1995 GenCon / WorldCon Trip Report

First installment: GenCon

GenCon is the biggest gaming convention in the world. Attendance dances in the 20K range. I've been attending since GenCon IX, and this was GenCon XXVII. Figure it out for yourself.

Instead of staying at one of the local hotels, I stayed with Paul, a old friend of mine in town. The long drive to and from the convention and the parking fees more than balances out the high hotel room prices.

One of the things I like about GenCon is that I meet a lot of friends there that I don't have the chance to do any where else. This includes old fan friends like Van Seigling, a number of GEnie people including Mike Stackpole, Liz Danforth, and David Honigsberg; my fellow contributors from the gaming APA Alarums & Excursions Spike Y Jones, Mary Chriest Jones, and "Doc" Cross; fellow Amber DRP people Erick Wujcik, Carol Dodd, and Mike and Felicia Sutton; artists Phil and Kaja Foglio, Heather Bruton, Diana Stein, Pamela Shanteau, Susan van Camp, and Ruth Thompson; and just a lot of people in the industry that I've met as a long-time gamer over the years, like Jeff Grubb (my dungeonmaster from when I was back in college) and Nick Pollata.

This year, as I have done in years past, I signed up to run game events at GenCon. However, this year I signed up to run three events in three different systems: Amber, Fantasy Hero, and Vampire: the Masquerade. I spent weeks before the convention getting the character sheets prepared, working on the scenarios, etc. Thus I was a little annoyed when, out of a maximum of 20 players, only 14 pre-registered, only 4 showed up ultimately.

Thursday was the Fantasy Hero event. Two people pre-registered, and nobody showed up. Very frustrating, but in the long run a good thing, as my voice was not in the best of shape (I had gotten a cold Tuesday and it was now descending into my throat) and would not have lasted the con if I had to use it so early. I spent the time in the dealer's room instead, then went on to assist my friend Rex's Champions game.

Rex runs a game where the players get to play the villains, a group named the Street Scum. The event manages to violate at least 9 of the 15 or so guidelines for good taste and acceptability that GenCon supposedly enforces on events but hasn't yet. This was the last year for the Street Scum, too, because we both were getting tired of running the events. The scenario this year puts the Street Scum in the position of running for public office, under the aegis of the criminal organization Python and its leader, Mr. Montgomery. (Subtle and unsubtle jokes abound in this game.) This allowed the players to be obnoxious and brash and made for some really good roleplaying on everyone's part. Even the dumb brick had good lines: after they finished winning the election, the player said "Gee, Brain, now what're we gonna do?"

After that was dinner with Rex, Rex's friend who was going to help him with the other Street Scum events, Van, and Paul, where we came up with the Zen Collectable Trading Cards game, which uses cards from any regular playing card deck. I'm told Rex's friend and a couple of others actually freaked people out the next day by sitting down and playing the Zen Collectable Card Game.

Friday I did get to run my Amber game, with three pre-registered players (out of six) and three generic tickets. The players had to work out a puzzle involving a set of Trumps and a forgotten and missing Pattern. Four of the characters were each tied to one of the Aces of the minor arcana, which related to their pre-eminence at one of the four characteristics of the system; one was tied to the Magician; and finally, one was tied to the Chariot. All of this tied into some imagining I did on the relationship between the Patterns and the suits of the Tarot: the three known Patterns (aside from the Primal Pattern) are all tied to a particular element, earth, water, and air. All that was needed to complete the sequence is one tied to fire, and was what the players had to track down, uncover, and restore. That, and help Dworkin combine the power of all five Patterns into trap for a creature of the Abyss that consumed patterns.

Saturday was breakfast with Mike Stackpole and David Honigsberg: Mike and I have been trying to make a habit of dining together at least once, and this was my first chance to meet David. David and I would have dinner that night, too. Fun people, both of them. That evening David got me in to the Wizards of the Coast party, where I got to see guests Larry Niven and James Doohan, plus meet author Jane Linskold, who was Roger Zelazny's companion at his death.

