Matt Irvine gave out the things for prizewinners, which looked like Federation symbols, but whether they were badges or trophies was a bit hard to tell. I wanted to find out who won the Art Show. For the over-16's, it was Robert H. but they didn't say the title of the work which won, and what was more surprising, there wasn't a second or third place, or even an honourable mention. This was annoying, because those of us who entered in it who didn't do paintings (there was some fantastic colour work there - the Liberator over the planet which I mentioned before, and a painting all in tones of red, of Travis I and a woman, titled "Death's Gravedigger" which was just excellent.). Anyway, those of us who just did black & white work knew that we didn't have a chance in a million of coming first in competition with colour work, but we did have some wondering hope of coming second or third, or of coming first if there had been more than one category - but there wasn't. So why did we bother? I'm certainly never going to do it again. Not with this concom anyway, who were such fussbudgets about the art in the first place.
They set up an autograph session for after the closing ceremony, but because I stayed and chatted and took photos with people, I was near the end of the line, but then the line got longer and I was no longer the end. Jan was really nice after we'd been standing there for ages -- because she was leaving, she actually went down the line signing things, rather more efficiently than any of the signings had been for the whole con. Then she left. I think I was in the queue for 1 1/2 hours, and all I ended up with was Sally's signature on a photo. She was looking very weary at that time. Sally and Stephen were on the same table, but because I went in the wrong direction, the steward thought I was trying to join the queue again, but I didn't make a fuss because I'd already encountered Stephen the day before while others hadn't, so it was better if someone else got the chance, because Stephen and Sally were leaving literally in five minutes for the train station.
So then I wandered and found a bunch of Space City folk all sitting on the floor by one wall and had a little chat. Richard turned up, annoyed, because they had shut the dealers room on him, even though it was officially supposed to be open until 8pm. The only explanation that I can think of is that they shut it because Richard was the only dealer still there - but it still doesn't seem fair, since fen who might have been planning to go to the dealers room later, wouldn't be able to.
Then I went upstairs and wrote in my journal, and that would have been the end of this report - if I hadn't decided to check out the filking after I'd finished writing. And it was just as well that I did. It seems that Judith had a surprise planned for Gareth; for a bunch of us to sing him a filk after the banquet. I walked in on them practicing. So I joined in, though I only got as far as being able to sing the chorus. So then we went down, and waited for the banquet to finish and Gareth to come out. And he did, and we sang it for him in a quiet corner where we could be heard... and he did like it. Then he went back into the adoring crowd by the bar, and we sat and gibbered in our corner. Then somebody counted and realized that there were seven of us! Another example of the underlying connectedness of all things. Or just coincidence, of course.
In summary, I would say that what made Deliverance good was the guests and the fans, not the organization. "Officious inefficiency" is the word that springs to mind. One could argue that Deliverance was doomed from the start, what with so many guests and so many attendees, that it passed a kind of critical mass after which it is impossible for things to go right, but there were still things that could have been reasonably expected to be better organized. The secret of circumventing Murphy's Law is to anticipate potential problems and plan for them. Certainly it makes me think twice about attending any Media convention which has more than four major guests, whoever is organizing it. On the up-side, it was fantastic to see so many fen there, to put faces to names (whether I remember them again is another question). I was astonished by the number of people who came up to me and declared their pleasure at meeting the "famous" Kathryn A#######. Golly! I even had someone take a photo of me as "photographic evidence" that she'd met me. Gee. I guess that just shows that there was a large lystator List presence at the con. Anyway, thanks folks. It's fen that make fandom go around, never forget it.
And the guests. Don't forget the guests.
The best guests are happy and humble and pleased to see us. They come armed with a quivverful of anecdotes and a smile and only the very very few ever hear the unheard sigh "I've got a queue in the bar, I must go." watched them go the extra hundred miles plastering smiles over their exhaustion after being insulted by a fan who had as little sleep as sense and still being polite to all comers one, by one, by one. The best guests still attend an unconsulted raffle-breakfast after arriving at 2am the night before. They are not autograph machines They have a life that we don't know that went on after the role that we admire them for which was just a job so many years ago. We buzz around them like bees on and on and on hungry for that smile and word again, again, again, again. So wearying it all must be and yet they still come. -- Kathryn A
I sent the above report to the Blake's 7 mailing list, and got flamed for it. If you want to see the bloody and gory details, look in the archives. I don't wish to rehash it here.
However, in defending my position, I have been thinking more about Deliverance, and wondering why I had so much better a time at Neutral Zone. Under further analysis, it may simply have been due to Deliverance being too large rather than the concom being incompetant - certainly I would not go as far as someone else on the mailing list did and say it was a shambles - it wasn't. It could have been worse. I have been to worse conventions. I have heard of worse conventions. Comparing, point for point, Neutral Zone with Deliverance, Deliverance should have had everything going for it: it had a better programme, it had more major guests, it had a better hotel, it had a children's programme, a room set aside for filking, an exhibition, a better art show -- and the only thing that Neutral Zone had was a better atmosphere. And above-average organisation.
The Neutral Zone con committee were experienced. This was the fourth Neutral Zone, and they knew what they were doing. The Deliverance con committee had only one member who had been on a concom before, and one of the committee members had no idea how much work would be involved in the minute-to-minute running of a convention. This is a recipe for disaster. And having come half-way around the world for this convention, the Blake's 7 20th Anniversary Convention, I was expecting a higher standard of con-running than actually happened. If you know anything about cons, you know that Murphy's Law is going to strike, whether it be the mysterious-non-working-door-keys, or the ceiling of the video-room collapsing in a remake of Noah's flood. Those things can't be planned for; but they're easier to cope with if you have less of the other kind of disasters, the avoidable ones, to deal with. Deliverance could have been worse. Deliverance could have been better.
There were many good things about Deliverance, but there were also bad things, and pretending there weren't, won't make them go away. There are people out there who thought it was the best of all possible cons; I'm happy for them - as long as they don't flame me.
In reading over this report again, I'm sad that the flaming had concentrated everyone's mind (including my own) on all the negative aspects of the con. There were some wonderful bits, not least, meeting so many of the people from the Blake's 7 Mailing List... and singing the filk to Gareth, that's something I never want to forget.
It turns out, (after reading the post-con issue of Horizon) that Michael Keating was not unconsulted about the breakfast; he knew he would be arriving in the early hours and he still wanted to do it. The concom cancelled it (Gareth Thomas was going to look after both his and Michael Keating's breakfasters) and Michael Keating turned up anyway! Now that's what I call above and beyond the call of duty. Way to go, you wonderful people!