Sci-Fi Convention Nostalgia Timewarp!
When I was writing my 'Coding Conventions, times remembered' article for the
previous issue of Alive!, I remember promising something about my time spent
in the surreal world of science fiction convention land for the next issue.
Now the time has arrived to make good that promise (ho hum!)
Why not blame it all on the Hodges? If you are looking for a reason why I
suddenly started dressing up strangely, and going to unfamiliar parts of the
country, doing cruel and unusual things to perfectly harmless ST's, then you
could do no worse by blaming one Dave 'Pixie' Hodges.
Dave, in spite of his borderline dwarf size, was more than your average
computer freak. He was one of the strange individuals first encountered at
the Wellingborough Computer Club, one of many interesting characters (hi
Felice!), and perhaps the weirdest of them all?
Dave is a fair bit older than I am, he had a fairly nomadic job, the sort
that kept him out for several days at a stretch. He lived at home with his
parents when I knew him. I might add that there was no 'significant other'
in his life to provide any moderating or housetraining influence (grin!) But
then again, you might not be surprised if you saw him, as in a generally
geekish arena, he managed to turn not caring about his appearance into a new
and challenging artform!
Dave had a strange way of being breathlessly excited about something, and
managing to convey the urgency of it, but going on for far too long about it
and boring you rigid at the same time! Sounds odd, and you have to really
experience it for yourself to fully understand what I'm on about. He also
tended to embellish a lot of non-existent stories, trying to convey a self-
image that was more glamourous and exciting than it was. He was a nice bloke
who meant well, and could be best placed under the societal category of
In a club mainly obsessed by software, and the cost-free acquisition of the
same (ahem!) Dave stood out as a rare hardware bodger. His modified Mega ST,
stuck in a home made biscuit tin styled case was certainly unique. Among
other things, he acted as a sort of beta tester for those nice people at
Marpet, who used to make RAM boards going beyond the 'holy 4 meg memory
upper limit' on the ST series. A closer examination of the contents of that
machine's hard drive revealed Dave's other manic obsession.
Dave was a major 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' freak. His biscuit tin
special contained a database calling itself the "Real Hitchhikers Guide to
the Galaxy". In those days, it was written around a specially customised
version of 'Card-ST'. The content, generated by countless fans of the
series, was in the form of brief and witty entries, in the style of Douglas
Adams. My memory of it recalls a generally good concept, if a variable
success rate in impersonating the great man himself. What Dave did with this
ever-evolving 'Guide', was to drag it around the country to various science
fiction related events and conventions, and auction off a full printout of
the guide, at its current state of progress for charity.
He was a member of the Official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Society,
known as 'ZZ9 Plus Alpha'. They used their own system of 'nicks' for people.
Dave was known as "Hodgesaargh!" (As in "Hodges, aargh! Here he comes!")
I might add, from this point in the article on, I'll be using the nick that
we gave Dave at the Wellingboro' Computer Club, 'Pixie', as much as
Where do I come into this strange story? Well for reasons that elude me,
possibly to do with getting a gratuitious laugh at his expense, or maybe
because I liked the Hitchikers Guide concept myself. I agreed to go along
with a mad scheme of his, that involved a lot of ST's featuring in different
roles at a Science Fiction convention, in some sort of cyber-recreation of
crucial bits of the HHGG universe, or something. This was to become the
event known as 'Vocon', which I'll describe in more detail in a short while.
Anyway, this was a fairly short but sweet sequence of visits, all of them
turning out to be very memorable, and largely alcohol propelled!
Dangercon: "Excuse me Dave, but is that really your knife!?"
My first participation as at something called DangerCon. This was a Danger
Mouse commemoration set in sunny Croydon, sometime in the early part of
1993. It was a single day only event, which was a nice easygoing
introduction to sci-fi convention life. It was also plenty of time to spend
hanging around with Pixie! The report in Maggie 12 recalls a very very early
start, 5am or sooner! The actual venue was in the Croydon Labour club, but
there wasn't a lot of politics involved. I met many of the other sci-fi con-
going characters for the first time, who would memorably populate later
So it was, I heard my first "sermon" from the "Reverend" Jim DeLiscard. I
spotted Simo, the overanxious virgin who would go to ridiculous lengths to
get laid. (Like a trip to the USA on a 'promise' that never materialised!)
