Just after noon I caught the train to Darlington, passing through the familiar urban landscape of scrap yards, small unattended fires, and the odd traffic cone languishing far from home behind the fence where the rusty things gather. Never forget that Teesside was the inspiration for Blade Runner. The cheapest ticket option for the journey had been some GNER flavour of the month special offer fare. Identifying and booking it had only taken me an hour and a half plus five telephone calls to check out all the advance / off-peak options, and GNER is simplicity itself compared to Virgin. Oh the Byzantine cruelty of the British rail travel system! How do novice travellers cope?
My allocated seat was B5, a good omen though B7 would have been better. (I should make plain at this point that I don't watch much contemporary sci-fi so this will be a highly partial report. No offence intended to any other fandom). I'd printed out a copy of the programme so I could lasciviate in advance. What was on first, just in case I reached Ashford on time? An Apples to Apples game - not anything to do with Moloch, one hopes. A discussion with Iain and Alison involving chaos theory, something about starfuries, whatever they were, the Dr Who episode with Michael Keating - beguiling prospect but I've got it at home - or a reading of the legendary Man of Iron script. Man of Iron won.
The rest of the journey was spent reading important stuff in the paper. George Bush said Time Was Running Out, Ian Duncan Smith /IDS was Quietly Confident about something, Kylie's bum was bearing up well against JLo's, and Alex Ferguson hadn't kicked anyone this week. Approaching Ashford the train stopped for some time. Rumours said a door had fallen off the train in front, a passenger had fallen off, someone had jumped onto the line. Rumours of death, in effect, but hopefully exaggerated.
It was well after 6pm when I reached the hotel, shame about Man of Iron but my greatest desire by then was for food, drink and a bath. I checked in, noting that yet again I was listed as Mr Blenkarn. Would I be able to avoid paying my bar bill on Sunday on the grounds that I was the wrong sex? Julia hurried past, just stopping to say hi, and to tell me there was a pipe cleaner Vila waiting for me in the dealer's room. Pardon? I had a cup of tea and ate both the chocolate chip cookies, then did a quick dash to Sainsbury's for discreet provisions. A nice long bath listening to the Archers, then back into the concourse where Nicola was waiting for friends, looking decidedly swanky. David Walsh, the thinking fan's Servalan, was not present this year so she was definitely the front-runner for the Supreme Commander Posh Frock Award.
An unexpected sight at the opening ceremony was Judith wearing a military uniform the sinister side of smart, instead of her usual cloak or Avon outfit. Col. Harry who? He was one of the candidates for tomorrow's Ruler of the Universe election at any rate. This year's election would be an open contest as Servalan had stepped down, though personally I found that difficult to believe. Servalan does not step down, she steps on, usually with a grinding stiletto. Perhaps she was going after Ian Duncan Smith's position? Another candidate was Dr Who / aka Leader of the Green Drazi team, and the magnificent and irreplaceable (Lesley) Londo, who would be standing for the third time. The other candidates failed to materialise, presumably queuing at Sainsbury's or still trapped somewhere south of London Bridge. The only Blake's 7 candidate was Jarriere, the human powder puff from Gambit. Should I vote for him or for Londo? I was torn.
Mustn't forget to mention the guests. Chris Boucher was arriving the following day, and Michael Collins was delayed. I'd forgotten who he was - the Irish freedom fighter (deceased), the Apollo third spaceman, a writer, an artist? Damien London and Tanith Lee however were present and looked highly promising.
After the ceremonies, the Quiz. Our table lost by half a point but were still accused of cheating, just because Una the Quiz Setter was sitting with us. For the record, she told us nothing, at least, I don't think she did but I'm a bit deaf on that side. Also for the record, despite assembling the Sevencyclopedia Neil had to think really really hard before he could remember what Julia "Avalon" Vidler's second B7 role was. Shocking.
Janet, my roommate, still hadn't arrived, but various other friends came over. Who was this wearing a curly red wig? Harpo Marx risen from the grave? Zeeona? No, it was Harriet / Jarriere sporting a bravura Vote Jarriere rosette. Shortly afterwards Janet emerged from the bar where she'd detoured for fish and chips following an exacting journey from Shrewsbury. Some time after midnight we called in briefly at the disco then decided on a comparatively early night. I fell asleep almost at once.
Pipe cleaner Vila?????????
After breakfast we visited the Dealers' Room, where I bought a copy of Trooper Orac's Plastic Army and solved the pipe cleaner mystery. On Judith's table sat the B7 cast, tiny costumed figures re-created in intricate detail from pipe cleaners by Harriet. They were wonderful. Travis had already sold out, but the rest were still available in various costumes. You could have had black leather Avon or red lobster suit Avon, Gan with the big cloak, Dayna in the low cut purple jumpsuit ...... But you couldn't have Servalan in the flamboyant Gambit red gown with the neck ruff and stilettos, or Blake in his jerkin and big boots, because I bought them. I would have bought Vila but he was wearing the blue Season 4 outfit with dartboard circles that just invites people to take a shot at him. Too painful.
