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A brief trip to Tir na Nog (or one of those places)

Well, he said, I’m back….

Having gone not quite to the havens where you can set sail to the uttermost West but to somewhere adjacent I am back and Monty is clambering all over me in recognition of the occasion. Typing on this may be a little uneven as a consequence.

It was a mixed sort of a Worldcon with pleasant sentimentality, both personal and cultural, making it fun overall.

However it was a con where I had to recognise that my current physical limits are something I have to take into account. I should not have tried to be a tough guy and should have asked the committee for early access so I could get a hotel nearer the convention centre. After standing in line for fifteen minutes to get into a panel item, with my foot in agony by the end, and failing to get in after all that noble effort I went and saw the access team and they kindly said yes, I should have the privileges of the halt and the lame. I met a lot of new people with walking aids and in wheelchairs as we waited in line. One of the panellists on the ‘Player to GM’ panel turned up in a powered wheelchair the con had provided for him that very morning and there was nearly a nasty accident as he tried to manoeuvre it around the panel’s table.

I also re-discovered my tendency to panic when I think I’ve lost things: I wasn’t in the city centre five minutes before I’d lost both my way and all the documentation I’d printed out at home. I left both my iPads behind in one panel item and the nice young staff person seemed to think it was a bit theatrical of me. Well, that can’t be helped.

The con was only about a third of the size of LonCon at 5,800 warm bodies and it was stretching Dublin’s convention facilities to the limit as it was. The staff of the convention centre seemed a little stunned by our peculiar habits and semi-chaotic organisation but they rallied well and by the end were qualified geek wranglers all.

One lady suggested fandom might try buying a large luxury liner and using that as the semi-permanent floating site of Worldcons. Alas, LonCon went to 17,000 people and the world’s largest liner has only 2,759 rooms. I think taking over a small and helpless nation may be more within fandom’s capabilities and more likely to work, long term. (A Hugo winning short story briefly crossed my drunken mind at this point but is unlikely to get written: the customs and religion of said nation after several generations of serving the Wise Ones in their peculiar rituals would be remarkable though. Actually, isn’t this a GURPS Traveller supplement? The one about the Pleasure Planet?)

The people of Dublin were friendly and considerate. On one occasion I got out of the taxi outside the convention centre and my panama hat was blown high and far across the main road by the Liffey. A nice chap stopped his car to go and retrieve it and then handed it over to a lady who went and returned it to me. What a friendly city!

On the other hand I took a dislike to the herring gulls who were strutting everywhere and took a delight at shrieking near my window at dawn.

Dublin looks like they are attempting to build a modern European city atop the remains of a nineteenth century British provincial capital and though bits of are rather tatty there’s a feeling of hope about the centre of the town which I worry might be crushed by the idiocy of my own country’s rulers.

The city’s weather was weird however: shifting from icy cold rain to humid oppressive heat to blustery wind in an instant. No weather forecasts seemed to apply. One of the taxi drivers I rode with said that the weather had been ‘bloody weird’ for the past ten days or so. I told him I hadn’t done it.

(Apart from the guy who was listening to IRA rebel songs about how they humiliated the Black and Tans and the hanging of Sir Roger Casement all the taxi drivers wanted to chat.)

I gave in to temptation and bought a whole lot of book, mostly first volumes of series. I nearly did myself an injury getting my case home: why they didn’t charge me for the extra weight I’ll never know. Rob being blind was smarter than me: He went to the book rooms and scanned the lists of publications the various firms were providing so he could look them up when he got home.

It was a good con for the various panel items I was on. (I give only a qualified success to the LAUNDRY FILES game I ran in the con room: I’m fairly certain looking back I buggered up some of the rules.) However this meant getting up early most days of the con and that led to me going to bed early most days of the con. Another good reason for being closer to the convention centre if possible. I found the parties a little too much for me though the Dead Dog was a lovely pub meet with a lot of my friends there.

I begin to think that panel items are for appearing on not for watching though. I kept getting irritated at the low quality of some of the discussion and despite the occasional burst of brilliance I felt the ones I got to mostly just raised my blood pressure.

But there was a very funny panel game with Joe Abercrombie and some other very talented people under an incredibly funny quizmaster from Trinidad and Tobago. Chickens, vampires, genies and would you work for Skynet or join the Rebellion? (“Who gets the better outfit?”)