Saturday afternoon was my Vampire game, with one pre-registered player and three generics. I was able to pare down the character list to the bare minimum necessary to complete the game. It ran a little over the scheduled four hours, but no one had anything later, and was very well received. It was difficult selecting a winner, but I managed.

The scenario involved a group of vampires being sent from Chicago to investigate a city that has had little communication with other vampires: Fort Wayne, Indiana.

This game resulted in the two best bits from any of my games at GenCon:

The first was when one of the vampire player characters stepped on a place the player was repeatedly warned about, a city block with a (red herring) arcanely-protected cathedral in the center. *sizzle* In order to heal the would the character had taken, they needed a fair amount of blood. The answer was to order out. I had given the players a stack of material about the area, and one of them found a coupon for 24 hour pizza delivery. So they called and ordered, and 30 minutes later they heard a knock at their hotel room door. The pizza delivery guy stepped in, and was met by another of the vampires (who not only has the traditional vampiric hypnotic stare but is an expert in mundane hypnosis as well) looking him in the eyes and saying "You are very sleepy ... very sleepy." It was fairly easy to entrance the guy, and the wounded vampire took enough blood to partially replace what she had spent in healing herself. After several minutes, they woke the guy up, gave him a $20, and sent him on his way. Two minutes later he was back at the door: he had forgotten to leave the pizza.

The second was when the guy playing the Malkavian (a vampiric clan known for their insanity) got into his numbers mania right at the start, and would have been my choice for the $5 gift certificate, except he refused it. At one point he was bemoaning the lack of knowing the number of dimples on a golf ball, that being the last number he needed to complete his equation. When he was given a Nixon mask to wear for a costume ball, he declared "I can mathematically prove that I am innocent."

Saturday night I spent watching too many Japanese animae programs, mostly the series Ranma 1/2. Ranma is a young guy cursed with turning into a (cute red-haired) girl whenever he gets wet: hot water will restore his normal form. He's also one of the five best martial artists in the world: his father, who is similarly cursed, but turns into a giant panda, is another. Of course the series goes to great lengths finding ways to get him wet. He's also been promised in an arranged marriage to the daughter of another martial artist; she thinks Ranma is "weird". Martial arts mayhem, mistaken identities, running gags, bad jokes and puns: this series has it all.

Sunday afternoon was the GenCon Amber campaign. This started several years ago as a playtest for the Amber Diceless RP system, and has carried on since. My character, a ne'er-do-well named Damarian, took this opportunity to take it easy, since he'd been in one situation or another for several days / weeks running. We played in a conference room at the Marc Plaza / Milwaukee Hilton, which Erick Wujcik arranged for us (don't ask me how.)

There was no big game released this year: instead it was the year of the CCGs (collectable card games) with over 20 being released there. (The industry is due for a shakeout soon.) A number of the cards were by artist friends like Heather Bruton, Liz Danforth, Susan Van Camp, etc., so I hope they continue to sell well.

Best overall story: Nick Pollata is a very funny guy. (He stayed with me at Paul's house at GenCon.) He co-wrote Illegal Aliens with Phil Foglio and is doing some extremely humorous stuff for TSR right now.

A few years ago he and some friends were driving to Baltimore for a convention. During the drive, Rob the driver began whistling the "Colonel Bogey March" (most people would recognize it from The Bridge Over the River Kwai). Another guy, Rich, says "You know there's words to that song." "Nah, you're kidding." "No, there's words to it." and proceeds to sing them.

"Hitler, had only one big b*ll,
 Goering, had two, but they were small.
 Himmler, had something sim'lar,
 And Goebbels had no b*lls at all."

Apparently the song was popular during the war as an insult to the Germans, and that was the reason why the prisoners were whistling it. So everyone in the car started singing it, too.

When they got to Baltimore, they missed their exit, so they got off and drove around as they tried to figure out where they were. Finally someone pointed out a parking place and they pulled over to think of what to do next.

Nick looks out the window. "Guys," he says, "look where we're at."

"What?"

"Look where we're at."

They had parked directly in front of the national headquarters of the US Nazi Party. It was a three story building with a two-story Nazi flag in front of it.

