Easter in NZ - Natcon by the Pool

Coming into Wellington airport, you can't help but think "Is this for real? Where's the proper airport?" It reminded me of Hobart. Customs at Wellington airport seemed to have a laid back feel to it, but I soon found out what lurked beneath the surface. As I picked up my luggage, I was ushered aside by a uniformed gentleman and asked why I was in New Zealand! Why was I singled out? Do I look like a subversive? In all my travels, I'd never had anyone give me this sort of individual attention. I told him that the main purpose of my visit was to attend a science fiction convention, which met with a look that seemed to indicate that this had just confirmed that I should be scrutinised. Next, I was asked whether I was bringing in anything to sell but, by the time I got a few words out, his tiny brain had actually noticed how small my bag was. Having deduced, all by himself, that I couldn't have anything of significant size to sell, he started to wander off before I finished my sentence.

Having escaped the clutches of the customs people relatively unscathed, I got the Airport Hotel to send me their courtesy bus, and then spent the next few days checking out the city, eating, meeting the physical forms of some people I had previously met over the Internet, catching the cable car, and being a lazy tourist. Over this time, I made a number discoveries: That the Chinese restaurant not far from the Airport Hotel has the most bland, boring Chinese food I've ever consumed; that New Zealanders have an inexplicable passion for holding fire drills; that there are public touch-screen Web browsers in town which run Netscape, so you can crash them easily; and that there is a really good Mongolian restaurant on the edge of the city.

On Good Friday, Conspiracy 1997, the 18th New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention, started in the style of the last Worldcon: The first programme item was an ice-cream lunch. And they had more icecream available per person than LACon III, too! There wasn't much happening until the opening ceremony later in the day, except for some gaming. Con organisers, especially Paul, were racing around frenetically. I decided that as I hadn't played Risk in ages, it might be fun to play a round of the Risk tournament. Coming equal first ensured that I was interested in playing more rounds. Having not been to a pure gaming convention in just on 10 years, and most Aussie cons not having gaming events, this was a pleasant change. The gaming stream was a good way to fill in time when nothing else of interest was happening. I played, and won, another Risk game before the opening ceremony.

The government figures in Wellington seem to believe that even the votes of fandom are important, as, to my surprise, the Con was opened by the Mayor. Afterwards, there was a rather poorly attended dance, possibly due to the music, or fandom's lack of dancing ability. There are some ingredients which help a con dance to be successful. Things such as being the only activity on and being in the only (or at least biggest) convention space. Or being held during and/or after the fans have a chance to drink a lot. Or having some really interesting theme, such as being a masked ball. As this particular dance effectively had none of those features, there were actually more people by the pool outside, cold and dark though that area was. And, of course, there were even more fans in the hotel bar. There were probably some watching "Neverwhere", as I had intended to. I got lured into another Risk game, and then played some Family Business before getting to bed.

The video programme was available through in-house TV channels, as well as being on in the bar during the day, until being usurped by the sport channel in the evenings. Late Saturday morning brought one of the gems of the video programme, "Close Encounters". No, not the movie, the Goodies episode, with extra-terrestrial trombones and Tim Brooke Taylor as the nuclear nun.

There was a room devoted to the followers of furry fandom, and it seemed there were some people who just sat there for ages watching videos. Given that the committee made a special award category of "Cause of First Heart Attack of the Con" for Brett, the furvert who walked through a plate glass window only a few hours into the con, maybe it's safer for us all if they do stay in a room watching videos? However, it did remind me of the Forever Knight room at LACon III, but with less obesity. Actually, New Zealand fans generally seem to drive less cars and be less fat than Aussie or Yank fans.

Saturday afternoon, Pat Cadigan gave her GoH speech, much of it a question and answer period. She talked about all manner of things, including the strange ways of US politics especially the way that the party which is not in power tries its best to find scandal concerning those who are in power. Pat pointed out that this technique may rebound, such as when Bill Clinton's pussy-licking acumen was revealed by Gennifer Flowers, thus ensuring that many women would vote for him.

Heaps of folks Danny meeting the locals
Broccoli Brothers What a big gun you have! When white dresses get wet ... ... they tend to get, er ...

The Masquerade wasn't particularly impressive for its costumes, but the performance by the self-adjusting Terminator was entertaining. James Benson won the Judges Choice for that. Best Replica was won by Matthew Pavletich as Londo Molari, while Best Original was won by Glen Clough as the Staffless Wizard. There was also a Hall Costume category decided during the con and won by the Broccoli Brothers, Neil Lambess and Dean Brown. That must have been one of the cheapest "costumes" in the history of fandom. Each of them had a piece of broccoli, with a piece of cloth, or sometimes serviette, like a skirt below the broccoli, and some silver/red foil eyes. Along with the silly "nit nit" noises, they worked amazingly well as Mars Attacks aliens.

