being an accurate and concise account of the tour of Brentford borough on the sixth day of the sixth month in the year one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight.
Recounted and told by Lee.
Well, here goes.
|Robert welcomes everyone to Brentford|
There's a question that doesn't really bare thinking about, yet one that just begs to be asked.
What do you get when you mix the minds of two such strange individuals as James Bacon and one Mr Robert Rankin?
Well it's probably not a very good idea to dwell on what we could get, lets look instead at what we did get, The Brentford Magical Mystery Tour, or as it was more commonly known, The Grand Tour Of Brentford.
Someone once said, "writing is an art form. The tale, a picture painted with the colour of words." I've no idea who said it, I think it was Hardy. Or it may have been Laurel. But it matters little here. The point is that its not a very easy task I have here, to paint this days picture and get across its magic. Its simply not something that can easily be summed up in a few words, no matter how colourful they are. Robert said that it was "orgasmic", James was mostly to be seen wandering around dewy eyed and sporting a manic grin, loving every minute, and everyone else, well hey, there were more smiling, laughing, happy faces about the place than I could count. So how do you describe something like that? I don't know how to even begin to try and get the feeling across, but I've been asked to have a go so a go I'll have.
|Walkabout in Brentford, with Robert and Dr Steven Malone|
As I trundled down the motorway on the Friday morning in my rattly old Ford Sierra, I had to smile to myself. It was actually happening, this thing, that was pulling so many like minded people together from all over the world, travelling as one almost, all with a common goal, all homing in on the same place, guided along invisible paths toward the tiny borough of Brentford and its unsuspecting general public. It was all coming together. And just that gave me a buzz. I'd been planning on going ever since the Brighton event almost twelve months before, and now it was here. Cool.
I landed in London in the early afternoon and met up with James who'd been there since Thursday meeting people and tying up a few loose ends. Friday afternoon was just a time to chill out before the big day, soak up some good vibes, meet people and generally get used to the beer. If you know what I mean. And I'm sure that you do.
The day itself, Saturday, dawned if not bright then cheerful. Overcast skies hugged the heavens and birds filled the air with the sound of their song, cartwheeling and dancing above Ealing Common like good uns. Buses rumbled towards Ealing Broadway the way they did in the Antipope and the sun was doing her best to break through the cloud cover. The day had begun.
|The Flying Swan... cunningly disguised as The Bricklayer's Arms|
At ten of the morning clock James came a hammering on my door and by eleven we were sitting large as life quaffing Large at the bar counter of The Bricklayers Arms, aka The Flying Swan, place of Legend and Myth and Perfect Pints. But there was work to be done, badges to be cobbled together and plans to be made. And as we all know, `the best laid plans of mice and men......'
Across town a bus was pulling up at the train station and a mighty army of gathered fans was congregating, tension was high, they'd all paid up a goodly wedge, travelled far and travelled wide. By car they'd come, and by train and plane also, and all were eager with anticipation. Would Rankin show up? Would he be as weird in life as he was on paper? Would he be giving out freely with the sexual favours (this was from the girls!). But more importantly, would he be getting a round in (this from the lads!!).
Back in the Flying Swan things were getting stressful, the sellotape and safety pins were out, and a fine little assembly line was on the go with the badges. Neville was still doing the business behind the bar and his other half kept us going with chip cobs. Twelve drew near on the clock. And then who should show up? The main man himself, Robert Rankin. But lo, what is this, not one Robert Rankin but two, and as if this wasn't enough, Alex made up the Rankin party three. Robert had only bought his family along. Smart.
|Expectant fans wonder if James Bacon has run off with their money...|
Presently a scout party of myself, James Shields and the now legendary Cardinal Cox of Sonic Energy Authority infamy was sent to check out the crowds at the bus. Remember those best laid plans? Well now they begin to crumble. The crowd checked out ok, there were no murmurs of rebellion as yet and plenty of pretty girls. The James Shields fan club, membership one, was there, Dr Steven Malone was there, the bus was there and the driver had decided to hang around to, and he wasn't a right miserable bastard like most bus drivers, ahem, although he did have some bad bad news.
Shortly Robert Rankin and Robert Rankin jnr showed up and everyone suddenly looked very happy. We let the first Robert break the bad bad news to the happy people while we took shelter behind the bus driver. There was no P.A system on the bus. A spanner in the works that went down quite well and spoilt things not at all.
