Fred Pohl's Loncon II Reminiscence
The great thing for me about Loncon II was where it was. Although I had spent a couple of years in Europe in World War II, courtesy of the all-expense tour given by the U.S. Army, I had spent it all in Italy and France. This was my first time in England, and it was wonderful. London was a dream. Some things turned out to be just as advertised. The red double-decker buses ran on the wrong side of the street, as promised; people quaintly paid for things with actual shillings and pence -- by which I do not mean those boring decimal things they use now, but big round twelve-to-a-shilling copper checkers that tore the lining out of your pockets. Some things were quite surprising -- as, for instance, discovering that most of the staff in English hotels didn't speak English. It was a very educational experience.
The con was held in the Mount Royal Hotel, on Oxford Street, a few blocks from the Marble Arch, the Speakers' Corner, and the whole stretch of Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens. That was purely magical, too. We were all where H. G. Wells had walked, and A. Conan Doyle; S. Fowler Wright and W. Olaf Stapledon had crossed these very streets, and, nearly as legendary, John Wyndham and Brian W. Aldiss were actually sharing the convention with us.
Brian, in fact, was the GoH at the con. A witty, erudite, good-humored one he was, too, as much of a boon companion as he has proved to be, on four continents and in scores of cities, in the decades since then. I think that was the first time Brian and I met; I know it was the first time I'd ever met John Wyndham -- in the flesh, at least, although I'd been his American literary agent for a good many years while he was writing some of his most famous works, like The Day of the Triffids.
And then, on the last day of the con, my English editor, John Bush of Gollancz & Co., stole a dozen or so of us away to visit his country home on the Surrey-Sussex border. We had tea; we had scones; we had fresh fruit picked right out of John and Sheila Bush's garden, on the grounds of a house that had been begun in the 17th Century and partly demolished by a V-1 in the 20th. It was a fine trip. I missed the business meeting by being there. Turned out I missed more than that, because that business meeting was where the site for the next year's con was decided; and if I and a couple of friends had stayed to vote, our ballots could have made a different outcome for the 1966 site selection -- could, in fact, have made a winner out of the committee that had picked me for its GoH.
Well, you can't have everything. I had enough. We even managed a couple of sidetrips -- to the only cathedral in the world with a spacecraft in its stained-glass windows; even, along with Jack and Blanche Williamson, to mad, mysterious old Stonehenge. Every Worldcon gives the people who go the chance to meet old friends and make new ones, but usually all you see is the hotel and the nearest McDonald's; this one also gave us England.
I still think of Marble Arch as the heart of London. It happened that last year my wife and I spent the spring in London, in a flat a few blocks away from the Mount Royal, and I passed it almost every day. Sadly, the Lyons Corner House is gone from the corner and the traffic is worse than ever. But the hotel looks just the same, and London is still London.
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