It was a bad con for looking in the con newsletter (THE SALMON OF WISDOM) and discovering that writers I liked had just died. J. Neil Schulman, one of the better of the wave of libertarian authors in the 80s and 90s went at only a year older than me. Barry Hughart, author of the exquisite BRIDGE OF BIRDS and its sequels, was a fair bit older. This made me glumly sentimental or sentimentally glum.

Josh and Lisa were about, pursuing their careers as insidious Masters of Fandom, smiting hip and thigh in the Business Meeting. Their triumphant progress was qualified by the referring to committee of the proposed gaming Hugo. (The Business Meeting did a lot of sending stuff to committees this year.) The provisional definition of ‘game’ is complicated and potentially philosophically interesting. They feel they may have to volunteer for the sub-committee. Poor them.

And I met up with Malcom who was a member of my Monday night group about twenty years ago before he moved to Japan for his work and then settled there. He told me about his life in Japan, his horrible journey from Japan which involved losing his luggage for about forty-eight hours (he swears never to fly KLM again) and the fact that he too got off the bus from the airport and got lost. Being healthier than me he managed to walk as far as College Green. We chatted about our medical issues s as aging gents do and we drank a little together. I said I’d remember him to the Monday night group. And I felt sad again, as we walked away from each other, that I let Mike Damesic down all those years ago.

Speaking of drink, the con bar had one decent ale that I only found on the last day. They had named the bar after Martin Hoare, a friend of mine from university who had been the beer guru of British fandom. It was odd to be in a bar with his name on it where there were no real ales in kegs and where at one stage they managed the feat of being a bar in Ireland with no stout.

As I took my last taxi back to the hotel I watched the sun setting, blue and grey and red, over the city’s modern buildings and felt so sentimental and content that I even forgave the ruddy herring gulls.

Random Worldcon thoughts:

In future book seats on the plane so your bad foot can stick out into the aisle.

I must take better care to maintain my caffeine levels at future cons. Starting to snore in the front row would have been more embarrassing if a friend hadn’t been sitting beside me to poke me in the ribs.

There was a rather tacky roadside shrine of Jesus displaying the Sacred Heart. Reading the inscription I saw it was calling down the blessings of Almighty God on the taxi drivers who used the nearby taxi rank and I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.

Kari (who is a Respected Academic) thinks that the Bull Laudabiliter was probably genuine. Who knew? She also read from her upcoming novella about why Gaheris killed his mother.

Went away from the panel on THE THIRD POLICEMAN wondering if the theory of bicycle/Irishman interpenetration means that Irishmen in the forties habitually rode about the streets of Dublin in the nude.

For Lindy and All Who Asked How My Birthday was going

Thanks for the good wishes and my best to your Mum on her 93rd and to you for having to handle it!

Alas the weather didn’t quite co-operate. I went out for about half an hour last night hunting shooting stars but all I caught was a slight sore throat from the cold night air. I keep telling myself that  one year, one year! I’m going to get myself organised enough to go where there’s no light pollution and spend the night of the Perseids shower celebrating my birthday in style. But this year wasn’t it. What with me going to the games convention Handycon at the weekend (1) and one thing and another it wasn’t to be.

Instead I took myself to a nice but tiny restaurant in Marlow where I treated myself to their ‘Lunchtime Gourmand Menu’. I nearly  didn’t because to me ‘gourmand’ implies eating far too much. Whereas what they gave me was a large number of courses but with smaller portions than if I had ordered their a la carte or set menu and with wines selected to go with the meal (and introduced by a cute young lady who told me what I might expect to taste: dammit now I wish  I’d written down the names of the wines…). It was lovely from the ‘amuse bouche’ to the ‘panna cotta’ and I must see if I can do it again some year. My brother and sister in law are taking me to a posh place in Radnage for their ‘tasting’ menu when I get back.

There was a fellow at a nearby table who used the phrase ‘our Polish friends’ in that jolly but defamatory way. And I thought “I bet he reads the DAILY TELEGRAPH.”