This, Nick explained later, was a classic movie moment. A moment so unlikely yet so perfect that it would be absolutely unbelievable in a movie.

Nick continues: "Gentlemen, God has given us the opportunity, and Rob and Rich the means. From the top: ah one, ah two, ah one, two, three, four ..." And everyone in the car sang the song at the top of their lungs two or three times. It was then that a window opened up on the second or third floor, a head poked out, retreated, and the window slammed shut.

"Gentlemen," said Nick, "I think its time we left."

Our heroes peal out. When they finally reach the convention, they amaze everyone by walking in, singing "God Bless America."

Best GenCon story: Carol Dodd, my good friend from the GenCon Amber game, was approached and harassed by someone promoting Redemption, the Christian collectable card game. Now Carol isn't in to card games, but she was good natured enough to pass along the names of a couple of artists for when this company gets around to doing the supplement from the Book of the Mormon.


Inbetween Times

In between GenCon and leaving for England I went back home to Fort Wayne (I had been working a contract job in Wisconsin at the time) in order to check out my house and make final preparations.

During that time, just four days before I leave for England, I was the middle car in a vehicular sandwich. The only damage was the headlights and front grill, which were pushed in by the rear bumper of the car ahead of me. Insurance will pay for the repairs, as I am in no ways at fault, but the timing is -lousy-.


Next rock: Ireland

After a day's layover in London on Saturday, where I mostly scouted out the territory (like finding and exploring Forbidden Planet but not buying anything, as I would be back in London on the last leg of my vacation) I flew over to Ireland from Stansted Airport near London. This is a very recent airport, 20 or more miles away from London itself; very clean and open, but busy.

When I was in London that Saturday, I turned on the TV and caught the tail end of a Columbo episode, with (Babylon 5 actress) Claudia Christian! She played Lauren Hutton's daughter; both were guilty of the murder but Hutton took the rap to protect Christian. I thought it was a sign that I would be seeing more of Christian (i.e., more B5) at WorldCon, and I was not mistaken.

Ireland was more brown than green this year. I was warned that Ireland was having summer this year, with unseasonably warm weather and little rain. As such, it was much less green than I had remembered it being when I was over in 1987. They hadn't gone as far as rationing water, but the authorities were considering it.

I stayed near Dublin at an old manor house just between Dublin and Malahide, a town to the north, that had been converted to a B&B. The setting was marvelous and comparatively inexpensive, with a complete bathroom and a huge double bed. The people who ran the place where very nice; even the several dogs (two Alsatians, one German Shepard with broken front legs, and one Dauchsund) were friendly once they recognized you. This was my base of operations during my four days there.

Primarily I went bookstore hunting, but with little success. I was looking for a number of eclectic items but didn't find much of anything, here or in London. There were very few second-hand bookstores of interest in the city, and just a couple of large primary bookstores. Still I managed to find a couple of things of interest.

I had arranged to meet Anne McCaffrey to get her photograph for the Chicago in 2000 collectable trading card set. The drive down was nice except I mistook some of the directions and had to stop for directions three times. I hope I would do better in the future. Anne was very nice and gracious while busy getting ready to travel to Glasgow the following day. I took several pictures: I'm not terribly impressed with them, as there was significant glare from the window I had expected but not to this degree; some of the others I took outside might work better.

I then traveled back to Katherine Kurtz' manor. This is a 18th century manor with quite a history: she should write it up some time. Her husband Scott has been involved with movies and Hollywood for over 30 years, and through his connections they filmed the Irish scenes of the mini-series "Scarlet" at their manor some years ago. Now a production company Scott is connected with is preparing to film an adaptation of "Kidnapped" there, building a tower outside the house and a set inside. Dust was everywhere.

I got the chance to sit and talk with Scott and Katherine for quite a while: they are -very- nice people. Katherine's next book, Two Crowns for America, the secret occult history of America (with sidelights to the Jacobeans in Scotland) is slated for a February - March release (President's Day was suggested by Scott) next year, and is being positioned as a breakout book for her. I wish her well with it.

