My first Novacon was in 1981. When they actually first started in 1970 I was at Manchester University and in those pre-internet days I had no idea such things existed. But in 1981 I'd been in Birmingham for a few years. I'd just discovered fandom through the BSFG, which back then met at the Ivy Bush on the Hagley Road. The notion of a con was alluring but I was too shy to go on my own so I roped in a couple of friends. I drove us to the car park at the Royal Angus/Thistle Hotel near the Catholic cathedral and wow! On the second floor we paid our Saturday admissions and moved along the corridor amongst a cheery chattering throng.
On our left was a big room with music. Not quite ready for that yet, we moved along further to the bar. Another wow! There were masses of people chatting animatedly and nobody pointing to us and saying, "Get out, interlopers!" In fact as we queued to get our drinks we found people were already talking to us. It was more than inclusive, it was friendly. There were people who enjoyed the same books as me, which was a real novelty. Suddenly I wasn't weird for liking SF. I'd found my tribe.
Eventually we braved the disco. Oh, the Novacon disco was such an institution, back when arthritis only happened to other people, people who were much older than us. I loved joining in with The Timewarp and The Monster Mash. It was such fun. Harry Harrison accepted both my praise for the Deathworld series and a whisky. Brian Aldiss – Brian Aldiss! - pint in hand, chatted up each of us. I noticed I was last of the three, but that was OK because he reminded me so much of my dad, what with his stories of the Far East in the war. When we left he gallantly walked us back to the car. Son of Wow! Did I have a tale to tell the next time I saw the other SF fan in my family, namely my dad.
Then there were the times Tony Berry & Co did live gigs. We agreed I was going to sing Proud Mary at the next Novacon but I chickened out when I heard they didn't do rehearsals. As a sidebar, here's what happened at my first unrehearsed gig back when I was a student in Eltham, south London. I had a job as a barmaid in The Man of Kent, which had live music on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Clearing up after hours I was singing away when the lead guitarist asked me if I'd like to join in with them at the weekend. We settled on Mr Tambourine Man and he said we'd rehearse on the Thursday. But they didn't show up to the rehearsal. Come the night, they started in the key of bat, with notes I couldn't have reached with a ladder. They missed out half of each verse and got the chorus wrong. What with it also being the first time I'd used a microphone I went disastrously off key, so much so that a guy who'd pushed his way to the front started howling like a wolf. My bf of the time escorted him none too gently to the gents but we could still hear him above the catcalls. I do not sing in public without rehearsals any more. Well, a spot of filking, but filkers are a forgiving lot because Their Turn Will Come.
Ah, and then there was the massive honour of being a Guest of Honour at Novacon 20. It was at the Holiday Inn in Birmingham (Wikipedia has it wrong). I was so proud. I was also completely overwhelmed. When it came time to do my first ever GoH panel with the famous Jack Cohen I was so overwhelmed I took a little Dutch courage. Repeatedly. I wasn't too bad for the bits I'd prepared but questions from the audience flummoxed me.
One of the great things about Novacon is meeting people. Bob Shaw, famed for his Serious Scientific Talks, was another kind gentleman who escorted me from the Britannia Hotel to the taxi rank at New Street Station. Because there were roving herds of drunks he nobly offered to wait with me, but because it was so foggy it was almost three a.m. before my turn finally came. I kept saying he should go back but he gallantly stayed, keeping me both safe and royally entertained.
Due to rising costs Novacon then became peripatetic. Walsall's fine so long as you don't miss your exit off the M6. Coventry – well at least that's fairly accessible.
Then Nottingham, at the Park Inn. Stan and I were joint GoHs at Novacon 45. That was absolutely fabulous. We had a great room, well suite really, both the year before and the year itself, 2015. The committee couldn't have been more hospitable, right from a fish and chip supper with pub quiz on the Thursday night all the way through Monday breakfast. It was fun writing a story for our chap book, and the honour of having a Dave Hardy illo for the cover, wow! I enjoyed painting the cover for the programme book: a winky-face foil balloon rising into space, because Novacon is a party that's out of this world. Desert Island Discs, complete with blow-up palm trees and parrot, was a laugh. Having done quite a lot of radio and a bit of TV, public speaking no longer freaks me out so it was fun to kick back and have a laugh on various panels. Sadly the main Novacon demographic is a bit too creaky for discos now but we enjoy getting a flotilla of taxis to some noted curry shop in the evening. Plus there are still loads of entertaining discussions to be had with old and new friends. Also the Park Inn has a warm swimming pool so Julia Daly and I enjoy an annual swim followed by gossip in the Jacuzzi.
I've always enjoyed the Novacon art show too. F&SF art, what's not to love? Talk about imagination! There's also beautiful beadwork and thread art. Chris Baker, Dave Hardy, Alex Storer and loads of other great people whose names I embarrassingly can't remember. I've been inordinately proud to have sold a couple of my own paintings there too. It's also been very pleasant getting to know Serena Culfeather, doyenne of the art show.
The upshot is that Novacon 50 might have been delayed by this wretched Covid, but when it does happen we want to be there! Be seeing you.