Tony Berry stole my bird!
A little history: ZZ9ers of a certain vintage will remember "Grandad" John Philpott, who would often declaim to all and sundry, "Nic Farey stole my bird!", which really did happen on more than one occasion, most notoriously at a convention when, after having stolen John's bird, I also persuaded him out of his room key so I might indulge in various activities of a plunging nature, since I was probably either married or with someone else at the time. Also memorably, there was one particular individual, who to the best of my recollection was not wearing ballet shoes but had everything else, whom we had both noticed and were both leching after at the Brighton Worldcon. The fact that I was there with Wifey #1 did not prevent my ultimate theft of his dreams, although I had occasion later to demand that he thank me since she gave me a dose of the crabs, which on balance, though, was actually worth it. The ultimate expression of this ongoing saga happened at ErotiCon Six, where for the dress-up on Saturday night I was cleaned of all facial hair, dressed up in a rather fetching and sexy frock (complete with stockings and suspenders!), had my then quite long hair teased out and was expertly made up by the previously mentioned Tara. Thus attired, I managed to breeze past several people who knew me quite well indeed without being recognized, including John, who once he had realized who this vision of loveliness in fact was, perfectly concluded the whole thing by remarking: "Nic Farey is my bird!"
Th train journey from Hertford North to New Street (via Euston) is fairly unremarkable, thanks in part to Ian Rankin. I'm already getting tired of dragging my big pack around, since it now weighs about four times what it did on my arrival, thanks to the abundance of family photo albums I have retrieved. Ten minutes or so before actual detrainment, I get a call from Midge who has just arrived herself. I get there and we manage to find the same smoking area ("Hell-ooooo darling!", she cries), just across the street from the Comfort Inn where she is booked in for the night at a very reasonable 50 quid. She is not wearing ballet shoes, but rather a pair of impressive wedgies, although I am less impressed (and tell her so) by the blue toenail varnish, a color I've always found to be rather jarring. Other acoutrements are happily in their accustomed place. The big pack is dragged down a few flights of piss-covered stairs across the street to the hotel, where she books in and I wait in the bar. On her return from dumping the over night bag, of which I am insanely jealous, we share some old photographs, hers of unnamed media conventions 15 years ago, mine of family 45 years ago. Having been already advised of my perilous fincial condition at this point, it is a welcome development when Midge pays for the taxi from the hotel to Tony's. We are welcomed in, Midge is introduced ("Hell-ooooo, darling!"), and I dump the big pack as we get directions to the nearest fags & booze emporium.
I had recognized Midge from 100 feet or so as she'd approached the exit by which I had been smoking at New Street station, and I reflect that my rather new tri-focal glasses must be quite good actually, as I spot Martin Tudor and daughter Heloise from a similar if not greater distance as Midge and I are walking out to the shops. "No-one else walks like that!", I observe to her at the time. Failing to persuade the ATM at the store to give me any money, a result I'd expected since my prepaid Visa card is (a) not often recognized by machines in the UK, and (b) tapped anyway, I am back to cheap beer and cigarettes while she buys a decent bottle of wine and a bottle of Moet (!!), which I consider likely to prove the undoing of us all, although it will transpire that I am only partially correct in this. Back chez Berry, we stow the drinks appropriately, I pass on to Martin an envelope of MiSCon stuff copied by the Harveys for a piece I believe he's doing for Pete Weston's Prolapse, while he in turn hands me some apology emails and best wishes from people who can't make it: the Greens, Pam Wells, Rog Peyton and the Weston hisself among them. I dig out what I deem to be my GoH photograph (me and my father c.1961) which is reverently placed upon the outside table across from the barbecue grill where there will soon be sausages.
And we are off to the races! Richard Standage is also already in place, and it isn't too long before the full party has arrived: Helena Tudor, Hicks and Cat and, most welcome, the Lawsons, since Martin has informed me that Steve Lawson is in fact The Weather God, with sunshine inevitably following wherever he goes, although there is scant evidence of rings on his fingers and bells on his toes, and in any case that's music, of which there is already sufficient. Helena Bowles eventually completes the assembly, just arrived from work and apparently determined to catch up as quickly as possible. Midge is introduced to all as they arrive ("Hell-oooo, darling!"), and possibly due to tits and not ballet shoes proves trifically popular with a certain segment of those here (i.e. the blokes), and enhances this popularity among all with the opening and distribution of the Moet and the taking of what she charmingly refers to as "team photos", accompanied with exhortations to "Move in a little bit, darling", which will prove to be prophetic for Tony later.