Because of all my traveling in Ireland, I rented a car. Yes, I learned how to drive on the left side of the road (not too hard) and to accommodate the driving habits of the locals (which I thought worse than Chicago's drivers). It was a common occurence for drivers to pass long strings of cars, straddling the center line and expecting the oncoming traffic to move over. This especially on the highways, which had very wide lanes: almost, but not quite double width.

I drove a 5-speed manual Opel when I was in Ireland. I will not drive another again. Since I drive a manual I didn't mind getting one from the rental place, but I wasn't prepared for its lousy shifting. The transmission was very flakey: I could (and did) easily shift into first while moving, something that surprised me, and you could hardly tell which gear you were shifting into, the motion was so spongy. The "edges" of the shift were so soft that you couldn't tell which gear you were in. The shifting into first while moving is a serious matter: transmissions I have used try to prevent that, as first gear has a very limited range and function and could be harmed by switching into it at 25 mph. There was no feedback that I had been used to in my own two cars, both of which had manual transmissions. Several times I shifted into 3rd from 4th when I was trying for 5th, and for the longest time I couldn't understand why I was having so much trouble starting moving until I discovered I had the shift in 3rd because it seemed just like first.

I've driven cars that were difficult to drive, but this one fit the description of "user-surly". The steering and handling were okay, and I don't know about gas mileage except that I didn't have to fill the tank, but I was only there for four days. I nicknamed it "Bobcat" because it was small, quick, but liable to turn on you like a wild animal when you least expect it.

In Dublin itself, the problems were lack of signs (Ireland, like Britain, puts their street signs on buildings, just above the ground floor; this is not always followed, especially on recent buildings) and signs directly at the intersection you're supposed to turn at. Three times I drove through or out of Dublin, and all three times I got lost. The only way I got into Dublin was because of the excellent directions I got from the B&B. I was told (eventually) that I could get anywhere in Ireland as long as I knew how to make a U-turn. Apparently everyone has the same problem.

One afternoon I went into the University of Dublin, as it was the northern boundary of the area I had been exploring. They possess the Book of Kells, one of the most elegantly-crafted pieces of Medieval manuscript illumination in the world, and I went in and saw it. They also had an exhibition of scientific equipment designed and used at the University: apparently the university has a long history of scientific and engineering achievement covering three centuries. They also had a multimedia history presentation on the city of Dublin, founded by the Vikings over a millennium ago.

Wednesday I decided to avoid Dublin in the afternoon and drive up to Malahide Castle, a residence that had been in family use for over 700 years, until the death of the last heir in the 1980's. Now it is a national museum and portrait gallery. Most of the furniture and a lot of the woodwork is the original. This place figures in Irish history in many ways, as it was nearby at the Battle of the Boyne where the Catholic James was defeated by the armies of the Protestant king of England. It was also part of the spoils given by Cromwell to one of his generals while Cromwell ruled England and Ireland.

After this I went up to Newgrange, the 5000 year old burial mound north of Dublin. This was excavated in the 19th century and restored, and is now a tourist attraction. The burial chamber is accessible, and tours are led down a narrow passageway to stand in the cramped main chamber. I actually got to stand in a place that was older than the Pyramids of Giza (by about 500 years). Every year for the five days around midwinter morning, the sun shines through a gap above the doorway all the way into the main chamber: tours on that date and time are booked nine years in advance. Little is known about the people who built it, as they were Late Stone Age and left very little in the way of artifacts. The most telling things were the elaborate stone carvings on and around the mound. The mound itself was constructed of stone from a number of different sources, many up to 50 miles away, so this was a major undertaking. It was estimated that given the estimated average lifespan of the people, the people who started the building did not live to see it finished.

Thursday I drove back to the airport (getting lost in the airport looking for the rental drop-off because the signs were not specific enough, then having to drag my heavy (wheeled but it didn't help much) suitcases over 200 meters up a ramp to the departure area) and flew over to Glasgow. On the way I said goodbye (for this time) to Ireland, taking some photos of the landscape underneath, and of the rainbow we flew over.

I also have to mention the Dalek credit card machines.

