Anne Gray, August 2010
A lot of things have changed since Brian and I first decided to run for TAFF in the Fall of 2009. Back then I was living in Yellow Springs, Ohio, working as a Human Factors Engineer for Klein Associates, a job that involved a lot of traveling to different sites to study how people worked so we could put together requirements for systems design. Brian was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working on his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan. I had moved to Ohio from Ann Arbor at the beginning of 2009 for the job. In the beginning of 2010, I would move back, three days before we began the TAFF trip on March 17. Then we would take the trip, return to Ann Arbor, get married, and move again to the two-bedroom apartment we're in now. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In December of 2009, still waiting to hear the TAFF election results, we began to suspect that I was pregnant. We hadn't exactly been trying, but we'd given it a couple opportunities in November, and signs were saying "yes." We weren't worried about the TAFF trip, however, since given the probable conception dates, it was likely to come during my second trimester, a period when everybody recommends you take a trip anyhow if you're pregnant (some call it a "babymoon") because your energy picks up, nausea usually goes away, and you're not yet so heavy that travel is overly uncomfortable or tiring. In fact, if I was pregnant, the TAFF trip was starting to sound like the perfect opportunity to get in some international travel before the baby came. With the added bonus that I would probably quit my job so I wouldn't have to constrain the trip by available vacation days.
Happily, we turned out to be both pregnant and selected to be TAFF delegates – a lot of happy news to fill the second half of December! I was otherwise having an exhausting first trimester, trying to keep up with work, figuring out when to tell them (odds of miscarriage are roughly one in 5 during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, so many people wait until after then to spread the word), and whether to quit the job or ask to work it remotely from Michigan. I started to let people at work know I was pregnant at 8 weeks, in mid-January. I also went to ConFusion and we started to let the word out to Fandom. Before we hit the 12 week point I got appendicitis and they took my appendix out; between that and a gastrointestinal infection two weeks later I basically lost most of February to illness and recovery (and continued first trimester exhaustion). During that period we decided that I would return to Ann Arbor post haste, and not try to keep working. Nearing the end of February at that point, I still had to quit my job and move and we still had to plan most of the details of our TAFF trip.
One of the few things we had settled about our trip by then was that it would start and end with a convention. It would end in the first week of April, after Eastercon, which was to be held near Heathrow Airport in London. It would begin in mid-March with the small fanzine fan convention called Corflu. This was the suggestion of a few people, especially Geri Sullivan, who advised us it would be a relaxed setting in which to meet a number of people who would also be at Eastercon, and who might also help us plan the rest of our trip. It definitely was a nice way to start the trip, especially because there were a lot of former TAFF delegates there, and a lot of other very supportive people as well, some of whom we knew already. So this, the first part of our trip report, will cover getting to Corflu Cobalt and our whole visit to the convention and to Winchester, England, where it was held.
Brian's Take on Corflu
Brian Gray, September 2010
Writing up the first installment of our TAFF trip report falls to me, now, as Anne is busy having her brain epigenetically reprogrammed to focus upon all things Baby. Speaking of which, the Third TAFFling has joined us at last, and has revealed unto us her name: Rosalind Jane. Wave "hi" through the text file to everyone, Rosie!
"Waah?" (NB: a broad transliteration. It may have been accurate to type "waanngrrrggh?" but that lacks the panache of the traditional spelling.)
That's close enough to a wave for me.
Also, it is here that I insert my self-defense disclaimer: I find myself terribly amused that I'm the one to write up the TAFF report for the first leg of our journey, covering our time at Corflu, as Anne's the one with all of the fanzine experience. While she has thrown herself into 'zine work, including editorial duties on the Hugo-winner Emerald City, contributions to MidFanZine and helming the sadly-delayed Wellspring (with a possible name-change to come), and was greatly enthused by the prospect of meeting other 'zine fans and swapping many colored / stapled / scratched-upon / printed / bound pieces of paper, ironically she's lacking a whole lot of time to write.
