1988 TAFF Report: Christina Lake

Chapter ?

Published 1988 in Balloons Over Bristol 2 ed Christina Lake

It was Lise Eisenberg, I think, who first told me there would be a fanzine convention in Toronto. Which was rather ironic, since in the end Lise couldn't make it, and I did. In any case, a group of us were eating in a restaurant in New Orleans, and Lise mentioned the con, and a quick piece of mental arithmetic -- without even having to resort to Moshe's calculator -- confirmed my first suspicion : it would be taking place the same weekend I was due to be in Toronto.

Full of excitement, I rushed back to the hotel to write a postcard to Peter-Fred (a wholly futile action since the British post was already on strike, but I didn't know that at the time) then went to find out the details from Catherine Crockett.

Ditto, I thought, what a strange name. So called because it's meant to be some kind of Canadian copy of Corflu? I didn't like to display my ignorance in a country where duplicators are called mimeos and toilets restrooms, so it took a while to discover that a ditto machine is one of those horrible-smelling spirit duplicators that my mother used to run to make work sheets for her school. I am still none the wiser -- why should anyone have a convention to celebrate these contraptions?

Peter-Fred, neither forewarned nor forearmed, joins me in New York, and we hire a car to see some of America and drive to my relatives in Burlington (a little known suburb of Toronto). Leaving behind us a trail of parking tickets ('I hope the Quebec police don't talk to the Ontario police, dear!'), we embark with enthusiam on the local GO train (so named because it doesn't, or at least not very fast) to Toronto. We go to check out the hotel for signs of life, only to find, according to a notice in the hotel lobby, that there will be nothing happening till six at the Ditto 'meeting'. Oh well, back round Toronto to pass up the opportunity of a trip to Jupiter at the CN tower (only eleven dollars fifty), to eat Polish hot dogs and buy comics at prices we can't afford.

We arrive back at 6.30 and wander confidently -- or at least as confidently as one can in an underlabelled hotel in a foreign country -- to the room where the con is supposed to be taking place. We see someone hovering outside, and think, ah yes, this is it -- the committee, the overspill, the harbinger of life, action and the kind of fun you can only get from days of not sleeping and alcoholic abuse.

But no. There is just one person there, and he is as baffled as us as to where the rest of the convention is. In Britain it would have been easy. We could have said, with some confidence -- 'Oh well, they'll be down in the bar!' But I've been in North America long enough to know that more than likely they won't be. We look, and sure enough there is only one large group, and they're all women. So unless it's the Toronto equivalent of a women's apa meeting, I guess we're out of luck. Peter-Fred has an alternative brainwave; we'll try and get some of the committee's room numbers out of the hotel and ring them up. We do so, and after a short conversation with Catherine Crockett, we're in possession of the vital information: con suite in Room 901. Simple when you know where.

Up in the con suite, Mike Glicksohn is holding court, bottle of beer in one hand.

'How did you enjoy New Orleans?' he asks, astutely recognising me.

'Great,' I say.

This is clearly the wrong answer. 'Well, you're the only one who thinks so.'

'The con was badly organised,' I agree, 'but the parties were good.' I smile suggestively, and hope to be let off the hook. Mike starts making introductions, most of which, after five weeks training in meeting new people, I forget straight away.

Meanwhile, Catherine Crockett turns up and Glicksohn decides that an hour late could be a good time to open registration. We stay behind for a beer (not to be taken out of the con suite under any circumstances -- unless your name is Mike Glicksohn). The room is now quiet and intimate, and Catherine, Hope Liebowitz and San Francisco fan Gary Mattingly start exchanging ratings on various drugs/drugs experience. Eventually it gets too much for Cathy and she has to rush back to her room for her supplies. 'This is going to be an interesting evening,' chuckles Hope. Indeed it is. Slightly out of touch with reality, I drift downstairs to the programme room, where the convention fanthology is being collated. 'We'll just watch,' I suggest. 'We don't want to spoil your system.' But they insist on making room for us anyway, even though they're on practically the last sheets, and we each collate a full copy, apart from Peter-Fred who finds himself short one back cover.

The registration pack includes a useful list of eating places, and I decide that food might be a good idea. On our way out, we bump into an incoming Moshe Feder, straight off the plane from New York, sans Lise who is ill. We agree to wait for him while he rushes off with his normal New York energy to book into his room and say hello to the convention. We eat Indonesian and give Moshe a blow by blow account of what I've seen and done since he left me and Lilian eating hot fudge sundaes in Times Square.

Back at the con suite, the hospitality is in full swing. All this free booze would never work at a British convention, I muse. It'd bankrupt the con committee in one night. There are also fresh vegetables to nibble, a box full of apples and a plate of ripe peaches (yum! No, I didn't eat them all!). Lucky for them they got me as TAFF delegate, rather than champion Lambrusco-drinking artist Martin Tudor, I reflect.