When I was looking at books in a large Dublin bookstore, I heard something that sounded very much like the mechanical voice of a Dalek. (The major villains from the Doctor Who series, as if I have to explain that.) I thought at first that it was some sort of talking book, but I soon tracked the sound down to the checkout desk.

They were using a credit card slip printing machine (connected to the cash registers) that used a very slow and noisy pin-driven dot-matrix printer to print out the credit slips. The noise the printer made was slow, harsh, and grating; it still sounded like a Dalek.

Ever afterwards, whenever I saw one, and they were quite common, I was reminded of the Dalek machine. Another strange occurence (or set of them)


Next Rock: WorldCon and Glasgow

Actually, not a lot about Glasgow, as I spent most of my time at the convention. What I saw (of the downtown, primarily) was a very clean and well-lit city. I was also told that the police have TV cameras on most of the streets. It was nice to walk around in except for the hills. I stayed at the Charing Cross Forte Crest hotel. This was not one of the party hotels, but the primary party hotel was only about 10 minutes walk away. Given the lit streets I felt quite safe in walking the distance.

The convention center was quite spacious, and could have held a few hundred more if necessary. I didn't notice any major mishaps: registration was very easy and quick. The dealer's area and art show were pretty good, but I didn't get much in the dealer's room and wasn't interested (not that I wasn't impressed, which I was, just not interested) in anything at all in the art show. All in all, it had the comfortable feeling of a smaller convention yet the multi-national feel of a WorldCon.

GEnie people I met: Esther Friesner, Alexandra and David Honigsburg, Dafydd ab Hugh, Robert Sawyer, Jane Yolen, Geoffrey Landis, and a whole host of others. Other people included artist and jeweler Darlene Coultrain, BNFs George "Lan" Laskowski and Maia Cowan, Katherine and her husband Scott, the people from the Chicago in 2000 bid (most of whom I work with at WindyCon), artist Susan Honeck, Rick Foss (who handled most of my travel arrangements), Chris Claremont (who made a very good statement at the SFWA meeting), Dave Stein and Diana Harlan Stein. I also got the chance to meet Deborah Turner Harris, co-author with Katherine on the Adept books. There was also an Alarums & Excursions apa meeting Saturday afternoon and dinner Sunday evening. And I saw John Brunner the night before he died, in the SFWA suite.

High points: dinner with David and Alexandra Thursday night at the Italian restaurant in the North Rotunda, just a short walk away; Lois winning the Hugo again; the SFWA meeting Sunday morning (despite some dirty laundry that those in the know will know about and those not in the know needn't concern themselves with); the A&E party Saturday and the Sunday dinner at a little Thai / Chinese place; the Tor party (to which Robert Sawyer and I walked over to from the SFWA suite, despite the light misty rain which the natives seemed to ignore, leading me to create the lyric "Mad dogs and Glaswegians go out in the midnight rain") where we talked about minor league baseball teams and their promotions; the SFWA suite, which managed to work despite some early organizational problems; getting to meet Mike Jittlov and getting (autographed) one of his Freas posters that are impossible to reproduce; seeing the popularity of B5 as evidenced by the well-attended panels (as well as the two viewing parties); the fireworks Sunday night; the Chicago in 2000 party Sunday night, which I helped set up; discovering some Judge Dredd books (and a Judge Anderson solo book!) that I would later look up at Forbidden Planet.

Low points: the news of John Brunner's death, certainly. The high prices for food and everything else: they were the equivalent of dollars in pounds, with the exchange rate at L1 = $1.61; Baltimore winning for the 1998 WorldCon, as I had voted for Boston; lonely dinners where I couldn't find anyone else to eat with; not getting a chance to have dinner with Katherine and Scott, but they had short schedules and were very busy; not getting around to find a TARDIS (Glasgow has four of the old blue police boxes still in use, but none were close to the hotel or convention center) or any of the bookstores locally (my fault for not allowing time after the convention); the Underground stations being flooded recently, forcing the use of shuttle busses, especially since my hotel was directly above one of the stations.