It was time for the B5 V. B7 cricket match to commence in the boulevard. Janet went off into the sunshine to Sainsbury's to buy a Lottery ticket. Will there be a handy Sainsbury's at Hinckley? Several people gathered to play, including Sally from Australia who generously gave me her Vote for Jarriere rosette. Does the actor who played him, I wonder, realise that he has an International Appreciation Society? Admittedly it is composed of only three people, but look what Blake did with five. Fearless Leader won the toss and elected to bat. Jenna and Tarrant began very steadily. How unlike the rash youth of previous matches, but then Tarrant isn't all that young any more (*Just heard last weekend at Star One that he has taken up gardening and has a nice jasminum nudiflorum in his garden. So do we, and if I'd known his predilection I'd have cut off a few twigs and flogged them to the Tarrant fans for real money). When it came to Blake's turn he settled in nicely and even hit a six before Avon ran him out for 36 runs.
At 12 noon I went to Alison's "What would your dream SF movie be?" Easy question, anything starring Harrison Ford and minus Keanu Reeves. Alison's professional training showed in the rigorous structure she almost succeeded in imposing on the discussion. She could write on a flip chart in a straight line too, which is always impressive. Things were already underway when I got there, the flip chart nearly covered with the names of SF films, most of which I hadn't seen. I've largely stopped going because I'm squeamish. Still haven't recovered from Alien.
Let's hear it for older films. The Man with X-Ray Eyes, Fahrenheit 451, Metropolis, which I'd seen the week before in a new print. If you've never seen it, then do so. Seriously visually imaginative, though you have to overlook the acting styles. Interestingly the heroine, not the hero, is leader of the oppressed masses, though she ultimately has to be rescued from the mad scientist. Had it been Cally, she would doubtless have whacked him with a Bunsen burner. The hero is clad in riding breeches throughout for no apparent reason, and dashes from scene to scene in a manner of which Vere Lorrimer would doubtless have approved. There are underground tunnels, secret meetings, fires, floods, and a beautiful power hungry android / clone who drives men wild and comes to a nasty end. It only needs crystals to make it a B7 plot.
Happily Neil suggested adding Quatermass and the Pit to the list. It scared me witless when I saw it as a child; little did I know that years hence I would be one of many buying drinks for the surprised young man (Gareth Thomas, if you didn't know)wielding a shovel in the Underground sequence. Hopefully Alison will be writing a report because I can't remember most of the interesting discussion. Somebody made the point that Inner Threat was more frightening than alien invasions etc because these days we tend to worry about what's happening inside our bodies, and I don't just mean John Hurt.
Janet had been in the main hall listening to talks by Damien London and Tanith Lee, and decided to go for a coffee while I went to watch Una's excellent interview with Chris Boucher about BBC drama production over the last twenty years. On B7, he gave his radically different ideas of how some of the series' most famous lines should have been delivered. To start at the finish with "Blake," Avon's line "You have betrayed me?" was what we got - paranoid Series 4 Avon. What Chris had intended was the infinitely more vulnerable "You have betrayed me?" Fan writers take note. Someone asked him if he had ever met anyone who'd really impressed him, and he confessed to sitting near Mike Brearley, then England Cricket captain, in the BBC canteen and wondering if he would sign an autograph. Oh-ho, we have a cricket fan on the stage.
A planned visit to Iain's workshop on performing B7 went by the wayside because you've got to eat sometimes. I've since seen photos of the proceedings, including one of Neil balancing shoeboxes so now I wish I'd gone. When I got back to our room Janet was reading the paper and had found an article on state support for breast slapping. In Thailand, not the UK, before you say whatever will the European Commission think of next. The Thai government really is giving grants to women who want to increase their self-esteem by developing bigger breasts, which they do by slapping them. And people say SF fans are weird. Anyway, Janet got five Drazi points for spotting it.
At three it was time for Chris's workshop on writing for television. Predictably, getting something accepted sounds a daunting task if you are seriously keen to give it a go. Chris's advice was, get on with it, get an agent, get lucky. Most of all, steel yourself to schmooze powerful people. This last was obviously not something he made a habit of, if he could help it. And never cross a writer, you may find the villain / idiot in the next episode bears your name.