Later that evening, some of the crazier people went for a swim in the unheated, outdoor pool. After taking a few good photos, especially of Hayley, who went in wearing her masquerade dress, [ Alan didn't use those pictures in Thyme, the zine in which this review first appeared. You only get them here ] I played in the late night Risk final. As I got into a good position, one of the other players decided to make a do or die effort to wipe me out, thus crippling both our empires. I exited in 4th place and went off to a room party, which culminated in the singing of Weird Al and Monty Python songs.

Travelling in comfort? Hall party Nice dress

On Easter day, I got up in time for the tug of war, but it was cancelled. How could they do that to me, on such a religious day? My beliefs include not getting up on a Sunday morning unless there's a bloody good reason to!

Danny John-Jules gave a good GoH speech/chat. It seems I wasn't the only one to experience the hospitality of Customs officials. Danny's trackie daks had been determined by a sniffer dog at Auckland to be so suspiciously interesting that a more thorough search was in order.

The Con banquet was extremely good, as con banquets go, except that the hotel had trouble keeping up the food supply at the same speed that it was eaten. I've suddenly discovered how those food group pyramids are supposed to work, too: One serve of soup, two big plates of main course, and four desserts. That's right, isn't it?

Fully fed, the fans dispersed into various activities as the evening progressed. One of the more fun ones was watching Danny as girls from a water polo team tried to pick him up. He told two of them who were together that he wasn't into threesomes. When they persisted, he said that he could bring a friend too, and indicated me! A hall party developed in the party zone, consisting mostly of people playing odd word games, talking about Daena (who was one of the organisers of the gaming), and making noises like the aliens in Mars Attacks. As time went on, a subject of some discussion was the note left on the door of Danny's room, room 769, that night. It read:

Dear Dan 7"69"er
Guess who slappa
Ya know what I mean love
Tomorrow mate.

Guess who!

As the hall party wound down, the furverts were watching anime with naked bits. This offered no interest at all to me, so, a bit after 3am, I went back to my room and watched Total Recall.

Monday was pretty low on programming, a day for people to relax, get a few autographs, and generally wind down. There was a rendition of a version of "You're So Vain" by the pool, with Danny hamming it up in the Cat-like style that one might expect. The closing ceremony was a hoot. Pat was seated, but Danny hadn't arrived yet. The Broccoli Brothers, up the back with their mates, who were keeping an ever greater distance consider how old that broccoli was getting, were starting off rounds of applause, which others in the audience continued despite there being nothing to clap. When, very soon, the audience stopped reacting to the clapping, the Broccoli Brothers broke into a rather loud version of "It's Not Unusual", at which point Pat ran screaming from the room.

A little later, she returned. Danny had been found, and wandered into the closing ceremony with a beer in one hand and a half-eaten burger in the other. Danny told us that he had enjoyed himself and not spent much time in his room, to which an astute audience member yelled out "Whose room then?" Some fan videos were shown, including a skilfully put together set of Star Trek clips to "One Hand In My Pocket", which won the video prize. Some of the timing was superb, especially the Vulcans giving their hand signals accompanied by "I've got one hand in my pocket, and the other is giving a high five". The Con was officially over, and the committee had done a good job. Lots of things had been moved about, particularly the ever-shifting video room, but that just made for more adventure.

All weekend, we had had a TV crew from Channel 3 getting in the way and filming things. On Monday evening, fans gathered around the TV in the bar to see what sort of hatchet job would be done on us. Well, while it could have been worse, it was still appalling! Of the attendees asked asked why they were at the Con, only the ones who said things like "I dunno" went to air. They showed Lisa (do goths boost ratings?), the Broccoli Brothers, a snippet of the opening ceremony, and someone standing and looking menacing during a game of Family Business.

Brrrrrrrrrrr Twister in the hotel bar Danny the barman
Pat Cadigan Danny's door! heading back to Melbourne

On Easter day, I got up in time for the tug of war, but it was cancelled.

That evening, some of the Melbourne fans organised to go to the local Thai restaurant, an odd place with a Dutch chef. So it was that a small group, including Tom, Paula, Tina and Annette from Melbourne, and Pat and Danny, headed off to dinner, with Danny saying that that sort of pathetic reporting of the Con on TV3 wouldn't have happened back home. The BBC has higher standards than that, he assured us. When I had finished my meal, Danny switched his not entirely empty plate with me, and swiftly told the waitress how awful it was these people who can't finish their food.

Later that evening, I went to bed and watched "The Truth About Cats and Dogs", and looked forward with dread to having to get up horribly early to come home. Tom had organised wakeup calls about an hour earlier than necessary for the Victorians heading home the next morning, so I had mine adjusted. 5:30am was quite bad enough.

This flight was full, and so was the seat next to me. This was the first time I've experienced the secondary purpose of arm rests to such an extent, that being to keep people from spilling over from their own seat into those of surrounding passengers. The breakfast on board had a healthy aspect to it, the muesli. Seeing as something like that has ingredients outside the fannish food groups, I took a gulp of my screwdriver and moved on to the baked beans, omelette and sausage, watching Rowan Atkinson in "The Thin Blue Line" and planning when I would catch up on sleep.