I saw John Brunner in the SFWA suite the night before he died. He seemed about the same as I've seen him at previous conventions: a little reserved, but always -dapper-; it was a description that seemed to describe him. Then we heard the rumors the next day, culminating in the report of his death. Not just sad, but a great loss. Not many authors write even one classic story, but he wrote several: Stand on Zanzibar, Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up, the complete Traveler in Black series. This has been a bad season for writers.

Best line: at the Techie's Tall Tales, one of the panelists told about the waste management system at the British base in Antarctica, which was essentially a heated pipe, except they didn't account for the extreme cold, so the output of the pipe would almost immediately freeze as soon as it cleared the outlet. It was the job of the newest resident to go out with a hammer and chisel every so often and clear it out. Jordan Kare piped up with the statement that Britain was in violation of the treaty about installing arms in Antarctica, as they were producing I.C.B.M.s. It was a five-star groaner of a pun.

Highest point: Monday evening, after missing the showings Friday night, I finally got to see three of the last (and lost until October) four Babylon 5 episodes that were shown in England. My only comment after seeing them all was "Oh, sh*t. Oh, Sh*t. OH SH*T." The excrement really hits the air circulation system, folks. JMS is taking us for a really rough ride.

Oh, yes, they did show all four, but I had already seen #2, so I walked back to my hotel room (10 minutes) after the first episode, to watch a fortuitously scheduled program "The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna." McKenna is a British TV stage hypnotist, very professional and very good, with (my guess) a team of comedy writers backing him up. McKenna was recommended highly to me, and he was worth it. Britain actually has a law prohibiting the public performance of hypnosis without a hard-to-get license, but he gets around it by putting it on TV. He has his people go through a series of comedic sketches, like having two women believe they are mother and daughter, and daughter brings home her boyfriend, whom only the audience recognizes as a popular TV actor; the two women are supposed to start increasingly disliking the actor until he stands to leave, where upon they have the urge to hug him. Another has them telling him (McKenna) lurid stories about what they were made to do under hypnosis, thinking he's an editor for a tabloid newspaper.

Tuesday I packed up and caught the train to London.


Final rock: London

Getting to London from Glasgow on Tuesday was easy but long: take the bloody train. It itself was a noisy affair, most because of the two young Arabic children in the seats across the aisle who seemed to think that if they let their lips close for more than a second they'd freeze in that position. Fortunately I was able to mostly ignore them, and they left the train about 2/3 of the way there.

I was to stay at a B&B. I gave the cab driver the address, but initially he mis-heard me say "Queensberry Mews" instead of "Queensborough Mews" and we wound up in the wrong street until I showed him the reservation letter. He then deposited me and my two suitcases before a sign that said "Through Access to Queensborough Mews", a side-street off an alley off a major street north of Hyde Park. The B&B was behind a large gate marked "Private" at the end of the street, one of a strip of similar three-storey buildings. All in all, the building was about 40 feet wide and 40 feet deep. The ground floor, I discovered, was the laundry room and other necessary facilities. The first floor had three bedrooms, all with sink and shower. The second floor had the breakfast room, which was also the owner's living room and dining room. The third floor was a conservatory. The operator has only been in the place since April so things were still cluttered with moving in. Stairs were circular, the only reasonable means with such a small space. I was told, however, that the whole place cost in the neighborhood of L500,000 (over $800,000) since it was so close to the center of London. It also had its resident cat, Puss.

My room was small, barely bigger than the bed, which was enormous: however, the room was larger than my college dorm room and the hotel I stayed in at Brighton for Conspiracy. The bathroom had a towel warmer, a very nice novelty, and included a washcloth (for once!)

Tuesday I settled in: I got in fairly late in the afternoon, what with the cab ride, so I was ready for dinner. I ate in a good German restaurant around the corner: two streets over was a major thoroughfare with two Underground stations and a host of restaurants. This whole area was covered with hotels: it looked like rows of (almost identical) apartment houses were converted to hotels. Even the street I was (sort-of) on was mostly hotels.

Wednesday I went to the Charing Cross / Leicster Square area, hunting for bookstores. This is the central London area for bookstores, as I had discovered in '87: there were a number of retail places and many second hand stores here. It also included Forbidden Planet, the major SF store in London, as well as the stores and shops in the area of the British Museum. Despite that, I bought relatively little.

