It was all a bit strange really. I had a plan and then it was gone. There was a bus in my future and a very early morning. Then an angel did appear and say, Lo, I bring you tidings of stuff that I intended to say before but I didn't and now I have. As momentous pronouncements go I felt it lacked something. Pomp, circumstance and substance, but it had promise. What is this thing of which you speak, O Claire of Croydon (for 'twas she). Well, you're flying from Gatwick and that's quite close to Croydon so if you wish, you could stay here overnight before you fly on Thursday. Excellent, thinks I. The early morning is banished and Claire and Mark are good people to spend time with. Pausing only to ask Carrie if it was OK for me to start TAFFing a day early (Carrie has been giving me good husband lessons and occasionally I retain some of this information and think to check with her before agreeing to go off and do stuff – she tells me that good husband behaviour is for my own benefit and will result in far fewer withering stares and despairing exclamations), I confirm to Claire that I think this is a jolly good idea and I would love to take up her offer.
I arrive at Croydon on Thursday evening via the medium of several trains that had been pronounced dangerous. At St Pancras there was one on the platform. It didn't look dangerous to me but the announcer people assured me that it was. It must have been very dangerous indeed as when it did finally chunter out of the station the announcement assured us that it was being taken away to be terminated. It's a tough life for a train. The train I did board there decided to grind to a halt at a station called Elephant and Castle. A lovely cheery name for a station that makes me think of a cosy pub, a warm fire and the gentle buzz of people engaged in pleasing social intercourse. It is unfortunate that the reality looks like a post apocalyptic urban warzone. The train I'm on now has been declared dangerous. Someone comes out to hit it with a stick. Then several more people arrive and stand around looking at the person hitting the train with a stick. They obviously approve of his methods and thoroughly disapprove of the dangerous train. Eventually they decide it is not quite as dangerous as before and conclude that the train can go a little further. Upon my arrival at East Croydon they decide the danger level has risen once again to unacceptable levels and this train also must be terminated. I leave it to its fate and hunt down world famous multi award-winning fan writers Mark and Claire. Mark proves himself incredibly easy to hunt as he stands by the exit waving frantically.
I approach the exit tentatively. I am carrying giant purple luggage and it doesn't like these railway exit things. I was caught out earlier by one that had opened to allow me through and then closed on the giant purple luggage, causing a situation where I was on one side of the exit barriers and giant purple luggage on the other. Station guard stood by completely uninterested as I mounted the barriers to haul giant purple luggage over the top, a mighty effort which left me aching in some unusual places and soundly cursing giant luggage, exit barriers and unhelpful railway folks. This time at East Croydon the disabled access super wide splendidly easy barrier was readily available and so I jubilantly chose that one. I inserted the ticket to be met with uncaring red light. Hmmm, try again and again. Uncaring red light continues. Mark then leaped to the rescue with cunning suggestion. Slide giant purple luggage under the barrier and leave by another. And so I did. Mark took me away to nearby Claire. We inserted giant purple luggage into small blue car and moved gingerly out into traffic. Claire is not a fan of driving in Croydon during busy periods such as this and puts me at ease by telling me so and pointing out all the dangerous junctions and terrifying driving practices being engaged in all over the place by almost every driver on the road. We avert disaster several million times, eventually arriving safely at the fishlifter mansion where Mark has food in mind. We telephone for delights from the Indian sub continent and then Mark disappears into the hallway. Moments later, as if by magic, he emerges with a brown bag full of wonders.
Much toot was talked. We spoke of Worldcons – expressed hope that Helsinki would win the bid but thought it unlikely. We spoke of the forthcoming TAFF race to Loncon 3, which looks as if it should be enormous fun. I stalked the length and breadth of the living room hunting fan awards and found the surfaces awash with them. There's a mighty Hugo on the mantelpiece and several million, more diminutive Nova awards herded together on another shelf like so many penned up rocket shaped sheep awaiting their dip. We drank many beers. Mark has excellent taste in beers (Claire drinks dark and evil things such as porters and stout), and throws a four pack of BrewDog single hop IPAs on the table. I write down some tasting notes but I'm afraid they become less than coherent toward the end of the evening.
- Eldorado – Looks like Irn Bru, is a bit fizzy like Irn Bru. Thankfully tastes nothing like Irn Bru. Light, bit of a fizz and tasted slightly orangey.
- Goldings – A slightly darker taste – hits the roof of the mouth good an' 'ard.
- Waimea – A fun beer although a back taste which reminds me of rust.
- Dana – My notes say 'It's a bit like the weird fungus beer'. I've no idea what that means or even if it was me that said it.
After that we had Hardcore IPA which is always downright splendid, and so to bed rather later than we intended.
During the night the inevitable happened and I felt the need to venture down to the bathroom. I crept downstairs, found the bathroom, did what I needed to do and all was well. I flushed the toilet, ready to creep back upstairs, when the toilet let out a very loud whistling noise. It's the middle of the night, I'm trying to be extremely quiet and the damn toilet decides it wants to sing to me. I flee the room just knowing that I must have awoken the whole house.
The next morning Claire pronounces that she slept barely at all (could my shenanigans with the singing toilet be to blame?). It seems she is too tired to drive safely so we take the sensible decision to do the public transport thing. I get the opportunity to insert giant purple luggage into a bus then a train, and then I give it away to someone in an airport in the hope that she will put it onto an aeroplane that may be going in the same direction as I am.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I lost Claire. We had wandered hither and thither in the airport and then suddenly found ourselves near some roped off thing that contained a line of human beings that stretched away into infinity. Oh, it looks like this is the line for security. 'Erm, thanks for looking after me and seeing me to the airport,' I say or at least try to but vast numbers of potential travellers armed with various shapes and sizes of luggage have appeared and placed themselves between Claire and myself. Somehow they can tell that she's not really travelling and shouldn't be there. Ruled as an airport irrelevance, she is swept away from me so fast that I barely see it happening. I withdraw into the semi-inert half-life that is the queuing standard.
The aeroplane flight is long and uneventful. The long part is not good but I thoroughly approve of uneventful, at least so far as the lack of crashing into mountains or plunging into the sea is concerned. Instead of screaming my way into oblivion I plunge into the onboard entertainment system and watch a few films.
- The Sapphire Girls – Aborigine soul singers go to Vietnam. This was fun.
- Brave – Animated Disney medieval Scots – there was a girl with red hair and a bear.
- Listened to an album by someone called Holly. OK but nothing special.
- Started watching something called Upside Down – 'What if love were stronger than gravity?'
I saw only a few minutes of this last film as we landed. There were two planets situated only a few miles from the other. A boy and a girl on different planets fall in love but can't travel to the other world as gravity works differently on the residents of each planet. If you try to cross over you explode, or something. Possibly a plausibility holiday there occurring. As for me – well, I'm going to Toronto. The rest of my TAFF trip awaits.