Meanwhile, the sum total of my prior experience with fanzines is limited to a flirtation with a derailed Dr. Who 'zine intended to debut at NorWesCon 1988. (The journal-that-wasn't might have fared better if any of the other contributors – not counting the editor – had better access than grainy CBC broadcasts received only on clear-weather days from Vancouver BC, some six hours' drive north of where we were in Seattle. By that point, I had seen two Tom Baker episodes and one with Patrick Troughton, and had read four Dr. Who books.) I'm certain my never-was article was going to be brilliant, or at least as solid and capable as anything could be when written by a precocious and clueless 13-year old.
[Finally, Anne's commentary upon my report, delivered and interjected from behind my right shoulder as I read my words aloud to her while she fed Rosie, shall be noted in this fashion. I make no promise as to the veracity of the actual phrasing of her commentary, as I'm the one at the keyboard. Muahaha, I say, muahahahahahaha.] As Anne already mentioned in the introduction, the Winter of our Discontent started out tremendously well, passed through a hectic January and then through the Month That Shall Not Be Mentioned Again, and on into a Mixed March. We did manage to purchase our tickets during tMTSNBMA, and with amusing scheduling, we departed on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day!
(My first aside – as you may have already noticed, I use them quite frequently [including serially nested asides ... I really do think this way, and sometimes speak this way ... it drives my coworkers nuts, and it's a wonderful way to torture my students] and with great glee – consists of highlighting one of our first Apparent Cultural Differences, as the USA and the UK are but two nations separated by a common language. St. Patty's Day, in honor of the Irish saint who violently expunged the serpents from Erin, is a far bigger Thing in the USA than just about anywhere else in the world. It provides sundry municipalities with the perfect excuse to saturate local water ways with non-toxic neon-green dyes, the date grants numerous barkeeps license to treat their local beer supplies in much the same way, and the festivities grant import companies the right to print their own money as the US' stocks of Guinness Stout and Irish whiskey are thirstily assaulted in honor of a Catholic saint from across the ocean by hundreds of thousands of Americans claiming the wee-est dram of Irish ancestry.)
(St. Patrick's Day also explains why our departure was delayed by half an hour as a pair of twenty-something latecomers – looking tremendously Irish in blond dreadlocks and Bob Marley shirts – staggered drunkenly aboard and into the very last row. Safely ensconced, they promptly buckled themselves in and fell asleep in boozy stupor.)
[Anne's main memory of this time was that she fussed over whether Brian would have enough leg-room in our crammed-against-the-back bulkhead seats, which was ameliorated by the kind offer of the Aussie woman just across the aisle to shift down and let me sit in part of the broad middle swath of seats. Crisis averted, and Brian failed to die horribly from a deep vein thrombosis.]
Back to the trip report!
Our arrival into Heathrow was singularly unheralded, given that we alit close on 7 AM on Thursday the 18th after an uneventful flight. With what little sleep we'd successfully managed en route, we had nary a hiccup as we navigated Terminal 5 to Customs to the Tube to Paddington, where we activated our BritRail passes (NB to fellow international tourists: the first-class ticket package is an amazing deal, good on all the various railways across the UK. [The first-class cabins varied, but they usually had separate space for our luggage, tables, and often a food-beverage service.]). Admittedly, we were in an addled state, but we adamantly decided that jet-lag would not cost us a solid day of tourism, and so brave and befuddled, we set forth, into a lovely March morning in London, several thousand miles away from all of our cares and worries. Life is so very hard sometimes, you know?
[Anne bemusedly remembers that our greatest challenge in Paddington lay not in the finding of an open ticket counter, but rather where to dispose of our trash, as all of the trash cans had been removed in order to thwart terrorists' dirty-trash bombs. Eventually, we were pointed at orange-vested workers wheeling dustbins around the station in fractal-patterned paths.]
[Also, Anne keenly points out to all international travelers that many of the public loos in London have an admission fee. In the case of the Paddington Station lavs, 35 pence, with no change given. Further, Anne is pondering writing a whole fannish essay comparing American and British bathroom technology. Stay tuned.]