I ask Taral how his DUFF campaign is going. 'What campaign?' he asks gloomily. He seems to be having his doubts. 'I'm no good at talking to people I don't know,' he explains. 'I mean what do you say?' 'I don't know.' He then spends ten minutes talking quite fluently about American/Canadian history. 'But that doesn't count. It's all right when you're interested in the subject.' I decide that Taral would probably do all right in Australia, even if he doesn't drink lager.

I give out my last remaining copies of Caprician 3, kicking myself for not remembering to tell Peter-Fred to bring some more to America with him when he came. Colin Hinz, in an amazing T-shirt, just pips Bill Bowers for the last copy, and when I give him the copy of TNH 11 I hadn't sent earlier because I didn't have his new address, World War III almost broke out between him and Michael Skeet (Canada's ace reporter, first encountered mugging Taral for his DUFF nominees at registration). 'More back numbers tomorrow,' I promise, and then get intercepted by Moshe with an even more unusual request. 'Could you take a coca cola sign back to New York for me?' he asks with eager innocence. I look around desperately for Peter-Fred, while Moshe explains that it should probably fit on the back seat -- if we're lucky. 'But we weren't going to bring the car in tomorrow,' I stall. 'I'll pay for the parking,' Moshe promises, dragging me over towards Taral. I catch Peter-Fred's eye and the negotiations begin. Apparently, Moshe bought the sign ages ago on one of his previous trips to Canada, and it has been stored at Taral's place ever since, awaiting some mugs with a car, willing to take it back to the States. 'What an earth shall we say to customs?' I wonder. But P-F is sanguine. We'll manage. And Moshe is so keen to get the sign integrated into his collection we don't have the heart to refuse. And at least it will save us coming in on the GO train the next day.

The sign is truly huge. It's the first thing we see as we rush into the hotel for the opening ceremony (yes, two pages into the con rep and they haven't had the opening ceremony yet). Did we really agree to transport this thing? Surely not. Moreover it is thoroughly wrapped in black bin-liner so it could be anything.

'Did you know we're sharing this hotel with a meeting for friends of the schizophrenics?' I ask Peter-Fred. It said so on the notice downstairs.

Mike Glicksohn opens the proceedings with his normal bonhomie. 'There are only two T-shirts left, and they're both extra-large.' I wonder if we should buy one for the coke sign, but don't imagine Moshe will let it wear one. Mike also explains the philosophy of Ditto, which is not as I had previously thought, to allow people to buy designer Taral T-shirts, but to provide an alternative fanzine convention in some place where Corflu hadn't been held that year. Gary Mattingly bids to hold the next one in San Francisco. 'Any alternative bids?' asks Glicksohn. 'Bristol, maybe, Christina?' 'No, we'll bid for the one after,' I joke. The weekend after the Dutch Worldcon, I think, then there'll be plenty of Americans around. The idea of holding an American fanzine convention in Britain really appeals to me; but will it count as the other side if the 1990 Corflu is held in New York? Before I can pursue the thoughts any further, Taral is on stage, announcing the scavenger hunt, and appealing for quiz teams. Moshe volunteers, and so does Colin Hinz, but filling up the rest of the places is slow work. I excuse myself on the grounds that all the questions are going to be American, and accompany Peter-Fred to pursue the rumour of cakes and bagels in the con suite.

When I get back they're knee deep in a debate about who blackballed Dave Langford from some Canadian apa. I settle down, realising that although the quiz has, like all the programme items, only been budgeted for half an hour, it could quite easily run all day. And probably would have, except that David Palter, evidently thinking the same, makes a plea for some semblance of time-keeping. Taral reluctantly puts away his huge pile of remaining questions, Moshe's team is declared the winner (despite some complaints about the relative fairness of the questions from Mike Glicksohn on the opposing team), and personnel are assembled for the next panel. This Glicksohn does by simply calling people from the audience till he is comfortably surrounded. This time I don't get out of it, and go and join the team at the front. Soon I am battling with a feeling of deja vu -- didn't I have this discussion at the Worldcon on the Future of Fanzines panel? Or was it the one on the Economics of Egoboo? I conclude that whatever the title of the panel, two things will be discussed: the theory that fanzines are not as important in fandom as they once were and the impossibility of getting twiltone paper. I can't really relate to this American hang-up over fuzzy paper -- so long as the paper doesn't stick to the mimeo drum and yields legible copies, what the hell does it matter? But I get the impression that half of American fanzine fandom is prepared to give up in disgust if they can't have their twiltone. No wonder potential new recruits find this all somewhat alien. I begin to get impatient with the endlessly futile discussion on how to recruit new fanzine enthusiasts. To me, it's not a matter of spoon-feeding, advertising and competing with the other media; it's not about preserving our fannish heritage -- it's about us, we who are here now, caring and having the enthusiasm to put in the creative effort. If fanzines are a good place to be, people will find them. If they're brain-dead, or living thirty years in the past, no amount of exposure will attract anybody.