While I was there, I noticed a sign advertising tickets for David Copperfield performances over the weekend. It was the beginning of his latest tour, his 15th anniversary. I managed to get a ticket for his Thursday night opening show for L50: row D, seat 23 (4th from the center aisle). (That's $80 US dollars, but it was worth it, as you will see.) This was not at the Leicster Square booth that sells the half-price tickets, but that is only open at specific hours and does not guarantee having good tickets. Me, I had the money and could afford regular prices.

I also managed to discover a couple of old New Age / occult bookstores, Wednesday, but all they had was a lot of generic things, much like you could find in the States. I did manage to discover a couple of magazines that had some interesting and relevant articles, so the investigation was somewhat a success. Also, beside one of the shops was a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, so I found dinner, too. The people behind the counter were very enjoyable, and the other customer, an attractive oriental woman with the most unusual (for an oriental) russet-red hair, was very attractive, except I couldn't understand her Japanese-English accent!

Thursday I spent looking for some places I didn't find Wednesday, only to discover that they were just off one street that I had missed. I didn't find anything, anyway, and I was getting a little disappointed at book hunting, too, so I just wandered around the surrounding areas before heading down to the Hammersmith Underground station (quite a ways south-east from me, actually) to find the theater where David Copperfield was performing that night. I was tempted to see a movie, but the only one I was interested in, Braveheart, didn't open until the following week. I also saw Piccadilly Square again, and the Trocadero, a large amusement arcade, which houses a large Guiness World Records exhibit, and Alien Wars, a 20-minute thrill scenario bases on the movie Aliens that had an advertising booth at WorldCon the previous weekend. I was tempted to try it but decided against it.

I saw David Copperfield that night. This was his 15th anniversary of doing performances, so it was more of a historical retrospective than an original show. He did some of his famous illusions, like the falling saw that breaks down and appears to cut him in half, the walking through the fan illusion, the hanging blade separation, and the most recent one I've seen, the haunted room (it was on his most recent TV special).

He also did his floating table illusion. David Copperfield invited about 12-16 people (which included me!) on stage; 8 would surround this octagonal table, which he would then levitate. I got put around the table by his assistant, then was replaced by Copperfield himself with someone else from the people who were standing off to the side. Everyone put their fingertips on the table, and then rose: the table rose with them. Then the table would be made to move around the stage with the people following it. Despite having examined the table and tablecloth, I still don't have any good ideas on how he pulled the trick off.

Its the same illusion he's used in his TV performances; in fact, most of the tricks he did were one he has used before. The new one is a flying trick that ends up with him totally enclosed in a clear plexiglass box, yet still flying. I've got my suspicions, but nothing definite yet. Some of the other illusions I am pretty sure were done by accomplices from the audience (Penn & Teller more or less spilled the beans on biggest televised illusions, saying they were done with camera tricks and paid volunteers, so plants in the audience is not to be unexpected) but that one is a winner. And at the end of the illusion he takes one of the people from the audience, a petite woman, who had examined the box previous, up with him for a turn about the stage.

Copperfield is an excellent showman and performer, and he always manages to have one or two beautiful women around him. (They're almost identical looking, which helps out in one of the tricks.) He got two standing ovations and did two encores, both of which were obviously prepared for in advance. The first encore was the flying illusion.

I did the British Museum Thursday afternoon, just to check it out, then went back Friday, walked around some, then got on a guided tour for most of the afternoon. Far too much to see in one day or a week. Aside from the regular exhibits, there was a special exhibition on the history of Chinese jade and an extensive exhibition of erotic Japanese prints by a famous print-maker. I saw the Lindsfarn Man (a early sacrificial victim discovered in a peat bog very well preserved; in fact, almost tanned); the Sutton Hoo burial artifacts (a Viking ship burial where the only things remaining were metal, but those were exceedingly excellent); the Rosetta Stone, out in public in all its glory; far too many Egyptian mummies, caskets, statues, burial items (including game sets), urns, mummified animals (cats, mostly); pieces from the Parthenon, including the friezes and some monumental sculpture work (the guide took us around to see the backs of the works: even though the sculptures were placed against a wall, their backs were as fully realized as their fronts); Assyrian winged men-bulls (shedu); Mediterranean mosaics; I was told that the Museum has over 4M pieces in its collection. *wow*

