Last year, Roman went overseas to attend the WorldCon75 in Helsinki, amongst other things…
It was in February that i decided that I was going to the world con in Helsinki. Rather than flying direct to Finland, I thought I’d go via London so as to catch up with friends. I also decided — about a month before leaving — to make a side trip to St Petersburg. The difficulty of obtaining a Russian VISA was legendary, but I wanted to catch the high-speed train from Helsinki to Finlandia station. After all, what better way to mark the centenary of the revolutions than to arrive in St Petersburg by train?
You’ll appreciate the difficulty when I point out the online form from the Russian Foreign ministry allows you up to fifteen slots to list all the professional and civic organisations you are a member of. I dutifully listed the Alumni Association of the Uni of Adelaide, The State Theatre Company of SA, and Bicycle SA. Somehow, I neglected to mention thirty years of broadcasting, or my membership of FoE and various other environmental groups.
ADL to LON: August 2nd/3rd
The flight to London via Emirates normally takes just under 24 hours, with a two hour layover in Dubai. I left on a dark and stormy night in Adelaide; twenty minutes after takeoff, I was staring out the window when there was a bright flash, followed shortly by a dull thump from the plane body. As the pilot confirmed shortly afterwards, we had been struck by lightning! He reassured us that there was no serious damage to the plane or controls, and said it was a common occurrence. I asked a hostess when we disembarked in Dubai, and she said she’d never experienced it in thirty years of flying. The storm hadn’t even shown up on the radar.
There was a bit of extra security theatre as we were checked for explosives before being ushered aboard the connecting flight.
It was unusually warm — not for Dubai, but inside the new plane, which should be air-conditioned. Sure enough, something was wrong with the aircon and we had to be
de-planed — just as I had programmed several hours of finest jazz into the on-flight entertainment system!
They kept us waiting in the loading area for an hour before advising they couldn’t fix the aircon, and we were bumped to the next available flight, three hours later. We got vouchers for breakfast in the terminal, and told to assemble at a new terminal at 11:25am.
So there we were, somewhat delayed, sitting in the plane on the runway. Outside temperature 46º. Still no movement. “We’re just waiting for the runway to cool down so that we can takeoff” comes the announcement over the intercom. Apparently the airplane depends on the ground effect for sufficient lift for takeoff, and as the runway warms up, it reduces the ground effect.
I had phoned Joseph during the long stopover to warn that the planned leisurely afternoon had been lost, and noted I was still keen to attend the first Thursday fannish gathering in the pub. He thought it might be a bit late, given I would have been travelling for 28 hours straight.
Catching the express from Heathrow meant I was at Victoria Station near 5pm, and arrived at Seven Sisters shortly before six. I walked to Jansons Rd, to be welcomed by Joseph and Judith. After settling in, I declared I was ready for the visit to the pub. Both of them decided to join me in journey to The Bishop’s Finger, near the Barbican station and the Smithfield markets. We entered, but there was no sign of the massed fans. “They’re probably upstairs” said Joseph, as the beautiful Kylie descended to purchase a drink from the bar. “Roman!” she yelled. “Kylie!”
Ironically, neither of my two hosts had met Kylie, an ex-Perth fan, before. Upstairs were others: Alison and Steve, Mark Plummer, with whom I’d be staying after the con, and Adelaidians Damien and Juliette. Kylie’s daughter was skateboarding, and her new fiancé was resplendent in a red frock-coat, his preferred regular clothing.
A couple of hours and glasses of red wine later, I was ready to return home with my hosts, happy to be safely back in London.
The Allotment: Aug 4th
Joseph and Judith not only have a splendid home garden full of blackberries, apples, & pears, but also have an allotment in a nearby ex-railway siding. I hadn’t planned anything for the Friday except a leisurely morning. The afternoon was spent at their impressive allotment, picking raspberries (easy) and blackberries (bloody thorns!).
It was a glorious summer day, and I was resting in a chair near the shed, a small bucket at my feet, when we espied a few unexpected visitors: several foxes snuck in to the allotment, and one of them — a youngster — was curious enough to approach closer and closer. I moved slowly, extracted my iPhone from my bag and fired up the camera app. I snapped a couple of quick shots and managed to capture the fox inspecting the bucket (below).
At the end of the day, we traipsed home to make dinner, eat, drink wine and play scrabble.
Garden Party: Aug 5th
Judith had invited people over to a garden party on the Saturday afternoon to meet their houseguest, so we mounted an expedition to the local shops in the morning. We found some lovely mushrooms at the nearby markets.
