Murray Smith's Report


I was eager to get to Ashford for two reasons. First, due to hearing all the Who's 7 stories, to see if the Ashford International Hotel lived up to its reputation; and second, to see if a smaller convention than Deliverance '98 could prove just as enjoyable. I found the hotel to be well up to standard; there was nothing wanting in my room, the breakfast was great, and the main hall built such that discos could take place without risk of disturbing sleeping guests. There was an elongated, glass-roofed lobby, called a 'boulevard', with a large amount of seating, convenient for sitting down and talking to fellow fans, and very close to the bar.

Overlooking the boulevard were a number of boardrooms intended for conferences, which were ideal venues for many of the panel discussions. The temperature in the hotel was kept very warm, allowing all of us to go around in shirtsleeves and T-shirts, although this feature made me think at times of a Federation dome. In total, the hotel was an ideal venue, with one small exception: the piped music, which consisted of a number of songs which were replayed continuously, despite Judith's best efforts.

As for the convention, I must say that it was superb, being well organised throughout. Compared with Deliverance, the atmosphere was quite different, due to the smaller number of fans attending, and the small number of guests. The result was a more fan-orientated convention, with the guests left somewhat on the edge.

Regarding the guests, Sheelagh Wells and Joe Nazarro, I had met at Deliverance, and found them to be as nice as ever; Jane Killick I had few dealings with, not being a B5 fan; but Brian Croucher was the guest I was most interested in.

He came with his son, Sean, a well-behaved boy for his age, and appeared to be a quiet man who relaxed once he got to know us fans. In one of the first panel discussions, 'Two sides of a coin: How alike were Blake and Travis?' he impressed me, and, it appeared, the rest of the audience, by being a good speaker, holding our attention.

The best part of the convention for me, as in others, was talking to fellow fans, those who I had met at Deliverance, and many who I had not, but whose names were familiar from the Space City and Lysator discussion groups. One of the first people I met after registration on Friday afternoon was Servalan impersonator David Walsh, although I was at first unsure that it was him; because he was quietly dressed in grey, and I had never seen him wearing anything but a dress!

Also evident was a woman dressed as Londo Mollari who stayed totally in character until Monday morning. It later came as no surprise that she was one of the contenders in the Ruler of the Universe election, along with Servalan, the Emperor Cartagia, and Buck Rodgers, the latter having visibly gone downhill since the TV series, campaigning on a 'more sleeze' ticket. I ignored the contest, presuming (correctly, as it turned out) that Servalan would win.

I had volunteered to act as a steward, so went to the steward's meeting at 7 p.m. that evening. Ivan and Sacha Rukaber, the head stewards, put us at our ease, assigning us our duties. Their organisation of the process was very good and friendly, ensuring that we all enjoyed our new responsibilities. I received a total of three hours stewarding on Saturday, all arranged not to coincide with anything I was interested in; and I found my duties far from onerous, as I had someone to talk to or, by that stage, new fanfiction to read.

What followed was the pub quiz, run by David Walsh, which was enjoyable, followed, for me, by taking part in an unexpected filking session run by Judith. I got involved by wandering in and sitting down out of curiosity; the next thing I knew I was singing! I'm not the kind of person who is interested in filking, but enjoyed having participated.

The next event I went to was the much heralded Space City party, where what seemed like most of the list was present, packed into one room. It was a good opportunity to meet them all; and the hospitality of some, in terms of the food and drink provided, was incredible. I say this as someone who contributed nothing. There were so many leftovers that they were finally consumed at the steward's party. I finally left in the early hours of Saturday morning, glad that my room was only down the corridor.

Saturday proper was as good as I expected, starting with me parting with a lot of money in the dealers' room, acquiring among other things the new zine 'Renaissance', which is well worth a read. One of the dealers had two signed photographs of the Spice Girls, which I felt was a mistake, as they are too normal compared to Servalan, who could show them what 'girl power' really means.

Later were two panels, the first on the lack of military strategy in B7, the concensus being that the resistance movements in that universe were somewhat parochial, interested in liberating their own planets, but not much interested in liberating others; and the second was on 'Animals: A misunderstood clasic?' about what episodes should be removed from the B7 canon. The latter ended up with people composing lists on what made a good and what made a bad B7 episode.