(I don't know if you're like me, but I find that states of altered consciousness [such as sleep-deprivation, in this example] provoke in me the ability to come up with [at the time] tremendously interesting streams of thought. As we Tubed to Paddington and then toured back and forth across the Thames on the open top of a double-decker bus, I catalogued things like fashion [indeed, Londoners' preference for extremely pointy shoes in professional dress was simply fascinating] and architecture, and I ran active mental commentary comparing US/UK differences. An interesting contrast: CCTV cameras are omnipresent in London, and yet I observed a far greater freedom of expression and variety in personal appearance. Also, many very modern American cities aspire to London's level of nifty-funky-cool, but, lacking at least an extra thousand years of historical maturity, most of those American cities are wan imitators.)
When our brains and our bodies could sight-see no more without threat of implosion, we strolled back to Paddington, caught a tight connection in Reading, and triumphantly arrived near the top of the hill in Winchester. The Corflu mailing provided us with a map, but no sense of the geography of the place. In fact, all that we knew of Winchester at that point was that it was possessed of a cathedral (one that came highly recommended by one of our train conductors [and never disregard the advice of courteous and interested professional travelers. Right, James?]) and that the town was shortly to be blessed by a visiting group of enthusiastic hobbyists.
On the whole, we couldn't care less, as we were mostly brain-dead at that point.
We trundled the entire three blocks to the hotel on foot, checked in, and with our last, lingering erg of brain-power left between the two of us, got to our room and fell headlong onto our bed. I think I might have successfully kicked my shoes off somewhere in my sleep (I certainly don't remember taking them off beforehand).
After time immemorial we roused from our slumber like terrible giants, vast hungers stirring in our bellies. Well, alright, maybe we were asleep an hour, hour and a half tops. But hungry we were, and so we made our way back to the hotel lobby and sought out fellow Corfluvians with which to slake our monstrous appetites.
Err, umm, right. I mean that in the lobby, we encountered several fellow fans (Steve Green, Graham Charnock), and shortly set forth with Jim Caughran and Janet Carrington into the drizzly Winchester evening and shared a lovely meal at the local Loch Fyne (Americans: think a very classy and well-done Red Lobster in half-timber decor). Well-fed, well-entertained, feeling quite welcomed, and with our dinner companions hearty and wholly un-gnawed-upon, we came back to the hotel and fell back abed.
[Anne says that we found said fans primarily in The Bar, once Anne recognized Steve Green, whom she'd met at the Montreal Worldcon on his Westbound TAFF trip. Mr. Green returned the salutation and promptly handed over 100 pounds from the UK TAFF fund as a gift for us to spend however we pleased. He then introduced us to Claire Brialey, who had sent us helpful email prior to the trip, but whom we'd not met. Also, Brian's memory is an abysmal failure, as Catherine Crockett and Colin Hinz were the duo who introduced us to their fellow Canadian fen Jim and Janet and suggested the four of us go out hunting for dinner.]
The next morning, Friday the 19th, having slept through the hotel breakfast and lacking a con to attend until that evening, we strolled back into Winchester with an eye for good food and interesting sites (and sights). The con map sufficed admirably, the food list favored lunch and dinner establishments, and we felt vibrantly alive, even in the face of looming clouds and threatened gales. (Sleeping 12 out of 14 hours can do that to you, I've heard.) In a town the size and age of Winchester, it is nigh-impossible *not* to find yourself on the High Street if you're just wandering about. We settled in to a pasty shop on, gee, the High Street, and engaged in a favorite activity: people-watching. (NB: Small children are in fact the same, the world over. They run after pigeons, they run away from their parents, they run around each other, they stomp in puddles, and generally have a grand old time by themselves.) [And, as Anne reminds me, there were plenty of puddles, as it rained on and off every day of our visit to the south of England, save Sunday the 21st.] Breakfasted, we made our way back across Winchester through an open-air market and eventually past the fens along the River Itchen.
Oh, wait, weren't we supposed to be attending a convention somewhere around these parts?
Sapphire Correction Fluid? Something like that? Right.