Rob 'Amyl' Newman, and his girlfriend or wife known as "Madame Purple"!
Guess how he got his nick!? There were plenty of others, Noel "Nolly"
Collyer, Amiga owner very ordinaire, his girlfriend Claire, who was in the
big and bouncy category, a gamesplaying group called the 'Conspirators', who
dressed up in fancy basques and nightwear. You can tell that the male/female
mix was more than averagely interesting. But you might also be aware that
they were all coupled off, long before I found out about that scene (grr!)
The journey up was interesting too, perhaps finding out too much about the
strange and murky depths of Pixie's psyche, from a close-up examination of
the contents of his van. *Especially* the Kukri (Gurkha Knife) I found under
the passenger seat! To any police reading this, if you are looking for a
serial killer, then I suggest you might start there!
Dangercon itself was pretty undemanding, I got roped into some quiz which we
won, there was a fair bit of drinking that bordered on industrial levels,
but stopped when I got tired, a long time before I got "emotional". We left
quite late on, working our way back home through London traffic, and getting
back, very tired, at some ridiculously late or early time the next morning.
Vocon: "That was only a very average room party. Real ones are like orgies!"
Dangercon was only a scene-setter for the main event, the culmination of two
years of planning by Pixie. This was the VoCon event set in a place even
sunnier than Croydon, Gravesend in Kent, commencing in early October '93,
three days worth over a very long weekend.
This was the big one, as far as Pixie's Hitchhikers Guide themed computer
room was concerned. There had been years of planning, and weeks of work
beforehand. My party report in Maggie 13 recalls an especially stress filled
week beforehand, especially when it came to getting the software to make the
sound effects work in the computer room. The code for this wasn't actually
ready until mere hours before the party kicked off, sometime after midnight.
A nice chap called James Ingram, who has very occasionally turned up in the
pages of Maggie, was the person responsible. I've still got the software in
a diskbox somewhere.
The Friday afternoon resulted in me ferrying a carful of timber, computers,
an obsolete and heavy drinks vending machine, and lots of other garbage, to
a motel somewhere in Gravesend for this three day madness.
Pixie's main gimmick for the computer room was to get some hidden STs
connected to pressure pads as some form of extended mouse button, in order
to trip a random range of speech samples, thus surprising the person on the
receiving end. That is what the week-long nervous breakdown was all about.
Additionally, we did some dressing up in costume as a couple of characters
out of the Guide, the Deep Thought disrupting Trade Union philosophers
Vroomfondel and Majicthais. A television camera for some local news caught
us larking about, I wonder if anything ever got shown?
We had an interesting Saturday night, when Dave 'Darth Vader' Prowse came to
visit. There was quite a lot of drunkeness, following in the DangerCon vein,
particularly on the final night room party. Pixie managed to live up to his
expected comedy potential, as he did not wear hangovers very well at all!
The final night room party passed with a triumphant roar of vodka drinking,
only momentarily electrified with an arousing hint of violence in the air!
no harm was done though, apart from the depletion of the Reverend Jim's
vodka supplies! Thanks buddy!
I enjoyed the party, still a little bit on the periphery of the in-crowd. A
lot of the time I spent in the computer room, which was sort of a compulsory
thing to make sure our stuff stayed where it should. It is really a bit of a
shame to say that the technical wizardry behind the computer room was
somewhat under-appreciated. Even Dave's famous 'Real Hitch-Hikers Guide'
crashed ingloriously on the one occasion more than three people were in the
It was with some sense of relief, that I got back finally on the Monday.
Inconceivable: "Damn, I appear to have mislaid my room!"
'Inconceivable' was something different again. The child of the oxymoronic
sounding Science Fiction Humour Society, otherwise known as 'Octarine'. This
kicked off in May 1994, at a place called Draycott Manor, somewhere near
In contrast to the uninspiring Vocon motel venue, Draycott Manor was
something seriously cool. It was a tudor-styled hotel with an ampitheatre,
where the bulk of the events took place. Learning some useful lessons about
overdoing things, we opted for a lower key version of the set-up we used at
Vocon. There was no drinks machine, this had been dumped as quickly as
possible after Vocon, fewer machines generally, and with the effects located
in a more central location relative to the rest of the party, in the market-
stall dealers room. The computer area, and strange sound effects were
something of a success this time!
