August 31, 1996, Ruskin House, Croydon
I'd never been to Dangercon before. This was because, although I think Dangermouse is a pretty cool TV show, as TV shows go, it seemed a bit daft to have an entire convention devoted to the diminutive secret agent. Let alone six. However, when Dangercon announced that the Farber Fund would be the official convention charity, it seemed a bit churlish not to go. Especially as we had half a tombola left to get rid of.
Meanwhile, Andy Hooper reckons that "Croydon Fandom" is an intrinsically funny phrase, so much so that Croydon can be replaced into ordinary words and phrases, thereby rendering them hilarious. He only suggested drinks; Croydon & tonic, a Long Slow Comfortable Croydon, that sort of thing. I suggest this can be taken further. When a man is tired of Croydon, he is tired of life. Give me Croydon or give me death. Oh, to be in Croydon, now that April's there. Come friendly bombs and fall on Croydon.
That last is particularly pertinent, as Croydon, even more than Slough, is the quintessential London dormitory town. Architecturally, it leaves something to be desired. In fact, it leaves everything to be desired. The place practically defines the phrase "urban Croydon." I mean wasteland. It's a real dive. Don't just take my word for it, check out this picture of what Croydon has to offer (part of the Croydon OnLine website). To get an idea of what Croydonites do on a Saturday night, one need only take a look at the enormous video shop we passed on our way back to the station from Dangercon. I would have liked to include some pictures of the full horror of Croydon, but unfortunately we forgot to take the digital camera to the con. Which would be a shame even if it was only for fanzine production, but it's really depressing in the instant web pages game. Instant con reports seem to be the vogue at present, what with Martin Tudor and his TAFF report installments, and SF Weekly's daily reports from LA Con; and I thought if it's good enough for a 5000 person Worldcon, it's good enough for a 50 person Dangercon.
Ruskin House, where Dangercon was held, is a Labour party and TU headquarters for Croydon. "New Labour, New Dangercon", said Robert Newman, in a much more precise use of the phrase than Plokta made. Rob seemed quite depressed about New Labour, as it happens. He explained, "I am a member of the Labour party. I am also a socialist. I used to think I was a member of a socialist party..." Architecturally, it's well above the Croydon average, but has a sort of large shed affair out the back. Which is where Dangercon was mostly held. The main part of the building, however, sells good real ale at low prices and plays Fairport Convention in the bar.
Dangercon was Pod's first convention, and I proudly sported Pod's membership badge (I was member 10, Pod was member 10½) on my tummy. I'm beginnning to wonder how pregnant I'll have to be before people will actually notice of their own accord. 21 weeks and counting.
It's very unusual for me to spend any time in the video room at a con, but Dangercon had a special presentation of videos in which Dangercon members appeared. Bridget Hardcastle brought a video souvenir from her trip to Universal Studios in which she appeared with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and a wide variety of other blue screen effects, starring as the Captain of the Enterprise. It was riotous. Bridget wore a Star Fleet uniform. She looked terribly uncomfortable, as if she had never worn a Star Fleet uniform before. She delivered her lines with the air of someone who didn't have the faintest idea of what was going on. Which was, of course, exactly what had happened. "You will allow us to take over the Enterprise," said the Klingon captain, staring at a point nine inches above the top of Bug's head.
But after this horror came Simo (Dangercon's Guest of Honour, astonishingly. "He was cheap," said R*b N*wm*n, when forced to account for this worrying lapse of good taste), appearing in a video on the chart show for a song called "Phasers on Stun". This was filmed in Pages Bar, and featured Simo as the villain, wearing an SFX t-shirt and pointing what presumably was intended to be a cosmic raygun but what was self-evidently a TV remote control at the band. Simo explained that they'd lined up somebody else to play the nerdy villain, who was called, for some reason, Simo. However, at the last minute this chap had cut his hair, therefore rendering him a less convincing social pariah. Stuck for someone to play Simo, the band eventually turned, in desperation, to Simo.