Robert gave a brief talk to the multitudes, names were shouted out school register fashion, and the bus was slowly loaded. Maps of the Brentford Triangle from Robert and badges were handed out expertly to all who wanted them. There was some other freebies to, although I didn't get any. I didn't even get a map and I was handing them out!
|"I'm sure the Allotments were somewhere around here..."|
Brmm Brrrmmm went the bus all of a sudden and we were all on and off on our tour. Now for any minding their own business pedestrians, its a tradition, or an old charter, or something, that whenever an open topped double decked bus comes down the street, full to the brim with people, that what you have to do is stand and stare bemusedly as it passes by. Or wave hysterically, or just point and laugh. Or pretend you haven't seen it. Well all this and much more was done by the friendly folk of Brentford as we trundled noisily by with Robert stood up at the front pointing things out and waving away. Hello's were helloed and waves waved. Car horns went pip, pip, pap, and honk, and on we trundled, as you do. All the sights were there (with each getting a cheer or jeer as and when appropriate). The Memorial Library, now aptly renamed the Pyramid Centre, along with Jim Pooley's bench next to it, were the first sights to be cheered as we turned out from the station. The police station, as so often frequented by Jim and John, got a good `Boo', and the Lateinos & Romiith building, without any windows, was spooky. No one really knew where the allotments were, they were under a car I think. Something was under a car in a giant multi national supermarkets car park anyway. There was a great big hole where the Gasometer had once stood, and a Mc Donalds had replaced a pub in typical sacrilegious style. There was Fudgepackers emporium, a beautiful building that's now home to a great collection of pianos, there was Jack Lanes Four Horsemen pub, and Bob the Bookies across the road, Norman's corner shop and of course the Flying Swan, the football ground minus its pyramid, the wife's legs café, as always closed, and again the Flying Swan. There was Soap Distant's house on Albany rd, and John Omally's on Mafeking all covered over with ivy, there was the Water Tower and the Flying Swan again, and the football ground, and the Flatblocks and around we went, round and round and round. But there was much, much more than all those places we have come to love over the years. All the places Robert was sacked from for twenty nine! Robert amused us all with tales of his early employment, the sackings, thievings and skivings. And all the pubs he'd been drunk in. The atmosphere was very relaxed and oh so informal.
The trip was halted almost half way through for a leisurely wander around the millionaires Butts estate where we saw the Professors house and waved to the Professor, where we crowded into the street outside Dr Steven Malones house and held up traffic, and then we moved on to the Seaman's Mission where we trampled the lawn. In style of course.
|You know how it is... You wait all morning for a bus, then three come along at once (well, actually only one).|
The tour was split into two halves, with each half being a complete tour, giving everyone a chance to sit upstairs so that everyone got all the tour up and down. I think it worked, how I don't know but I think it did. Mid point saw us retire to the Swan for beers. There was an opportunity to buy some books, old and new and rare, and get them signed and stamped by the man himself on this the only ever Brentford signing tour. Cool. It was a time to sit and talk and drink and drink and drink. Most stopped in doors, soaking up the ambience, a few sat outside in the beer garden and talked bollocks as is the thing to do. Robert signed away like a good un to a seemingly never ending line of fans, and chatted to each in turn. The tour resumed some two hours later after much ale, and more laughs were to be had as the beers took effect.
Later, at around 5.30 the bus pulled up outside The Castle Pub in Ealing and we all retired into the laid-on back room and beer garden for a chat over beer, and a few eats. Everyone was happy. Robert held audience for most of the afternoon and evening, talking to any who would listen, and there were many. Its around this time that I got very very drunk and so whatever happened next is vague. I could have sworn Robert got a round in, but this can't be true. I recall an auction. It was fun and a good chance to pick up some very rare stuff at bargain prices. Proof copies and first editions were snapped up eagerly, with Robert refusing to sell me stuff cos I was too pissed! Cheers Robert. Someone bought a book that was mine. Bastards. But good on you mate, I really hope you enjoy it. No I do, you've got a gem. The auction was pretty mad, what Robert did to the Pratchett book is unprintable. Books that couldn't be sold earlier in the evening for a fiver went for much more, and one bloke even outbid himself. Tee shirts went and books and photos and rare scripts went and cups went to, whoops. I hope you all enjoy what you bought, in years to come they'll be a great reminder of a fantastic day.
But sooner or later it had to come to an end, our host wound down the night as people began to make a move homewards by signing the books he'd just sold and answering questions one to one. All left happy, some wobbled, some held precious books close to their chests and smiled the contented smiles of those who've had a good time in good company.
And a curry put the perfect end to a bloody good day out.
|James and Robert with a big pile of books to sell in The Flying Swan|
Turn out was good with over seventy members filling the bus, crowding into pubs, drinking lots of beer and buying lots of books. You all went a good way to promote the club, and at the end of the day the people we met liked what they saw, and this gives us a chance to do it all again another time. We all had a bloody good time and we all came away happy. What more can be asked for?
I would like to thank the following people persons, because you all deserve it, each and every one:
Thanks must go out to all who turned up and made the event what it was, ORGASMIC. These things just can't be done without you. Thank you.
Individual thanks though to Billy for sorting the bus and doing loads of leg work, to Rachel for calming me down and saving me money, Steff for the badges, James for the busses, all the bar maids and staff who put up with us, the bus driver who was totally sound, those wonderful people from Transworld; Gillian and Fiona, the sons Rankin, Robert and Alex. And a personal thanks to the guy who lent me his camera at the Swan and who I never got to thank later with a beer. I owe you one.
And of course Most Special thanks to those lads James Bacon and Robert Rankin who it couldn't have ever been done without. Thankyou thankyou thankyou. I'll see you all at Octocon.