This also have the major benefit of being left safely unattended. So I
managed to see more of the actual party this time. There was lots more fun
had at this one than at Vocon, a large chunk of the earlier party having
passed me by.
The many highlights included a piss-take of the Saturday night moron-fodder
pseudo-combat teevee proggy 'Gladiators', a water pistol fight which
threatened to involve the UN security council. There was a speeded up
'convention inside a convention', thanks to a psychotic chap who provided
the munitions for the water fight called 'Bazooka'. Pixie got dragged into a
live action version of the very popular computer game Lemmings. There was
something called a "seance", which took place when all three main
participants were too drunk to go on, so which collapsed under the weight of
its own incomprehension. Simo compered something called "The Degeneration
Game", which ended up with him splashing around in a paddling pool full of
green slime. The Reverend Jim, always a popular cult figure, starts slicing
up cuddly toy animals!
There were huge amounts of fermented and distilled grain and grape abuse.
Not to mention the weed that causes people to exclaim "Hey wow man!" A
tolerant hotel policy aided and abetted us in the pursuit of drunken
pleasures. Any place which manages to keep the bar going all night, and
providing post-midnight chip butties, has an extra-special place in my
heart! We joined a room party which turned into a hotel-wide party! This
then turned into overnight enforced insomnia when Pixie got drunk even more
disgracefully than usual, and having been bodily thrown out sulked off in a
locked bedroom, which had a fifty percent ownership stake in it by the
author of this textfile! (Grr!) Still, that was good practice for future
Some of us made it right through to dawn, the next day. Some of us managed
to come up with wild and not totally believable anecdotes about their past
life, one John 'Wag' Waggot stated that he was a proud ex-satanist, having
left that organisation due to "theological differences"(!) Some of us
managed to keep their breakfast down better than others (grin!)
I kept going on that one, with only a couple of hours sleep grabbed mid-
morning, and managed to keep going until 3am the next day!
Overall, Inconceivable was the most successful of the three parties. I felt
I got to know people a bit better than before, and took part in it more
fully, in fact, at the centre of the action in some respects. You can see
the full story ("The horror, the horror!") in Maggie 15, including quite a
lot of stories that I didn't have scope to include in this more limited
report. Mind you. I've managed to include some stories which haven't been
told properly before in this account! (Such as:- John Campbell-Rees, got
very silly and tried to throw himself out of a hotel room on the top floor -
*should* have read 'John Campbell-Rees, ripped to the tits on drugs, tried
to throw himself out of the top floor of a hotel room!")
With this resounding success, surely there should have been more to come?
These sci-fi parties sound like a load of fun, and everyone gets drunk like
a bunch of Finns at midnight. What happened? Why no more?
Well it just drifted apart, the Wellingboro' Computer club was not such a
central focus anymore, Pixie drifted away to some extent, and I let my ZZ9
Plus Alpha membership lapse. In the future, a bigger role on the Atari scene
beckoned, the beast called 'Maggie' took over more of my life, and a bit
later than that, I was getting excited about going to these distant and
fabulous things called 'Coding parties'. I *could* have stayed with the sci-
fi people, and gone into their world a lot more closely, but I would have
been playing a very minor role on the diskmag and demo scene. When it came
down to it, first love triumphed!
This world still turns in parallel to our own. For those really determined
to make the most of their fandom, there are events even on a world scale
called 'Worldcoms', with real famous science fiction authors and
celebrities. This would be something like the equivalent of the main summer
demo party 'Assembly', but make it somewhat bigger. And it would probably be
just as much hard work to sit through one of those!
The ZZ9 guys are still active, and have a website which encourages
recruitment, but doesn't give too much away online, it seems their inner
world is private and can only be accessed in the pages of their regular
Additionally, Dave 'Pixie' Hodges has gone online with the Guide, or
selected exerpts from it at the following address.
You can see pictures of the man himself there too, scary! Yep, he's the one
holding the overgrown budgerigar! And, yes, he's still got a snailmail
address which looks like the one his parents live at... (Unless he pickled
their bodies and stashed them in the cellar, the last time they pointed out
there was too much mess from the untidily stacked motherboards in the
CiH, for Alive! Mag,August 2002.