MeCon 9

This weekend. Will be there. Am looking forward to it.

In fact, it’s an occasion of double nostalgia. MeCon V, in 2002, was the first sf con I had ever paid membership for (not quite the first I had ever attended – I was invited by to participate in a panel about politics at Uniconze in 1990, with Ian Watson and someone else who I’ve forgotten). It was a great weekend, at which I met many people who I now know via LJ for the first time; and I see both Ken MacLeod and Ian McDonald will be there again this year. I particularly remember early March 2002 because two days after I got back to Brussels from Belfast, I was offered my current job more or less out of the blue. No connection, of course, and I am not expecting a repeat this year. I have still not attended a lot of sf cons, but my list has now expanded to include P-Con I in 2003, PicoCon and the WorldCon last year, and P-Con III earlier this year. My participation in sf fandom has been largely on-line.

But the nostalgia is doubled because I spent a year living at the top of one of the student tower-blocks on the Queen’s Elms complex, where MeCon is to be held this year. Very few people have dared tell the truth about what living in this pace is like in term-time (the only on-line source I can find is in German, but they have got the idea – “es ist manchmal unerträglich, dort zu wohnen”). I had the joyful task of being the sub-warden responsible for 120 students for the academic year 1992/93.

The management sucked. That’s not quite fair – the bloke who I answered to, who was warden to my sub-warden, was great, and tolerant of my occasional lapses from full enthusiasm for the job; but there was an ongoing power struggle between the university administration and the wardens of the halls, exacerbated by each side blaming the other for a tragic accident the year before I lived there, when a student had fallen down a lift shaft and died. I had to patrol the corridors twice a night, once at half past midnight and again an hour later, and in addition there was the Thursday night vigil as students staggered back from the late disco. At least the weekends were quiet because the vast majority of the residents (and almost all the noisy ones) went home to their parents, in far-flung Lisburn or Larne (or, in fairness, Enniskillen or Derry).

The culmination in a way was the Boat Club dinner, as booze-fuelled as any of its Cambridge equivalents (I was one of the 10% minority in Cambridge who never set hand to an oar the whole time I was there). The dinner itself was in the hallowed precincts of the main university building, but several of its participants ended up in my tower block and decided to have a laugh by throwing the refrigerator in the communal kitchen on my floor out the window, without opening said window first. I did mention that I lived on the top floor, didn’t I? We tracked down the perpetrators pretty rapidly, but I was disgusted with the lenient treatment they then got from the university, which seemed to be a particularly stupid by-product of the general management problems. (Don’t ask for details.)

That was a contributing factor to my decision not to do it for another year. More important, however, was the fact that Anne and I decided to get married. (The fact that I had a visiting girlfriend was a source of fascination for horny and frustrated male students. One snowy evening I was happily watching TV and heard a subtle knock on the door accompanied by male giggles, receding rapidly. When I opened it I found a lovely snow sculpture of a phallus and matching testicles. As I was loosely attached to the anthropology department at the time I decided I should take it as a votive offering to my virility. If you have another theory, I don’t want to hear about it! The story of how I got the nickname “Big Snaker” will have to wait for another time.)

Anyway, it seems peculiarly appropriate that the first event of MeCon will be a quiz; I organised one for the weekend students (mainly overseas) as my main contribution to communal life in the halls. I suspect I’ll enjoy the one on Friday more…

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