At 3 p.m. that afternoon was the bring and buy sale, where I was able to pig out on old but interesting B7 zines, plus the script for 'Terminal'. Later, at 5 p.m., followed a lecture by Nik Whitehead on 'Astrophysics in SF', which I found so interesting that I urged her to write it up and give it to Judith, in order that it could be posted on her web page. A while later came an autograph session, which was very quiet and civilised. I had the opportunity of telling Brian Croucher that I was Irish, which he was interested in, having said the day before that his grandfather was from Limerick.

Highlights at that time were a number of photographs being taken. One involved David Walsh in Servalan costume, Brian, and a Federation trooper; another involved 'Servalan' holding Susan Bennett's Avon teddy bear, with the trooper pointing a gun at his (the bear's head). The fancy dress competition then began, followed by the cabaret, highlights of the latter for me being a wonderful skit on the BBC and a demonstration of Arabic dancing. Later, all were treated to the spectacle of 'Servalan' dancing with Iain Coleman, followed by some Welsh Klingons, keeping up that character's bad reputation. Again, I had an early morning rather than a late night, as a result of just talking to people.

Sunday morning began for me with an interesting talk by Joe Nazzaro on the forthcoming JMS series 'Crusade'. Early that afternoon, after another visit to the dealer's room, was another panel, on SF weaponry. While the discussion got technical at times, there were many interesting contributions, including from a fan who was a tank commander in the Gulf War. It was noted that people perfer the weaponry seen in the 'Star Wars' films to those in 'Star Trek' because the former are adaptations of present-day weapons; so looks were agreed to as being very important for sci-fi weapons, not just present-day ones. There was also a discussion as to the genuine scientific possibility of a beam weapon that could be used by a soldier.

The auction, held at 2 p.m., was very interesting, not only for the items on offer, but because Brian Croucher was auctioneer for many of them. He was very good, ensuring that the auction moved quickly, once trying to get me to bid for a signed photograph of my fellow countryman Colm Meaney! Interesting items included Servalan's costume from 'Pressure Point', modeled by David Walsh, which went for a mere 160 pounds. (He had earlier confided in me his doubts about whether he would be able to fit into it, as he had put on weight since Deliverance!) Chris Boucher's script from 'Warlord' was sold for 35 pounds, while a large 'Guards! Guards!' poster, complete with a large picture of Paul Darrow, went for the same amount. Even a Gareth Thomas cardboard cutout went for 6 pounds.

The last panel was on the subject of 'Gentlemen prefer blondes: A chance for men to discuss their favourite science fiction characters'. The discussion was very interesting, looking at the portrayals of female characters in fantasy and science fiction, both on the big and small screen, including characters such as Zena and Buffy. The minor female characters in B7, the ones who were in one episode, were looked at, and the concensus was that many were quite good, such as Dr. Plaxton, Tara, and Cancer.

The 'Dead dog party' was next, which was everyone left in the hotel who hadn't left or gone to sleep sitting around in the boulevard, drinking and talking. Despite a little sadness that it was all coming to an end, I had some very good conversations, particularly with Neil Faulkner, Susan Bennett, and Graham Young. Apart from B7, lots of topics were discussed. On one occasion, we discussed our tastes in music as well as those of family members. I remember something that now saddens me a little: a shared liking for Dusty Springfield, who was to die so soon after the convention.

At last I realised the need for something called sleep, and staggered to my bed at about 3.30 a.m. on Monday morning. My surprise can be judged when I woke up at 7.40 a.m. without the need for a wake-up call!

As my flight from Heathrow Airport to Dublin didn't leave till late that afternoon, I was able to have a relaxing breakfast and say some long goodbyes to fellow fans, as well as thank the guests and organisers. While leaving was somewhat sad, I had the benefit of new fanfiction to read on the journey home, having come with a bag big enough to accomodate what I had bought. (This is a tip I recommend for convention goers.)

I had enough time to spend about an hour sightseeing in London before going to Heathrow; and I arrived back at my home in Dublin by about 7.15 p.m. that night, with plenty of new items, and memories of a very enjoyable and relaxing convention. To all my fellow fans who I met, most for the first time, it was great talking to _all_ of you; I left out names as this report would be one long list. To Judith, the barefooted Supreme Commander, and her committee, you were superb. Ivan and Sacha I also have to single out, for making stewarding a pleasure rather than a chore. You all did us fans proud.

(P.S. I began to pick up at Deliverance '98 what I now find to be a habit, on the way to a B7 convention, when my plane lands, of thinking, 'Down and safe'.)

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