The next panel, aptly enough, is an accusatory session. Taral goes round taking excuses from former fanzines producers as to why they don't pub their ish any more. The conclusion seems to be Mike Glicksohn's aptly put M&Ms -- marriage and mortgages. It must be true, I think to myself. I've only put out one fanzine since I got married, compared to 22 before. But I guess there's still time. Bob Webber gives a slightly disjointed airing to the electronic fanac argument, and then it's my turn to get up on stage and talk about TAFF. Giving talks is not my favourite activity, but this one's okay. People fire questions, and I answer them. Hey, this is quite good, I begin to think. I get to have my say, and they all listen. I can talk about consumer fans, and they all think it's a neat expression I invented. If this goes on much longer, I'll get to thinking I'm important or something. By the time they've finished with me, the programme is well overrunning, and we decide to postpone the TAFF auction till after everyone has eaten. The joys of a single-stream underprogrammed convention -- you can actually do these things. I like it, we have a group feeling here, not a monolithic organisation, planned to the nth, ready to bulldoze across the mood of the moment in the name of logistics. Maybe I will run the Bristol Ditto after all.

Moshe has got together a party to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. It's quite an expedition to get there, those of us too lazy to walk have to take a combination of subway and streetcar, relying on our native guides to supply such arcana as tokens and transfers. Once the party of twelve or so has reunited at the restaurant, it becomes clear that certain among them are suffering from preconceptions. It has just changed hands, and Hope keeps talking about the things they used to have on the menu. Meanwhile, Moshe is sidling up to the waiter and asking what has become of the coke machine owned by the previous management. Hope takes out her frustrations by telling the waiter that the salsa isn't hot enough. I have a theory that the new owners don't actually want to run a Mexicon restaurant at all. It's what they inherited, but already they have integrated some Caribbean dishes to the menu, added strawberry to the margaritas and failed to teach their staff how to pronounce 'chimichangas'. On this basis, I order Caribbean, chicken jerk, and don't regret it. In fact, it's probably the first meal I've finished in a week. But that might just be indicative of the slowness of the service.

Catherine Crockett has to rush away to prepare for the auction, while the rest of us sit around saying things like 'They can't start without us, we're half their potential income.' In fact we nearly don't make it away from the restaurant at all when we find ourselves ten dollars short, despite painstaking calculations by Moshe -- only to be saved by David Palter emerging from the restroom to ask how much he owed. Coincidentally, ten dollars.

We're right. The auction doesn't start without us. Velma Bowen and Mark Richards are still sorting out lots when we come in, and it has been put back half an hour. Mike Glicksohn gives a demonstration of how it should be done, effortlessly selling off some of his own personal books and fanzines for Ditto. Then it's up to me and Catherine to rally the troops for TAFF. I volunteer to auction the British material, if only because I know more about most of it than anybody else in the room. I still find myself waving things in the air, saying: 'You should get this, it's really good stuff,' then failing to find anything to prove it to the sceptical audience. Convincing them that they are really missing out by not buying Anne Hammill is hard work; selling the lyrics for the Ian Sorensen rock opera 'Neo' almost pathetically easy. Owen Whiteoak is impossible to sort out; I am so bogged down in his ever-changing titles that I totally fail to notice that I've just sold a new issue of Kamera Obskura that I haven't seen myself. In the end, we decide we've fleeced the audience for as much as they can stand, Catherine gives me my share of the loot and I go off to the Con Suite for a much earned drink. By this time, I'm glad Moshe persuaded us to bring the car into town -- it means we can sit around talking, helping Mark Richards eat his birthday cakes and discovering that people with names like Covert Beach really existed, without having to worry about the train times.

Eventually though, remembering how much driving we will have to do the next day, I start saying my goodbyes. This takes a long time, what with failing to think of a good one-liner for the convention one-shot and embarking on my first real conversation with Colin Hinz (hey, this is interesting -- why didn't we start this earlier?). I don't want to go, or rather, want to come back the next day. I don't want my TAFF trip to be almost over. I want to carry on travelling, meeting new people, intersecting with old ones. I want to hold onto the feeling of connection I've had out of Ditto. But I can't; I'm flying out from New York in two days, and all that will be left will be the fanzines. But perhaps, in the end, that's all you need from a fanzine convention.