L-R Graeme Harper, Eric Saward, Philip Hinchcliffe, (Cassandra), myself
Last weekend, I went to Dimensions 2006, my first Doctor Who convention in three years, and my first ever sober. That even includes my debut in 1979, when surreptitious halves of cider
enlivened my thirteen-year-old diet. Was there really any doubt whatsoever that I would become anything other than a problem drinker? The last one I went to in 2003 really shows where those sips of cider led to - bumming cigs all weekend, wondering around with a piss-stained crotch while hugging alarmed actresses, passing out in the lobby, losing my jacket, wallet, and camera, and classiest of all, renting breakfast for half an hour before returning it to the hotel via the U-bend. AA say you have to hit rock bottom before starting recovery, and that weekend still burns in my memory as almost too painful to recall.
So, it was with some caution that I arrived at the Swallow Hotel, Stockton, a couple of hours' train ride from Edinburgh last Friday night. I took my time freshening up in my room and didn't hit the lounge until around ten. I was greeted by some old pals, some of whom I've known socially, and others who I've worked with. Four and a half hours later, I was still up gossipping.
In my last few years of con going, I felt I was starting to haunt them rather than participiate - I'd linger in my hotel room, drink alone all day, and not really get involved with any of the programmed events. This weekend, I was still alone for some of the time, but quite electively - I'd decided to carve up the homogeneous days of guest interview panels and lounging with quick stints in the hotel's mini-gym and quicker interventions with my laptop, which spent the eekend batch processing radio dramas. If that sounds a bit tragic, do consider that it's a way of ensuring y to-do list gets ticked even when I lose a valuable weekend at home. No, actually, it does sound ncredibly tragic.
I was a bit tense on Saturday, because a few days earlier I'd had my offer of conducting on-stage guest interviews taken up, and been scheduled to talk to Philip Hinchcliffe, Graeme Harper, and Eric Saward on stage on the Sunday morning. Despite keeping a notepad with me all day, I'd come up with no more than a handful of ideas. The on-stage cabaret on Saturday night took my mind off it, starting with Butlins-style entertainment and becoming gradually more subverted to the theme of the weekend until climaxing with Toby Hadoake's Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, a show which resonated even more with me than Will Smith's Misplaced Childhood at last year's Fringe. A quick introduction handshake with Hinchcliffe and Harper and I was off to bed.
I woke early and practiced some asanas as the sun rose over the Tees, and then (me, not the sun) bumped into Hinchcliffe waiting for the lift. He had produced my favourite Doctor Who stories, when I was exactly the right age to appreciate them, and is now a youthful educated sixty-something. I wasn't quite dumbstruck, but his lack of any kind of frothy bonhomie froze my attempts to make small talk. Panic began to grow, and I beat it down.
Into the green room, where the event staff were being warm and efficient, and made me, a mere guest interviewer feel appreciated and special. Harper came in and, sensing my slight anxiety, helped me feel at home. I'd spent an evening in a hotel bar with him 21 years earlier and I knew he'd be fine, and he was. Finally Saward arrived, even cooler than Hinchcliffe, yet almost amused at what was going on around him. We were escorted to the stage, where I was introduced, walked on through the TARDIS doors (to a round of applause! Oh yes!) and introduced my guests. I'd worked out an opening question and primed them all beforehand, and we were still covering it 20 minutes in, the first time I checked my watch. I felt like Tony Banks after the second song of Genesis' first concert without Peter Gabriel - of course it was going to be alright - how could it not have ever been alright?
I was very pleased with the way it went. I matched Hinchcliffe and Saward's educated tones, moved discussion on with supplemtary questions, and passed the ball between the three of them until they were doing it themselves. I threw it open to the floor fifteem minutes before we closed, and mostly got sharp questions apart from the one I'd been expecting from the convention's pet eccentric, and another from an elderly lady from nearby who'd misapprehended both Hinchcliffe's role (former, not present producer) and agenda (Doctor Who's audience should include adults, not comprise them). I interceded and all was well. In the green room later, Hinchcliffe enthusiastically praised my questions, and in so doing, made my weekend. Wonderful man.
I breathed out. Then I noticed Paul McGann in the room. Eek. At least his sudden appearance wasn't as startling as that earlier of Will Thorp, who essentially played the devil in Doctor Who this year.
The rest of the day involved watching my pals from Big Finish take questions on stage, and a few more of the interview panels, the highlight being Paul McGann and his immediate predecessor Sylvester McCoy on stage together reminiscing about how they had exchanged the keys to the TARDIS ten years ago. And, if I'm honest, enjoying all the costumes being paraded around the lobby, for a variety of reasons, some more noble than others.
Unlike three years previously, I came away feeling optimistic and fulfilled. I'd seen my mates, met some heroes, laughed out loud a lot, stoked my desire for recognition and approval, and tentatively renewed relations with a couple of publishers with a view to maybe, just maybe, getting back into print in the next year or two. I'd finally met face to face a friend I made on-line over ten years ago, completely by surprise. Best of all was spending a weekend with a very old friend, who doesn't drink, and had, I think, almost written me off as a hopeless case. He seemed impressed and relieved by my continuing recovery. That alone made it worthwhile.
Back to normal this weekend, for two days of domestic fun, including setting up our new compost bin, and the new James Bond film. I wonder which I will enjoy most. No, really.