Despite his complaints about the quality (or lack thereof) of the charcoal ("It's crap!"), the grill is soon afire, encouraged by suitable applications of citronella oil. The burgers are the first to test its efficacy, soon to be followed by sausages, chicken, ribs, sausages, hot dogs, more chicken and sausages. I think I'll have a couple of sausages, since by this time I have been persuaded to abandon my cheap beer in favor of some rather nice real ale that Steve Lawson has provided, presumably specifically to go with the sausages. We also break out the remainder of the half bottle of Jim Beam Black I have left from my duty free purchases on the way in, which a grateful nation (a grateful Helena Bowles, certainly,) fairly pounces on. As the hour draws later, into the realms of earlier in fact, those not staying begin to drift away, and as so often has happened I find myself attached to Martin Tudor, limpet-like, as we drift further into the wee small hours and become maudlin. I really don't know why this happens, just that it often does, and it's indeed true that I've considered him a brother in all but biological certitude for lo, these many years. Neither of us has typically been overtly emotional except, it seems, with each other. Rather than being saddened by any of this, my secret tears are tears of happiness at our continued closeness, a bond that I am always reminded to feel will never be broken by neither time nor distance. At some point during these proceeds, I have a vague recollection of Midge brushing past me with Tony Berry by the hand, for what it is revealed later has been a substantial, if surprising and thorough polishing. Tony Berry stole my bird!
The next morning, or at least a daybreak-like part of it, finds me sneaking out to the shop for smoking materials, but not before gently raising Martin's head and placing the single pillow we have been provided underneath. I return, smoke, and doze in the chair for another hour or two, which is just as well since an eventually waking Tudor informs me that we were up until 3 , maybe even 4am! The gradual process of awakening filters through the house, and various farewells are undertaken, though not before a frantic phone call and subsequent visit by Midge, who has "Lost my filofax, darling!", subsequently discovered right next to where I had been sleeping and presumably abandoned in a hurry on the way to polishing activities. Tony's grin is obviously difficult to suppress, and is in place the whole time he drives me to New Street, and is doubtless still there today.
More uneventful train travel, arriving eventually at East Croydon, where an exchange of text messages allows lproven to once again remark on my earliness. From trains, I have now graduated to missing trams which are right in front of me, but this actually works out rather well, as I reach the Claret and just barely manage to make a pint of Guinness last until fishlifters arrive, to be followed in short order by Jim de Liscard and lproven hisself. Another evening of pleasantness and humor ensues. The Sainted One provides me with a twenty to "keep body and soul together" on the return trip, and by way of some semblance of fair exchange I bequeath the phone to them for future fannish purposes. Claire reasons it can be used for visitors from other shores, so in this I am content. I recount bits of the previous night, especially the sausages, and am quite pleasantly surprised with boo when asked if this journal can be reprinted in Banana Wings, which, if you're reading this while holding it in your hand, it has been. We leave at closing time and make our farewells at the tram stop. "It's been lovely to see you", Claire says, but I am too tired and beered up to be startled by this.
I successfully negotiate the tram to East Croydon and the train to Victoria, then tool along the Circle Line for a change to the Piccadilly, thence Heathrow, only to be informed by a rather stroppy station announcement that I have missed the last train by twenty minutes, which I wearily judge to be at least better than missing it by five. The big pack, getting raggedier by the moment, is dragged onto the District Line to Ealing Broadway where I reason that I may be able to get a train, or at least a bus to the airport. Asking the varied drunks and late night detritus of the area proves less than useful, especially since I am at this point desperate for a leak, eventually settling on the partially shielded back of a tree by the taxi shelter. Finally a half helpful bus driver gives me "Greenwell, one-oh-five", pointing in the general direction of other stops. I find a stop with a bus to Greenwell departing in about 10 minutes at 1:05am, and reason that I must have figured it out. A further enquiry to the driver of this bus reveals that the 24-hour 105 bus goes to Heathrow from Greenwell, so I marvel at the remarkable efficiency of the initial information I had been given. At Greenwell, I have now moved from just missing trains and trams, as I see the bus approach the intersection I am about to cross to get to the bus stop twenty yards away. Ah well, there's another one in half an hour.
Arriving at the airport at about 2:30am, I drift in and out of sleep, assisted by Ian Rankin, before the BMI desks finally open. Their self check-in machines have failed to recognize my reservation, so I am eventually directed to the ticket counter, where the lovely Stephanie, who speaks English, French, Italian, tits and ballet shoes, soon informs me: "Ah yes, your flight is tomorrow". Stephanie, however, takes pity on a weary traveller, and apparently not requiring teams of coolies, reschedules my flight and connection and ensures my luggage will be transferred, so I am able to travel. My woes almost over, I get to Amsterdam and walk several miles to my transfer check in, where my booking is retrieved after a brief wait. "Has this flight been changed?", I am asked. "Well, yes" I admit, visions of Poppadums dancing in my head. "Okay", the woman says, brightly, and sure enough I eventiually find myself in a United Airlines window seat next to what appears to be a member of the Dutch female shot-put team. Enduring these abbreviated accomodations, I doze fitfully on what seems an interminable journey, eventually arriving at Washington Dulles and dragging my by now partially disintegrated big pack through a bus journey to West Falls Church, Metro to Metro Center and Keller commuter bus back to St. Leonard, arriving just after 6:30pm.
Moments later BB shows up to collect me, and as I swing the big pack into the back seat, I say "We need to stop to get me a couple of cold ones. What's for dinner?". "Well", she says, "It was going to be sausages..."