Anne loitered meaningfully in the lobby, officially "getting our con badges and packets" (but I think she was actually ... gasp ... socializing) and I started on the eternal process of catching up on my notes. We emerged for a scheduled walking tour of medieval Winchester, handled magnificently by the self-effacing and apologetic classicist/pre-historian Tony Keen. While the dozen of us following Tony up and down and all over Winchester hardly minded the asides about the Roman-era town, Mother Nature clearly didn't agree: for the first half hour of the tour, every time Tony opened his mouth, it rained noticeably harder. Tony bore the amusing downpours with good grace ... up until the point we walked the races along the River Itchen. While the Roman-cut channel looked to be in great shape, Tony kept checking that the swollen Itchen was not about to flood the lowlands and sweep the peregrinating con-goers away. (Although we could not be certain ... was Tony responsibly worried, or hopeful?)
[Anne says that, due possibly to the weather, our group grew noticeably smaller as the tour went on. However, those of us who bravely soldiered on were eventually led up to the Great Hall of the Winchester Castle, where there hangs "King Arthur's Round Table" and can also be found a lovely and impressive sculpture of Queen Victoria. Also, as we found when we returned on sunny Sunday, there was a lovely garden on the far side of the Castle hall.]
Upon our return, Anne and I sacked out for another dead-to-the-world nap. (Good beds at the Winchester Hotel. Even better sound-proofing!) Rising once again in a sufficient approximation of a pair of ambulatory intelligences, we made it to Opening Ceremonies, a grave and stately affair conducted with the most serious of countenances. I cannot say as I have ever seen a more dignified and genteel wearing of a beanie than by Mmse. Sandra Bond.
With the important work of choosing a Guest of Honor completed (all due congratulations to Mme. Mary Kay Kare, randomly selected with utmost care from a list of attendees dumped in the bottom of one of those very stately hats), the con began in earnest, demonstrated by almost everyone decamping to The Bar to partake in the special con ale (a kindred spirit to which we would find at EasterCon in two weeks). Anne and the 3rd TAFFling joined the crowd to mingle, while I, in my drink-in-hand mufti, watched James Bacon channel the ghost of Bob Shaw in a Serious Scientific Talk about the rather fishy Bermondsey Mystery Triangle. (For the uninitiated Americans: the Real Bob Shaw was an Irish fan/writer, a frequent attendee of many British conventions, and if James' tribute was any indication, possessed of an eye-searing and punishing wit.) The con's opening program closed out with a rousing session of The Explicators, consisting of a panel of four fannish experts (I use "expert" in the broadest of senses) tasked to provide salient answers to the following questions:
1) How would an aquatic race build a railway? (Which, of course, elicited the immediate response from the hecklers, AKA the whole damn audience, of "Why?")
2) How should one edit a post-modern fanzine? (I recall that Tony Keen, the winner of this round, made a brilliant case entirely in politik-speech from Orwell's 1984.)
3) How would one run a convention in the absence of alcohol? (The audience's immediate response was to rush out in fear, top up at the bar, and let the answering begin on the return.)
We rose on Saturday in time sufficient to attend the hotel breakfast, and I broadened my culinary horizons by sampling two of the Great British Breakfast Foods: baked beans and grilled tomatoes.
I found myself overcome with transcendental gustatory delight, and in a state of rapture I repaired back to bed.
Meanwhile, Anne caught Bill Burns's (he of efanzines.com fame and glory) interview of Earl Kemp, and I re-emerged to catch Anne on the "Grumpy Young Women" panel-cum-gripe-session, which was neither grumpy (barring Mary Kay Kare) nor chronologically young (barring Anne [no offense intended to the other very game Dames of fandom ... see below ...]). While Anne bravely tried to get her grump on, or to at least cover more serious fare, she found many of the recent issues of note and import to American fans barely registered on UK fans' radars. RaceFail failed to catch any interest, and even serious discussion of sexism, the ostensible point of the panel, gained little traction. The most common topic, ageism, triggered an off-hand discussion about both forms: "established" fans' disdain for the passions of the youngest generation of fans; and the young coterie's disregard for the efforts and tribulations of their elders in establishing spaces for fannish activities. [Anne notes that while we and a scarce few others were in the sharply defined in-utero-to-age-40 bracket of active, participating Corflu attendees, our two college-age Winchester Castle Garden Opening Ceremonies The Opening Crowd: Mark Plummer and Claire Brialey in the front. 25 members, Ang Rosin (previous GUFF winner) and John Coxon (TAFF 2011 candidate) were the most active in keeping the #Corflu tag alive and well on Twitter. As it turned out, neither of them was actually in attendance at this panel. The Grumpy Young Women panel did at least succeed in spawning a later discussion of feminism in fandom when Christina Lake and Caroline Mullan found Anne in The Bar and wanted to talk about how fandom did not initially welcome femfans when they first became active, thus leading to a womens-only publishing circle.]
