Montezuma's Revenge of Mexicon

Mexicon -- the much touted British convention (with the exclusive invitation list, limited only to members of Cafe Fandom, of course!) was scheduled to start on February 7th, 1986. Or maybe that was Thursday, the 6th. At any rate it was certain that Dave Bridges and I wouldn't get there early since we'd only been together since 10 a.m. Thursday morning. It was one small miracle that we found ourselves on the train to Birmingham Friday evening: neither of us had wanted to get out of bed (though we'd managed one small foray to the One Tun the night before), and when we did get up and about I had no expectations of actually arriving where we were going using a direct course (given David's descriptions of his tendency to get lost, and his well-chronicled penchant for "dithering about"). The rather larger miracle, after we'd gotten up, through the London Underground, and onto the right train to standing room only, was that we were there. Both of us. David and I. After months of writing long, detailed letters, making brief and infrequent phone calls, and talking and listening to hours of cassette tapes, now we stood in the crowded back end of the swaying railway car, watching each other, and smiling at each other and, occasionally, at the other young folks who kept us company in the small space by the loo.

I wish I could say, "I remember Mexicon." I could, of course, say it, but it would be a little white lie, since I spent most of my weekend in Birmingham in the overflow hotel room. And no not for the reason you might think, either. (Oh alright, then, for some of that too.) I just didn't get to the convention much, or to meet as many people as I'd have liked, or to spend much time with them, either. But for what little of the tale there is to tell, here goes:

The main hotel was full, so we checked into the overflow, which was several blocks away from the con hotel (through freezing cold to thrill a Texan's soul), but was a beautiful old Grand with slow elevators, labyrinthine hallways, and stodgy, reserved natives behind the counter. Once we'd deposited our bags (my bags, David's bag) in the room, and bounced on the bed, we wandered back to the convention to meet folks.

I was quite looking forward to meeting fans, though I had reservations about what their reactions might be to my reasons for being there. A prime example of this was the first time I met Greg Pickersgill. This is the Greg Pickersgill of the Killer Reputation. Also the Greg Pickersgill whose flat in London we'd slept in the night before. The Greg Pickersgill whom David had trusted with the inside scoop on our relationship, who had acted as David's advisor in tricky relations with foreign governments. We found Greg and Alun Harries propping up the wall near the pay phone. Greg was shorter, broader, fuzzier, and smiled more than The Reputation had led me to expect, but his words supported every bit of it: rapier sharp commentary, right to the point. He took one look at David and I, gently draped about each other, smiled and said, "I don't believe it. I still don't believe it." Alun Harries, meanwhile, stood about agreeing and disagreeing using even fewer words than Mr. Pickersgill's.

I met lots of people while standing around in the bar trying to get a drink of water. I spoke to a tall Dave Langford, and watched Linda Pickersgill fly by, handling some problem with the convention. Someone pointed out Darroll Pardoe, whose salt & pepper hair lent him an unexpected wizardly air. Joseph Nicholas looked far too soft and had manners too correct for me to fit this Joseph to that Joseph I'd met in print. Still, when he tried a little verbal fencing with me (which I was not in the least up to at that moment) the gentle smile underlying the wordy maneuvering clicked over in my mind: I'll always picture him like than when I read his writing, and from now on I'll understand.

David and I wandered toward the front entrance, where a little, dimpled, long-haired blonde, bouncing a baby, surprised me by having a Massachusetts accent; I'd met yet another member of the International Conspiracy of Women (To Stamp Out American Men), Rochelle Dorey, who had emigrated some years before to marry Alan Dorey. Dave sat on the unstaffed registration table, talking with a blitzed and red-eyed Brian Parker, and sharing a cigarette of some sort.

We wandered back through the bar, aiming at the back room where a dance was reputedly in full swing, but we were waylaid by Dave Langford and Joseph, the first telling a complex tale while the second flattered me, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and left me speechless once again. Inside the dance there was not a lot happening, until my David began looking a little nebulous. Later when we met outside the men's room, he looked a bit more solid, but faded out again within minutes, all the while wondering if the tobacco in the cigarette had done him in. Would that that was all it was.

Those of you readers who are worldly enough will know the rule: "When in Mexico, don't drink the water." If you fail to obey the rule, you'll be attacked by a stomach bug whose cruelty to foreigners is rivaled only by what foreigners did to Montezuma's people centuries ago -- which is why this little bug is called Montezuma's Revenge. Back in the hotel room of the Grand, helplessly watching David empty his guts, and wobble about (even while lying still in bed), and then later while he rushed to the loo to empty himself through the opposite exit, I thought how like Montezuma's Revenge these symptoms were, and then I remembered where I was: at Mexicon. How appropriate.

Fortunately this awful bug only lasted a day in its extreme, but it drained the body so thoroughly that it took a long while to get back to speed. I sympathized with poor David who didn't have my natural resistance to bugs (I swim two or three times weekly and eat well, you see) and did what little I could to help, and occasionally went out to enjoy the con, including missions to deliver a stack of David's huge fanzine to a long list of people, about half of whom I'd only met the day before and the other half of whom I'd never met. Chasing down these folks was a great deal of fun and gave me an excuse to get help identifying people. In turn I was able to point out fans to another foreigner at the con, Jerry Kaufman. He wanted to meet Owen Whiteoak, who was on my list and I hadn't met myself. I had someone else point out Owen for me.