The third video was the best of the lot, however. This featured Rob Newman, the con chair, appearing on Channel 4 News as a Typical Civil Servant. He wore a suit. He carried a briefcase. He looked terribly uncomfortable, as if he had never worn a suit before. "Usually I wear a t-shirt to work," he explained, "but they wanted me to wear a suit as I was being a Typical Civil Servant." He was shown travelling out to Docklands on the DLR to look at proposed new offices there. The train broke down. He met the improbably named Sunny Crouch of the London Docklands Development Corporation, and quizzed her on when some shops would open. He looked around fountained courtyards and posh new office buildings. He stared into space meaningfully. He appeared to believe there was a sign above his head saying "This makes me look like a complete pillock." It all seemed very artificial. We realised that this was because the entire thing was filmed on a blue screen in a studio in Horseferry Road, and Rob didn't realise what he was supposed to be reacting to until later. He looked around. "I just can't imagine civil servants working here," he said, staring at a point nine inches above the top of Sunny Crouch's head.
Apart from watching the video programme, we spent much of the time selling tombola tickets, gradually reducing the price as the day went on. We labelled all of the cans and bottles "Do Not Drink This at Dangercon," in case people were tempted to undercut the bar. These stickers were inevitably removed from the prizes and stuck on a variety of other things at the con, including Simo. I knew I should have labelled them "Not to be Drunk at Dangercon". People would remark on the utter crapness of many of the prizes. They'd then go ahead and buy tickets anyway. I can only recommend tombolas as a money-spinner, especially tombolas with lots of prizes, even rather cheezy ones.
I admired the Beeblebears on the ZZ9 stall. "I'm looking for a good home for this Beeblebear," said the woman running the stall, producing a yellow bear of unusual hairiness from a carrier bag. "It's a rare Sellafield Sooty. It moults terribly and it's been neglected, and needs somebody to love it."
Please look after this Bear
Well, what could we say? I'd been thinking for a while that Pod could do with a Beeblebear, to learn to appreciate soft toys that are differently limbed. Plus, I had a sneaking suspicion that my parents would be less than amused by the idea of teddy bears with two heads and three arms. So the bear now has a new home. And it does moult terribly.
The third sales table was advertising The Year of the Wombat, next year's replacement for the Incons. I approve of conventions which hang their marketing on an intrinsically funny animal like the wombat (or, indeed, the moose), and would like to go to it, but am not entirely sure how their beautiful Victorian hotel will function when faced with a small baby. Oh well; we'll decide nearer the time.
As well as the tombola, we also held a crap auction, auctioning crap for the Farber Fund. In total, we raised £180, which means that the Farber Fund has now reached its aim, and we won't need to raise any money actually at Novacon. (Of course, fundraising for the United Fan Funds will continue as usual; any further funds we raise from selling Farber Fare will go there.)
The programme included a number of ritual book burnings (which in principle I disapprove of but in practice might be quite a good idea) and Runaround, an excellent format for a mass participation quiz which would suit more conventions. The main quiz was Family Fortunes. We asked a number of sad bastards to name a character from Dangermouse and 20 of them said... Dangermouse. We asked them to name a real animal - Lassie was the number one answer. We asked them to name a character from Twin Peaks. The number 3 answer was the Log Lady, and the number 4 answer was the Log. We asked them to name their favourite position; 11 of them said "Centre Forward". We asked them to name a puppet; "Simo" was the number 3 answer.
The quiz overran, forcing them to postpone the panel "Subverting sex roles in Dangermouse Fandom" for the sixth consecutive convention. So we left, taking one last chance to swear at Croydon at East Croydon station; it nowhere said what zone it was in, or what zone any other station was in, nor did the ticket machines sell tickets to zone boundaries. It had dire warnings of penalty fares if one travelled without a ticket. As Steven and I both needed to buy tickets to the boundary of zone 3, we were irritated. I'd like to buy a ticket to Clapham Goat, please.