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Alive 6

                    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
"amiable misfit"!

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
coding parties.

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.

Alive 6