Monday, April 09, 2007


Right, having imaginitively name-checked the National Anthem, it is time to make an account of my recent visit to that rather splendid country for the 2007 World Horror Convention; the location was Toronto, and an Air Canada plane (with a decidedly ropey selection of in-flight movies) served as my mode of transport.
As luck would have it, I met up with fellow convention-goers, Mick Sims and Len Maynard, at Heathrow Airport; so, having checked through customs, we split the price of a taxi to the Marriott Hotel. And a very sumptuous place it was; I've never had a hotel room with such a huge bed.
Slowly but surely, familiar faces began to arrive; Chris Teague, Stuart Young, John Tarvis, Allyson Bird, Gary McMahon, Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan (recently married and making a honeymoon of the convention). That night, several of us made our way across the city and enjoyed a brew in a pub called 'The Elephant & Castle'. It was a very English place, only the baseball games on the television screens spoiling the illusion. I began to think that Toronto was a damn fine place to hold a convention.

Up early in the morning, and almost having to drag myself out of that wonderfully comfortable bed, I partook of a cooked breakfast before making my way to The Eaton Mall Shopping Center for a look around. Frustratingly, no-one seemed keen to open any of the shops, so I returned to the hotel empty-handed. (The shops, I later found out, opened at ten-thirty, so I bought my souvenirs later that afternoon.) Kept up with world events, courtesy of the free newspapers left outside the guest bedrooms in the mornings; nothing cheerful going on, but at least we were having a good time; so much so that - outside of the dealer room (where I tried, to no avail, not to buy any books) - we didn't get to see all that much of the convention. Still, when you travel 3000 miles to a location, you don't want to spend all your time in a hotel; and Toronto certainly had its share of attractions.
Occasionally, we chilled out in the hotel lounge bar, and it was here that we had a chat about (or, more accurately, Steve Saville delivered a lecture on the subject of) Doctor Who. Later that night, I went out with John Travis, Stuart Young and Chris Teague in search of food; however, this search ended up in the Eaton Mall, where we were served a rather mediocre chinese meal. We returned to the hotel, and ended up in the Hotel's Sport's Bar; which served an excellent pint of Guinness and became our preferred watering hole for the rest of the convention. (The women's wrestling matches, shown nightly on the television screens, had nothing to do with this preferance, I hasten to add:-)
Mind you, it was the beer at the convention parties that drove us there :-(
Guy goes to Toronto, see's a sign saying Drink Canada Dry, and says ... 'I'll certainly try!' Well we did; literally ... the provided beer was a particularly gassy brew, so we ended up drinking cans of that world famous ginger beer, which someone had provided with a great sense of occasion.
Saturday Morning, and it was time to go on our travels. Stuart Young and Ally Bird decided to stick around the convention, but I set off with Chris Teague and John Travis on a visit to that spectacular attraction, The Niagara Falls, a lady called Gill Ainsworth and her bubbly teenage daughter, Kim, joining us. Making our way to the bus station, we purchased return tickets ... and I finally got to travel on a Greyhound Bus.
Settling into a comfortable seat (blue, with a pattern of leaping greyhounds woven into the design) I enjoyed a relaxing journey that had me wondering (as I tried to stay awake and admire the Canadian scenery) why British coaches aren't nearly so comfortable. Admittedly, in The Americas they have a lot further to travel, but all the same ...
I fell into conversation with Gill, a discussion that was cut short when a sleepy young lady poked her head out of a blanket and said, "Hello - Yelling over there?"
Well no, actually, we weren't; and I certainly wasn't aware that I was taking a ride in the little madam's private bedroom; still, minutes away from our destination, I refrained from any sarcastic remarks and allowed her to resume her beauty sleep.
The Falls are a stunning natural feature, but you really need to go there dressed as an Eskimo; for this raging maelstrom is surrounded by its own private winter. Ice crystals surround the area like snow, and the crashing waters throw up a spectacular column (known as The Lady of the Mist) that rains down on the surrounding area for hundreds of yards all around. The waters of the Niagara leading up to The Falls boil like a storm-tossed sea, even when the weather is perfectly calm.
We ventured into the cave system that took us around the back of The Falls, snapped a few photographs and got thoroughly cold and wet ... but this magnificent spectacle had really made the journey to Canada worthwhile.
Back to the hotel for the climax to the convention, The Stoker Awards; a ticketed event, alas, so I was somewhat precluded; however, as the women were turning up in stunning dresses and the men had donned their best bib and tucker, I was a little underdressed in my jeans and Toronto - Canada tee-shirt. later in the bar I bought a book off Gill Ainsworth and commiserated with her failure to pick up an award for her anthology Aegri Somnia ( ) .
Later that night, I attended a reading by Conrad Williams before catching the end of the Gross-out competition, in which several writers tried to see who could be the most outrageous. (The winner told the story of a man who was convinced that the ghost of his late wife was living up the butt of a dead dog ... and as that's probably too much information already, I'll leave the rest to your imagination - suffice to say, it wasn't for the faint-hearted!)
Next day was Sunday, and it was time to start saying our goodbyes. There was a closing ceremony, where we got to applaud the organizers, and then a final party in a hotel room. On a ledge, a laptop computer piped music into the room. Trust Chris Teague to place his beer bottle on that ledge! There was a clatter, a hiss of spilled beer, and a look of sheer panic on the face of Mister Teague. The lady who owned the laptop raced across the room (with impressive speed, I might add) with a handful of tissues and a catastrophe was narrowly averted. Instructing the room in general (and a somewhat sheepish Chris Teague in particular) to put their blasted bottles on the table where they belonged, she returned to her duties as hostess. That was when we decided it was time for a sharp exit to the sports bar for a last look at those female wrestlers ... er, for a final few pints of that excellent draught Guinness (ahem) before retiring for the night.
The next day, after a final visit to The Eaton Mall to buy a few gifts, I made my way (again splitting a taxi with Mick Sims and Len Maynard) to the airport; it was all over for another year.
In all, this event had had the most British feel of them all; British style pubs, a park with a statue of Winston Churchill, a panel with Peter Crowther and the estimable Ramsay Campbell thundering about the place. Now I'm back in Blighty, with some really great memories of the first World Horror Convention to take place outside of America. In 2008 it's to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, which doesn't sound nearly so inviting ... then again, who knows? I suppose The Mormon State is as good a place as any .
And speaking of Chris Teague, here's his take on events

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