After that was a team trivia contest. Future contestants in sci-fi fandom pub-trivia contests take note: having three fanzine aficionados and a Hugo Award winner in your crew you does NOT necessarily constitute a savagely competitive monstrosity of sfnal trivia knowledge. Alison Scott and Mary Kay Kare comprised the other two members of "Alison and the Damn Yankees" and to call our competitive efforts middling would be to insult the mediocre everywhere.
But! Once the four of us could lay hands upon the artefactual material of fandom itself, we excelled! We shilled for the Corflu Fan Fund auction, handling the ephemera and trivia of many years of fanzines and sfnal fandom. [Anne notes that Corflu had arranged for a live video feed and attached chat program online, and that while there was an approximately 15 second time lag on the feed, spectators from around the globe chipped in with commentary. During the auction this activity picked up significantly, with much snarkiness and suggestions from distant points, especially when Brian manned the chat program for half an hour. At one point, Geri Sullivan, realizing that Brian was at the keyboard, directed him to bid on something for Anne and he to enjoy, later.]
After the auction, Anne attended the fannish history panel, taking advantage of the opportunity to promote awareness of the Science Fiction Oral History Association (of which Anne is a past president) and encourage fans to record interviews with con GOHs and fellow fans. She was also pleased to finally meet Ted White in person, whom she'd known for years through the Timebinders fanhistory email list. Then we went off to a pleasant dinner with much of the Plokta Cabal (Flick and Mike Scott, Steve Davies, Giulia De Cesare, and Sue Mason). Back at the con, we mingled further, taking care to catch prior TAFFlings up against the bar or wedged uncomfortably into corners where they couldn't escape, all in the name of "conversation."
As you may have noticed in the report to date, I make specific mention of the non-mythical but yet-nebulous location "The Bar" with some frequency and import. I admit, I was gathering a significant pile of evidence to advance a new hypothesis: that most English conventioneering takes place ... (drum roll please) in The Bar. Yes, a shocking and ground-breaking advance in the philosophy of modern fandom, I know. I cannot truly take credit for it, as there is evidence that this trend has been observed by BritFandom before, but simply not widely reported. Luckily, I had EasterCon Odyssey ahead of me during which to gather more data.
[Anne notes that this information is, in fact, recorded deep in the arcane vaults of SMOFdom, as this significantly affects how con-runners negotiate with the hosting hotels. At British conventions, attendees may carry their drinks into con panels, as they were purchased exclusively at the hotel bar at a negotiated price and not provided by the con-supplied con-suite. Sneaky SMOFs.]
For our last morning in Winchester, we had thought ahead and ordered breakfast for our room, and I decided to go Full Traditional and ordered the smoked kipper.
In retrospect, I have to say ... meh?
Have no fear, future installments of our TAFF report chronicle a far more spectacular response to novel British breakfast foods yet to come!
Up earlier than ever (on this trip), Anne & I partook in a beautiful morning to scurry back to the Winchester Cathedral, ostensibly to make our donations and go inside and play tourist. We also had plans to take in the Anglican Passiontide Sunday services, with the Sung Eucharist, although we are not church-goers: the chance to listen to medieval choral music performed in the setting for which it was written, an arched Norman gothic cathedral of stone and stained glass, is not an opportunity to be passed up lightly. It was exhilarating. I found my gaze and thoughts constantly tracking upwards during the performance, as if trying to trace the songs back to a more celestial source, and I reflected that I could only imagine what thoughts were triggered centuries ago, when minds less cluttered with modern effluvia and rational thought first heard these Plokta Cabal cabaling The Bar. Stephen Cain and Sue Mason in front of The Bar. Sue is drawing, as usual. 26 sounds in the elegantly vaulted space of the Winchester Cathedral. That morning's performance was an awe-inspiring and eye-opening experience.