The assumptions one makes about people are funny things, and nowhere more than in fandom do I trip across them. I'd spent the last day revising my understanding of people like Greg Pickersgill, Dave Langford, and Joseph Nicholas, but here I made this assumption about someone I knew nothing about: Owen Whiteoak is a handsome, young, long-haired man, who stood easily chatting in a small group of other young men. Without consciousness of my assumptions, I put on a smile and more pluck than I'm accustomed to using, walked over, and said (while crooking a finger at him), "Follow me, and I'll give you a fanzine." This drew a moment's stunned silence from Owen while he assessed the strange woman accosting him, and, a moment later, ribald comments from his friends. Nonetheless he followed, was awarded David's ("Sheffield Phone Directory") fanzine, and I introduced Owen to Jerry as if I knew them both.

More than two months later, I've just received a few of Owen's fanzines in the mail, and I realize now that he is, like so many of us, a shy person, and it's made me realize I didn't see that at all when he was pointed out to me. (I think we all assume our own shyness shows, and it seems it should in others, but it doesn't necessarily.) I unconsciously expected him to be a confident, even cocky person, and only a half second's hesitation after I delivered my line gave him away. As I always do when I meet a fan for the first time in person (rather than meeting them for the first time in print), I find myself wishing I'd read his fanzines before I met him -- but then, I'd never have had the courage to talk to him, much less open by teasing, if I'd known he was shy . . . shy people make me shy.

There must have been some change in me (I know there has been, and I know what, too) because I introduced myself to someone I'd long wanted to meet with just as much brazenness. I'd spotted ATom earlier, sitting in on a panel on Women in Fandom, and when the panel ended, I took the empty chair next to him and asked if he'd accept a kiss from a strange woman. He did, too. (The change, of course, is David's good effect on me. Under his care I've become an easy-going, open, and confident young woman. Even then -- after a half year and more of a two-dimensional, paper relationship, and only two days of a three-dimensional relationship, I had changed for the better.)

Generally, fans don't quite match the mental image I have of them from their writing -- or, as with Owen, their writing reveals someone I'd not seen in person. In many ways my relationship with Dave Bridges was an exception to the rule because the David I knew through fanzines, and then through letters is almost identical to the David who met me at Gatwick Airport, who is the David I'm married to now. Maybe there are as many exceptions as rules, though, since the legendary D. West seemed just right.

While D. has a reputation to match Pickersgill's in print, his social presence comes across in his writing (and in others' about him) as well. His shyness of strangers made me shy to introduce myself, so I simply watched him lurking like a shadow on the edge of the crowd around the bar. Tall, lanky, with thinning hair and a two-day growth of beard, he stood swaying slightly so that I felt relieved for the empty pint in his hand because I suspected a full one would topple him to one side.

I understand Mr. West was Not Having A Good Week. Later, when I'd read a bit of his most recent article where he thoroughly misunderstood David's most recent fanzine, I certainly hoped that was part of the pattern. As indeed it turned out to be, since he'd apparently stayed up long hours completing his critique of various fanwriter's works. Finally, Judith Hanna introduced us, and D. and I had a brief, staccato conversation about David's fanzine, his work, and his relationship with me, in which D. said he felt David wasn't doing his best work because he wasn't doing rewrites (implying "not well-considered" work) and that David didn't know at all what he was doing with me. I allowed as how me might not know it all (Judith seconded my sentiment with words like, "None of us ever knows exactly what we're doing. And it's a good thing, too.") but David would be all right in the end. Though I don't think I reassured D. any, I came away well pleased with the conversation because it was very human -- D. had his doubts and he expressed them, and I'm pleased he felt he could. I do wish he'd been a bit more coherent, though, because I'd have liked to take away a more coherent impression. As it is my most vivid image is of D. lighting a cigarette and then trying to shake out the match with scattered, feeble flaps of his wrist. Just before his fingers would have burned, he gave up and politely asked me to blow it out. And then tipped out of his chair onto the floor.

Thus ended Saturday, my fullest day at the convention. Sunday morning David got up, feeling almost real again, and I got up, feeling nebulous. (So much for swimming weekly and eating healthy foods.) Within hours I was on my knees before the toilet, wobbling about, and then, soon, having to make critical decisions about whether to sit on the seat or lean over it (thank goodness they put sinks close to toilet seats or I'd never have coped with two emergencies at once).

This brief convention report can't begin to convey all the fun I had, all the people I met, and what I learned about Britain and British fans, even if most of the weekend was spent in our hotel room suffering or shooing away noisy choruses of starlings from our window sills so that we might get some sleep. Some other day I'll tell about making tea for the first time for my future husband; breakfasts of kippers and baked tomatoes; Wimpy's, Glucosaid, heated towel racks, two a.m. fire alarms, and other wonders.

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1998 Linda Blanchard. All rights reserved worldwide. Date Added: April 25, 1998. Last Update: May 29, 2005.