This was what sprang to mind because there had been a question on Quora (my favoured internet pontificating platform) about what British people think about  the Torygraph and I was thinking of answering it. When I got home I tried to use the incident in my answer… and discovered that I have what can only be an irrational prejudice against the publication. I haven’t read it since I was bored and without reading material one day  in the nineties. I picked up a copy of the TELEGRAPH someone had left lying around and found myself reading to my astonishment that John Major was an orator for the ages and bound to be a great asset to the Tories in the upcoming election. I put it down under the conviction that it was clearly  a newspaper for lunatics. And the fact that Major won the next election has not dissuaded me of this conviction. But when I came to write it down as a formal answer it seemed mean spirited and close minded of me so I didn’t bother. (2)

I read and approve of your exercise and diet program. It would be nice if the difficulty I have had getting into some of my shirts when I was deciding what to pack for Dublin inspired me to get back on the diet… Perhaps it will. After the Worldcon. Perhaps.

I envy you the chance to refurbish your place and tremble at the responsibility  of owning property. It’s just as well it isn’t a temptation for me but only a fantasy.

As to reading I just finished CIVIL WAR: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms by Trevor Royle which was massive and told me a lot more than Christopher Bloody Hill did back when we were doing the seventeenth century for A-Level. Everything from the Scots throwing their prayer stools at the Bishop to Samuel Pepys going to see Major General Harrison hung, drawn and quartered ‘and he looking as cheerful as a man could under those circumstances’.

And then I read a John M. Ford fantasy ‘The Last Hot Time’ which is beautifully written if rather light. The elegiac tone might be because Mike Ford was dying when he wrote it. (Goes and checks the facts… Hmm he died (very young) six years after this book was published.) The poems he composed to be the lyrics of the songs sung in the nightclub are just lovely and I would like to think someone has the good taste to give them music.

And as to writing… This is what I’ve managed to do today. I think I’ll go and post it on WordPress for the enjoyment of a greater public.



  1. Which was fun and allowed me to shift a large number of games I’m never going to play again and replace them with more games…. I also came down with something that made my nights sweaty and unpleasant… But went away with extra strength LemSip once I recognised what was wrong with me. I expect to come down with two or three varieties of Con Crud in Dublin. Note to self: pack some Lem-Sip….
  2. There is further evidence of the narrowness and prejudice of my political judgement in the astonishment I felt when I first heard that Ken Livingstone was a rising light in the Labour Party right after first seeing him interviewed.


(And at four o’clock in the morning I might say)
My apologies for not quite grasping your point when I read your last comment. It came to me in the middle of the night and having composed my answer I cannot get back to sleep without getting this down.
You say to me that I should not argue against the enactment of Brexit because ‘the legislature’ has given their word that it will go through and if I were to persuade them not to do so they would be being ‘dishonourable and unprincipled’ and that I by so doing would be ‘dishonourable and unprincipled’ myself.
Have I got that right now?
Well, in that case I have to apologise to you. I did indeed have a mental block preventing me from seeing your moral argument as you asserted I did. As you asserted all Remainers have.
I think the best way I can express that mental block is: because that’s daft.
You are elevating the virtue of ‘keeping one’s word’ above all other virtues and casting me in the roll of a tempter who is trying to turn frail politicians away from the path of righteousness. I do not see myself in that light.
Yes, one should keep one’s promises. But supposing another person has made a promise that does not oblige me to step out of their way if that promise is a harmful one let alone to actively support them.
Suppose (to snatch an example randomly from my seething, sleepless brain) one promises to find the home address of a work colleague for a friend. And one then discovers that the friend wants the information to go around and beat up the colleague who has offended them. Is keeping one’s word the right thing to do in these circumstances?
Most of my effort is going towards persuading those who support remaining in the EU not to give up hope and to continue to throw their opposition in the faces of those in power. Rally the troops, keep your powder dry stuff.
Surely you will allow the poor beleaguered MPs to give up their promise if it proves impossible to carry it out due to public opposition? (“Yes, dear I did promise you we’d go to the moon for our holidays but it turns out not to be possible this year.”)
I will not deny that it would please me greatly to think I had a hope in hell of persuading even one MP to gladly change their mind on this. I would not regard that however as breaking their word but rather recalling them to their greater duty.
“Salus populi suprema lex esto” which means ‘the good of the people should be the supreme law’ and which Wikipedia tells me is Cicero. Not the good of the party, not one’s own reputation but the good of the people.
We may disagree about the nature of what is good but surely not about our duty to pursue the good. There are means of seeking the good which destroy the good you pursue but I am doing my damnedest to stick purely to those means which are peaceful, honourable and legal in the hope that after this mess we may continue to have a means of honourable discourse and reasonable disagreement.
And now back to my bed.