[Anne recalls a story from Tony's tour, about the majestic Cathedral's roots. At the start of the 20th century, experts were called in to shore up the foundations, as the building was settling unexpectedly. After digging in the foundations for a while, they discovered the Cathedral was not built on bedrock, but rather a giant raft, floating in a swamp. (Insert Monty Python references here.) On Sunday morning we found the bronze bust in tribute of the deep-sea diver they had hired to reseat the foundation and save the Cathedral. In cold swamp-water. In the dark, underneath thousands of tons of stone. Alone.]
However, transported as we were, we just missed the Corflu group photo-shoot (the second-most important item on the Sunday program). As many of the fans were still foolishly assembled in a single, vulnerable location, Anne scurried around to gather all of the physically present TAFFlings for a TAFF-only photo. She herded more past-and-present TAFFlings into any one photo than had previously ever been either attempted or achieved: 15!
At the con-closing lunch buffet, our GoH gave a well-received speech, the FAAn awards were sorted out, and kudos were delivered to the various concom staff for an enjoyable and successful Corflu. A highlight of the ceremony was James Bacon successfully channeling another notable and absent fandom personality, Mr. Manic Enthusiasm himself, Chris Garcia, as James presented Chris' bid for hosting the next Corflu in balmy Sunnyvale, California. (In the face of no competition whatsoever, E Corflu Vitus – info at corflu.org – won to rousingly moderate acclaim.) Anne stayed at the hotel to connive with other fans and arrange for events and hosting upon our return to London in the not-too-distant future. I took off for the Cathedral again, this time to finally take some pictures, as well as join in the throngs on the High Street enjoying their Sunday shopping.
Eventually we said our Corflu farewells and once again took to the rails, heading further west to Bournemouth/Poole, to meet up with an old college friend of Anne's, which shan't be detailed here.
[Anne adds that the Closing Ceremonies included a sweet, if embarrassing moment, when it was revealed that her childhood photo had won the "Bonniest Bairn" contest. Her prize was a framed copy of the winning photo. This she promptly gave to her college friend at our next stop, saving us from carrying a severely fragile and narcissistic tribute to and fro across Britain.]
[Furthermore, after Closing Ceremonies, Anne spent a stint chatting into the live video feed with fellow Corfluvians and TAFFlings Steve Green and James Bacon, and also John Coxon. It was at this point that Anne and James nudged John to formally declare his 2011 (westbound) TAFF candidacy. We hope to see other such fine candidates join the race as well. See taff.org.uk for more information.]
[Corflu was, as Geri Sullivan had predicted, a terrific opportunity to make connections with fans we would meet again, later on our trip. Most noticeably, we connected with Alison Scott and Stephen Cain, who would host us for three nights in their domicile Plokta Central in London along with Corfluvians Mary and Bill Burns; and also James Bacon, whose epic tour of London's used bookstores and comic shops shall be chronicled in exhausting (and exhausted) detail in a later report. Many thanks to the Corflu committee who made us feel very welcome, and also to Ian Sorensen for his kind aid as to where we were to stay once we arrived in Edinburgh (although to Ian's dismay, his generous offer for Anne to share his house and me to sleep in the yard was graciously turned down). It was greatly reassuring to have that settled before we left Winchester, as we were due in Edinburgh in four days. Many other Corfluvians also attended EasterCon, giving us some trans-Atlantic continuity by helping us feel less like strangers and more like esteemed foreign dignitaries.]
The complete collection of TAFF 2010 photos taken by Anne and me can be found online at flickr.com, but as we are currently working through sorting and annotating the lot, the most efficient way to follow the links is to look up the TAFF Livejournal community, at community.livejournal.com/taff2010. We will update the community from time to time with the latest links or news of this report.