I also got in to see the British Library study area, which is separate from the Museum but totally enclosed by same. Admission is by pass only, but a limited number of visitor passes are available for a limited period at the end of the day. The library also had an exhibition on Earth and the Heavens, which is also available on CD-ROM. Lots of terrestrial and astronomical maps. They also had several standing exhibits of famous manuscripts and documents, including a copy of the Magna Carta (complete with royal seal).

Friday was also the day of the Underground worker's strike, so some stations, including the nearest one, were out of service, except that the trains still ran, but they were slow. I had gotten tickets to see Cats again (I've seen it twice in Chicago and once in London in '87): this was a new production in the old theater, with some of the characters and the plot given more depth. While waiting for the theater to open, I discovered a Japanese restaurant nearby, and splurged on a L28 dinner. This had three appetizers, a salad, beef cooking in a small brazier over a fire, three dishes of vegetables, and more. It was patronized by several Japanese customers while I was eating, a good sign in itself. I also had green tea, but my usual custom is to have sugar with it. The waiter was more than a little surprised, and what I got was a pot of apparently crystalized honey, which dissolved very slowly. Interesting.

Saturday I fruitlessly searched for the places I had selected that were far away from the other areas I had searched. It started to rain, a cold, thin drizzle, all morning and afternoon, which would lead me to abandoning my quest more than half-way through it. My first stop was at the Victoria and Albert Museum to raid the bookstore, because I was given a strong hint by my father that my mother would appreciate something from there connected with their collection of sewing implements. Alas, they didn't have anything specific on the subject but I came close.

I spent the next couple of hours taking the Underground to various outlying areas of London, and then tramping around the area looking for addresses: the first I couldn't find while the second and third, next to each other, were quite disappointing. By this time I was hungry, cold, and more than a little wet (despite my London Fog jacket, which was soaked but didn't pass the water through: primarily my trousers and face were just too wet.) I then decided to blow off looking for the last address: instead I took the Underground back to the B&B, where I got lunch at a nearby local pizza chain place and then crashed the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday I packed up and left the B&B early, as the owner wanted to clean it for the next lodger. I flagged down a cab in the street outside and headed for Heathrow. I spent a couple of hours waiting in the airport before getting on the plane, then spent the hours of the flight trying to read a novel I had picked up. I was glad to arrive in Chicago, get some dinner, then change planes for Milwaukee, where my friend Paul picked me up and took me back to his place: he had been keeping my car for the duration. I crashed at his house Sunday night, then drove back to Appleton Monday. Then I started the painful process of catching up on all of the news, business, bills, and mail I had accumulated. And I'm still not finished.


Afterwards

For every night of the week after I got back to my apartment (but not the night I spent at my friend's place in Milwaukee directly after I returned to the States) I would wake up several times during the night, while dreaming that I was travelling someplace in England or Scotland (and I think, in France).

What makes it weird is my poor eyesight, which, combined with a low level of light (from the curtained patio door and the displays on the various electrical devices around the room), would make the dream setting and reality seem to merge before I managed to realize that I was still in my apartment. For that moment I always managed to wonder that my glasses and alarm clock were always beside my bed no matter where I was. I guess that was what would finally convince me that I was still at home.

My bed sits in a corner of the efficiency apartment: to the left is the wall that hides the walk-in closet and bathroom, while to the right is a lounge chair and another wall, with a curtained patio door. While my dreams and reality were sorting themselves out, they took on shapes and meanings that pertained to the dreams: columns, doorways, etc. (the brain's pattern recognition system taking over from dreaming, trying to reconcile the two? Who knows?) until, blearily, they became my apartment.

I had dreams where I was sleeping in places, out of doors, in public places, and they all seemed so real. Now normally I don't remember my dreams, but this is an exception.


Click here to return to the main page.


Copyright © 1998 Terry O'Brien {dragonmage@sprynet}