A matter of perspective… No, no, it isn’t

I was reading just yesterday, on that excellent means for wasting time and creativity, a defence of the US Republican Party against the frequently made charge that they are on the right wing edge of a political system so out of whack compared with the rest of the rich, industrialised world that you might as well be looking at the court of Philip II of Spain, or maybe one of the Manchu Emperors for all the connection they have with civilised political discourse.

It was a good defence, pointing out all the things the Republicans had in common with European parties and calling out  to the many more extreme, dictatorial and cruel governments there are in the world. I almost wish I could find it now to take to pieces the rhetorical devices that had me nodding along and saying ‘Yes, yes, why can’t we all get along…’

(Brexit fatigue is hitting pretty strongly just now.)

And then today I read this.  

It’s the story of how a teacher in California who is sick with cancer is having to make a financial contribution to the salary of the substitute who has taken her place.

It gets worse.

The law under which this is done was passed in 1976.

Both my parents were teachers. I have ranted before about how right wing politicians in particular like to bully the people who try to ensure that the next generation can read, write, do basic arithmetic and wipe their own arses.

And since the time when I was just completing my post-graduate year at Manchester this vile piece of legislation has been there to make clear to the world that the people the Californians elect to run their affairs consider the teaching profession a bunch of worthless skivers who if they grow too sick to turn up and perform their thankless tasks must be punished for having the temerity to want to be public employees.

My good will for the conservative wave in modern culture has just evaporated again.  I am prevented by my age, ill  health and basic laziness from organising a revolution but I do wish I had done more recently to discomode the fellow travellers in the Tory party.

I  voted LibDem in the European elections (some of us have postal votes you know) so Nigel Farage sending me a photo of his repulsive visage and a bunch of self-serving drivel this morning was wasting his time. But I do wish I could do something that would get through the seemingly infinite thickness of the PM’s skull and that she could not rationalise away.

Ah well, it’s too late to take up tumbril driving at my time of life, citizens.

A Dialogue Between the Author and His Cat

“You have returned, provider of my daily fare. Did you pursue your intention to see the long awaited conclusion of the tale so long extended?”

“I did, oh companion and guardian of my home. Let me provide you with your supper (delayed by my fault in going to seek repast for myself) and then you may climb upon my lap while I describe the event and my conclusions.”

“It is a minor matter. Please do not allow it to happen ever again.”

A short time later…

“So then, what were your findings with regard to this work so much heralded forth in the gossip of the commonalty and the purveyors of daily tittle-tattle? (Yes, a little more there along the spine…)”

“I found it pleasing enough. In truth I could have delayed my delighting in it longer as is my custom with most such presentations, until the numbers attending are fewer and the press of the commonalty less close upon the judicious and superior soul were it not for the ‘spoiler’ warnings on every piece of rumour and review. Had I waited much longer the whole plot would have been revealed and the viewing pointless.”

“You have been known to not view something until you had the opportunity to read the summation of the plot posted by those who had gone before.”

“True but in this case I wished to see how they resolved the challenge set up by all the previous films and how much they could work in. In that regard it was good but not excellent. You will be unsurprised that the ending, though heroic and satisfactory as an ending was written by those who cared little for the philosophic implications of what they contrived.”

“In brief?”

“As expected the plot involved Chrononautic Expeditions and left the history of the fancied universe dangling in shreds and tatters of paradox.”

“Alas. But heroic deeds were done?”

“They were and heartstrings were plucked to good effect. I had no complaints in that regard.”

“Where did you have complaints?”

“In the darkness of the cinematography. I have mentioned to you before that fight scenes especially and most particularly those in fantastic narratives are murky and unclear to me. I do not think my advanced age is entirely to blame but rather the fancies of the directors.”

“You were away a good long time. Did the length of the piece cause you distress?”