The cricket match resumed following an extended tea interval. Blake's X1 was definitely in the driving seat. Top scorer was Cally (62 not out) who enjoyed a splendid and hugely unlikely last wicket stand of 87 with Vila. True, Vila kept hitting singles to stay out of the way of Ivanova's fierce balls, but they all add up. After the excitement Janet and I went for a sauna and soak in the jacuzzi , then opened another bottle while we discussed whether to go to Sainsbury's for a two-for-the-price-of-one meal or re-do our nail varnish. Completely forgot about the Royal Reception Londo was giving. Other things we missed were the Play-Doh quiz and the cake-decorating workshop. Would anyone attempt to create Orac in royal icing? Once upon a time I was given a Jane Asher cake-decorating book but I never mastered the squirting. Instead of icing cakes, we had a tarot reading each from Rachel. Janet had had one in her teens, when she was warned to steer clear of close friends. Should I be worried?
The fancy dress and cabaret were as impressive and cross-cultural as ever. The Gorn - a Star Trek Original Series character, what a pleasant surprise - had evidently got bored watching William Shatner ripping off his shirt and abandoned combat for disco dancing. (Did you hear George Clooney last week on Desert Island Discs? He picked Shatner's Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds because it would galvanise him into making a swim for it) True, the Gorn initially attacked Doctor Who but was soon posing in a cosy threesome with him and Wonderwoman. Star Trek may be hopelessly naïve, but Dr McCoy will always have a special place in my affections. Besides, without it Galaxy Quest would be short of clichés, and we wouldn't have seen Alan Rickman in his eye catching alien make-up. Alison said earlier that she cried when Rickman comforted the dying alien. Quite right too. There were other people in costume in the audience, but the Welsh Klingons hadn't come this year. A dearth of Klingons, so who would be organising tomorrow's Great Tribble Hunt?
After the cabaret Janet and I remembered we hadn't eaten yet, but we were just in time for the Redemption buffet. Generous helpings meant we had probably put on at least two pounds by the time we went off to get changed for the disco. Which shirt? Which earrings? Which necklace? Which shoes? Who knows? Who cares? Okay, sad B7 fans, from which episode does this last line come?
But before the disco there was Wobblevision. I knew of Wobblevision but had never participated. Janet hadn't heard of it at all so when she was given a gun and told she was to play Dayna it came as a considerable surprise to her. Which B7 episode were we to enact? The name pulled out of the hat was "Games." This was a bit of a drawback as none of us could remember much about it. I don't suppose you can either unless you're a series 4 specialist, but it's the one with Gambit the computer, Mecronians - probably spelled differently or I may have it completely wrong - Belkov, the inevitable crystals, and Soolin out shooting herself in the mirror. Servalan is in it too, so it was lucky Nicola was there in another chic outfit.
Our artistic directors didn't mess about, nor did they waste much time and money on special effects. Why shouldn't Gambit be represented by a man gazing out of a cutout paper square? There was something wonderfully minimalist about it, not to say faithful to the original production values. A man in an Avon jacket standing quietly by the bar minding his own business was prevailed upon to loan it, the jacket not the bar. There were two toy guns but no water pistol, which was probably just as well, and some hotel cutlery. Spaceships were borrowed from the chaos model display by the hall door. Two at least had Mullerice cartons as components; should we perhaps have been doing the Muller's android episode instead? As for crystals, how lucky I had put the black necklace on.
A nice man in a Sheridan uniform obligingly lay on the floor pretending to a blown up guard, Mecronian or ex-minion of Servalan, I forget which. Dr Who, who judging by his clothes had diversified into piracy, was somewhere in the background. But it wasn't all boom and gloom. During a gap in our busy filming schedule Val and Linda came up and presented me with a Vila tee shirt whose creator was donating to a good home. Well, thank you. I was warned to wash it very carefully by hand or it might shrink. You have to be gentle with Vila. Back to work. For the famous Soolin sequence a mirror is essential, so we were forced to storm the ladies' loo, outer room only to preserve the decencies. Dignity, always dignity. Scorsese never had to work under these conditions.
Once the gun had been prised from Janet's grasp we went into the disco for a rest. Still haven't quite got the movements to the Macarena. By the time we got around to Bohemian Rhapsody at 2am my feet had had enough of high heels. How does Servalan manage?
I left after a few minutes to play cricket. Blake's XI had made 275 runs in their innings and Dayna and Soolin now opened the bowling. The Babylon 5 team were soon in trouble. That Orac is a demon wicket keeper; not much gets past him. Vila, who had made a very creditable 32 runs, came on to give the opposition a state of his suitably devious left arm spin and was doing rather well when I left to catch Damien London's exuberant talk on the Oscars and other awards.
I'd had no idea how closely the Oscar process is monitored. UN observers in dodgy foreign elections, or Florida, couldn't be more vigilant. Nice to know that the dominant age group among those who get to vote is the middle-aged. Damian told us how other awards like the Tony are unfortunately open to bribery. Sharon Stone is said to have sent a $1500 dollar gold watch to every journalist, and there were just under 100, whose gilded prose might help her win. After the talk I queued briefly to get my Oscar voting paper photocopy signed by Damian. Cpt. Sheridan was in front of me. He told a sad tale (reproduced here with his permission) of how the family pet rabbit had got loose and had chosen to chew a signed B5 poster that was being stored for safe keeping behind the settee. It was the only household object thus attacked, and worse, the rabbit had eaten the portion containing Sheridan's head.