Guests at the garden party included Rob Hansen and Graham Charnock, whom I’d met back in 2014; Melbournian Charles Taylor and Niki; Alison Scott and Steven Cain; Christina Lake and Doug Bell, and Mike and Pat Meara.
There was plentiful food, good conversation, and lots of interesting discussions.
Looking at my photos, I note a fine spread of fanzine fans.
Nine Worlds: Aug 6th
After a late night partying, we decided Sunday should be off to a gentle start. I had planned to attend a few events at Nine Worlds, just to see how it ran and to get a taste for the event. Joseph decided to accompany me to the event at Hammersmith, and we planned to spend most of the afternoon there.
I’d picked out a few programme items which might have been interesting, but ended up spending more time talking to dealers and fans about the con. In particular, I caught up with Brian Ameringen and Caroline Mullan in the dealers’ room. Brian had been involved with the event over several years, so I got a lowdown on some of the organisation and finances.
I did make it to two events: a talk on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a panel on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Frankly, the talk on Buffy was very boring, with an exceedingly slow delivery by the speaker, and I left before the end. The Miss Fisher panel was much more interesting, though the token Australian fan was from Sydney and had little knowledge of early Melbourne history. There was some suggestion that the writers had projected modern feminist attitudes back to the 1920s, and the panel wondered what would happen when the depression hit.
I pointed out that women achieved the vote fairly early in Australia: they were a political force in all states and territories by 1925 (NSW was the last holdout), and SA had given them the vote by 1895. Also, after the first World War, the shortage of men meant that many women took on major roles. Certainly in Paris there were women in arts and literature, dominating salons in the city. So it wasn’t surprising that Phryne Fisher, who had visited Paris, would have strong feminist sensibilities — and being a flapper, the will to act on them!
I noted that Kerry Greenwood, the author, took pains to be accurate historically: if she said there was a major chinese laundry in a particular street at the time, then there would have been a well-known laundry at that time. Kerry had also consciously decided to set the series just before the depression: she didn’t want to deal with those issues in the stories.
An interesting panel, with a lot of squeeing about the strong female role model, and much excitement about the film being crowd-sourced at the moment! Jack would travel to Europe in search of the aviatrix Phryne.
We didn’t hang around for the evening quiz, so returned home for dinner, red wine and a game of monopoly — very decisively won by Judith!
The Tate, the Traitor & the Tower: Aug 7th
Our cultural expedition on the Monday was to the Tate Modern, where there was a significant exhibition of the works of Alberto Giacometti:
“Celebrated as a sculptor, painter and draughtsman, Giacometti’s distinctive elongated figures are some of the most instantly recognisable works of modern art. This exhibition reasserts Giacometti’s place alongside the likes of Matisse, Picasso and Degas as one of the great painter-sculptors of the twentieth century. Through unparalleled access to the extraordinary collection and archive of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris, Tate Modern’s ambitious and wide-ranging exhibition brings together over 250 works. It includes rarely seen plasters and drawings which have never been exhibited before and showcases the full evolution of Giacometti’s career across five decades, from early works such as Head of a Woman [Flora Mayo] 1926 to iconic bronze sculptures such as Walking Man I 1960.”
The Tate Modern is housed in an old Power Station; there was an interesting audio installation on the ground floor, where I amused myself with the stereo speakers and multiple voices before heading upstairs to the main exhibit.
The Giacometti exhibit itself was very interesting, with many of the long thin sculptures/portraits he is renowned for, plus some of his work exhibited with the surrealists. Late afternoon, we wandered across to the adjacent Tate Modern tower, which had a balcony which circled the tower. I managed to take panoramic photos from all four sides of the tower, to provide a 360º view around the Tate Modern Tower (click to enlarge):
We had come to the Tate from St Pauls, crossing the river by the Millennium Bridge (which used to sway underfoot; while this was fine engineering, it was sufficiently unsettling for the walkers that they had to close the bridge for months to reduce the swaying).
We decided to saunter back along the river, walking past the New Globe, the Golden Hinde, London Bridge, HMS Belfast, the GLC snailshell, across Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London.
Joseph mentioned that he’d never been to the Tower of London, so I suggested that on my return to London — I was flying out to Helsinki the following morning — we’d mount an expedition to the Tower.
We caught the tube from Tower Hill back to Seven Sisters.
Some shots of sights along the walk are on the slides.