“Some, it is true and the fact I was pent in and cut off from the exit by people entranced by the spectacle made leaving my seat impolite and impractical. But I discovered new reserves of resolve and physical capacity and despite being in my seat for three and a half hours did not disgrace myself, though my teeth were grinding by the end.”

“A heroic narrative of your own!”

“Indeed. The exercises I have been performing for the benefit of my left hip must have increased the strength of my pelvic muscles notably.”

“A cause for rejoicing. Though we could both be happier if it were leading to a great reduction in your paunch.”

“One must be philosophical in these things.”

“Finally, if a humble one may ask…”

“Is there such a being in the vicinity?”

“Why are we discoursing in such refined and polite tones this evening?”

“Because my old friend David Langford has, in a book of his reviews I obtained at the Eastercon, made mention of a collection of Kai Lung stories I had not previously known of. I purchased it in electronic format and it is all over my prose style just now.”

“By mentioning this tome…”


“…you pass the kindness on to the world. The balance of your karma improves. You may even be reborn as a cat someday.”

“A felicity of which I am unworthy.”

There’s a lot of funny people about

I was heading towards the bus station after my visit to the gym and my shopping at Tesco when I spotted a young, burly looking chap, taller than me who was looking around as if checking no-one important was looking.

Having clocked me and apparently deciding I didn’t count he nipped over to one of the aluminium clad concrete pillars that hold up the roof there by the library, stuck his tongue out and gave it a big lick. He then left in a hurry.

Is this a thing? Is it the latest health movement? Are young people suffering from aluminium deficiencies? Or maybe a lack of concrete in their diets?

Is it like the strange procedures that are supposed to send a pleasurable tingle up your spine? Will there be concerned headlines in the DAILY MAIL?

If there are, remember you saw it here first!

And another thing.

Every weekday morning just now when I finally emerge from my morning ablutions there’s the sound of an air horn somewhere nearby playing La Cucaracha . I’m not quite paranoid enough to think it’s the Observers letting people know that Cule is stalking the world so I’m assuming that it’s something to do with the team that has been refurbishing from just outside my flat to the start of the High Street.

Will I miss them when they go? Will they ever go? How big a fuss will the local horde of tut-tut merchants make when they see the final result of the refurbishment? Will I want to join them?

Chris, Roger’s wife, has a rant all prepared about the new lamp posts with the name of the road in illuminated letters on them. Me I’m more likely to kvetch about the quality of the pavement they leave us with.

Any back to my main point which is air horns.

Why would anyone want one of these pieces of 1950s technology? Clearly it’s evidence of deep insecurity to have a horn on your car that draws that much attention to you and evidence of obsessive compulsive behaviour to do it every bloody weekday morning regular as clockwork.

And now I go and look it up I find that those horns that play music aren’t what are called Air Horns nowadays anyway. I don’t know what they are called but they only seem to come in two tunes La Cucaracha and Dixie. Why no British GrenadiersWhy no Lilliburlero

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF HIGH WYCOMBE: Have yer got that out of yer system now?

I think so yes. I need to go and lie down.

TPPoHW: A bit Paul Jennings this.

Hmm, yes. Not that that’s a bad thing, considering.





On Hearing that the PM might call a General Election.

(It was the headline in the GRUANIAD amongst other places.)

And what good, pray, would that do?

It would not give a clear answer to the most pressing and important question of the hour: What to do about Brexit?

It might, it is true, produce a government with enough of a majority to push through its own view of how Brexit should be handled but only perhaps. It is quite conceivable that it produces a further stalemate.

How would any of the parties be able to produce a unified and believable manifesto on the topic of Brexit? How would my local MP, who is a member of the ERG, stand on a platform that would suit Dominic Grieve, the anti-Brexiteer in the next constituency over? Both the major parties are split on the issue, sometimes several ways.

And both the major parties are officially of the opinion the Brexit Is The Only Way. Given our outdated and deliberately unrepresentative electoral system how are those of us who want nothing to do with it to have any chance of being heard?

It’s like being told that you have to shoot yourself in the foot but you are going to be given the important choice of which foot to shoot yourself in.

(I’ve used that line three times today: I’m that vain about it… Some major commentator should take it up. I would only charge a small amount for the rights. And some annoying person will now come along and tell me I’m unconsciously stealing it from somewhere.)