The hustings for Rule of the Universe had opened with a bang in my absence. Lord Baal of the Goa'uld System was expiring on the hall floor as I went in, taken out by people in blue work overalls and caps. Where is the Goa'uld system? Stargate, Farscape, Starscape? Fargate? Space above and beyond? Space below and back a bit? Perhaps if I didn't switch off the tv after Voyager late Sunday afternoons I would learn more.
Those candidates still alive or thereabouts came on stage to urge us to vote for them. They all had persuasive arguments, but sadly no $1500 gold watches to give away. The Doctor, abetted by a comely foe and a script, assured he was not Bayban's twin brother whatever we liked to think. In any case he would be leaving our universe shortly so he couldn't do much damage in government. Next came Londo, whose world weary manner was very appealing and perseverance deserves support. Jarriere pointed out that Miss Servalan had relied on cleverness and cunning plans which got her nowhere, so he intended to be simple. Colonel Harry Maybourne told us he would be thoroughly efficient and thoroughly ruthless. Pirate Roberts was relying largely on the attractions of shipboard life in the Caribbean, rum and women. Since I can't swim and am not interested in the latter two options, I'd stick to voting Jarriere. Zaphod Beedlebrox and Dr Daniel Jackson were on the ballot paper but failed to show. Stuck in a total perspective vortex, hunting tribble, or discussing chaos theory and its relationship to space craft and Fairy Liquid bottles in the bar?
Chris Boucher's B7 talk followed. He told us that his original script for Weapon, with which he had been particularly pleased, had been much hacked about during filming. Having seen the result, few people would disagree that it's not one of the series' finest. And wasn't it Weapon where Avon got stuck with the red lobster suit? Janet had to leave for the station if she was to avoid being stranded in Birmingham that night, but first we had to vote for the Ruler. Consternation - I had mislaid my ballot paper. How could I ever face Harriet? Luckily when I went to the ladies' I saw some careless person had left her ballot paper next to a wash basin, so I stole it. Sorry, whoever you are, but you know what Avon said about trust.
The cricket match was reaching its climax. Ivanova and partners were putting up a fight but in the end Vila's guile defeated them, and he ended the innings with the magnificent bowling figures of 7 for 44. Chris Boucher was having a drink nearby, and was asked to name a man / woman/other of the match. Obviously he chose Vila, though Harriet was still of the misguided opinion that Avon running out Blake was the best bit of the match.
The closing ceremony already? Alas, too true. Galaxy Quest had set the standard for closing ceremonies but I supposed the budget here wouldn't quite run to that. Judith's list of people to thank was enormous, such is the nature of Redemption, a triumph of commitment, hard work, organisation and mucking in. This is true of all fan-organised conventions of course, but I cannot think of another that offers such an enormous and varied range of things to do. Where else can you discuss "Artificial Life forms; should they have rights," play charades, find out how shields actually work, talk about Gan's many-sided personality, have a belly dancing lesson? It's to be hoped con first timers aren't disappointed with their next convention. There was Erotic Fruit Eating too. I wasn't privileged to see this so I haven't quite grasped the concept. There can, in this context, be only one way to eat a banana, but what would you do if faced by say, a pomegranate? Avon, peel me a grape.
Back to more serious concerns. Tension mounted as the results of the Ruler of the Universe were read out. In 2001 Servalan had secured a landslide by photocopying voting slips, but Steve R. warned the candidates that the judges were looking for a much higher standard of cheating this year. A couple of extra candidates had been written in. I 'd have considered voting for Bagpuss had I known. Perhaps next time I could write in Noggin the Nog, a good person with vast experience of government. Jarriere did far better than anticipated, winning a massive eighteen votes which put him third behind Londo and the Doctor. Which of them was it to be?
Poor Londo. Not only was he beaten into second place again, but his hair came undone during a fracas and he had to leave the stage very suddenly. The Doctor was declared the winner, and his innovative stratagem revealed - he had traded Drazi points for voting slips, the cunning devil. Never mind Londo, things will be different in Hinckley
There was just time to see the two videos - the chaos models in action and the Blue Peter film; nice Cyberman - before getting a taxi to the station. The taxi driver, learning where we had been, predictably said, oh Trekkies. He next asked expectantly what we thought of David somebody? Never heard of him. What, you don't watch Pop Idol/Fame Academy/Pop Stars? I think it confirmed his opinion that he'd got a couple of sad social misfits in his car.
With grateful thanks to the committee and everyone else who contributed
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