Portsmouth Were and Fur Meet I, 20-21 February 1999
PORTSMOUTH MEET I
This is my personal view of the Portsmouth furmeet, an event that had a deep personal significance as it helped me through a bad time with my crohns treatment. I'll skim over the events that led up to the meet for me to give some context if you want to then skip forward a few paragraphs to the meet proper.
I'm on cortico-steroid treatment for crohns, and one of the many side effects of these drugs is depression. On the Wednesday and Thursday before the meet I hit a real low. I know this is a reaction to the drugs but that rationality doesn't help you deal with the emotional states. I took Friday off work at my partners insistence, and traveled to my parents. I needed time to recharge. We also had tickets to the play "Guards! Guards!" that evening in Coventry where my parents live so it was convenient too. My parents knew about the fur-meet, although they have a very, very light weight version of what being furry entails. Mum finally asked what the group called itself, so I told her. Her response "So, my son is a furry", still caught me by surprise though. I guess its something I never thought I would hear.
The play was very good, its been a fair while since I laughed out loud in a theatre, the last time was a comedy set in a vasectomy clinic. I had no idea how a Terry Pratchett book would convert to the stage, so I wasn't expecting great things. The two swamp dragon puppets stole the show for me: there's definitely a market for swamp dragon plushies. The orang-utan librarian was also very good - especially believable as he swung from one shelf to another. Carrot, Colon, and Nobbs were just as I imagined them. Finally, Paul Darrow (Avon from Blake's 7 - though he's gained weight and thinned out on top) played Vimes, and revealed a real humorous streak - improvising and thoroughly confusing the guy signing for the deaf at the side of the stage. I'll be keeping my ear to the ground for a version of "Men at Arms" - which has the werewolf character Angua in it - maybe even meet up with other uk furs for that?
I started out for Aylesbury to pick up Matt & Hawx at around 6:30, and soon discovered that while the map I'd used to plan my route was reasonably up to date, the one in the car showed large sections of the M40 and M3 as vapourware. I ended up arriving in Aylesbury from completely the wrong direction, and having to phone Matt to re-orient myself. Seeing the sun rise over the Chilterns was a definite plus, I just wish I hadn't been driving straight into it at the time.
The journey down to Portsmouth was fairly uneventful, except for a short detour for a closed road and some minor confusion when we arrived at the second stretch of "vapourware" motorway. The roads in Portsmouth were another matter: considering the place is bounded on all four sides by sea water, its hard to imagine a more confusing collection of streets and most of the signposts were labelled "out of city" even when pointing in opposite directions.
We arrived at the "Moorings" guest house (a fairly typical conversion of a town house to a bed & breakfast place) about 10:15, and hung around in the lounge for the next two hours as other furs arrived from distant parts of the country, and nearby hotel rooms. It was about this time that we began to notice the timewarp effect: flyers for local exhibitions turned out to have already finished, furnishings seemed to have been rescued from the 70's by an intrepid time traveller with no clear recollection of what he'd already obtained. Besides the nautical-themed nik-naks you'd expect, there were a few you wouldn't like the electric sander and a glass cabinet containing just a white LP carry case. The oddest item had to be the clog-boat-lamp which clearly was the result of a horrible transporter malfunction. The place also came with three dogs, all of whom enjoyed scritchies from the assembled furs and weres - 17 in all I think. Two of the names still elude me as I don't know them from alf or WereMail.
The trip to Marwell zoo began rather ominously with various attempts to jump start Ragtag's car, which eventually had to be hot-wired. We lost the lead car of our convoy with the only furs who really knew where they were going at the first roundabout. We did all get there in the end, thanks to a smattering of mobile phones ;>
I must admit to being a little apprehensive about visiting zoos these days, it only takes one unhappy looking animal or cramped cage to bring me down. However Marwell had plenty of space to spread over, and the cages were of a reasonable size. First up though was lunch, and the first curry of the day which was very pleasant. Curry seems to be the staple diet of UK fur meets - I do wonder what will happen if the Britfurs get to Anthrocon and there isn't a curry house.
I think the highlights of the visit for me were watching the lioness, seeing Swampy enjoying the company of another croc, watching the young snowlepoards play, the bush dogs scamper about, and the tigers - I just like tigers. On top of that I got my first ever wolf plushie in the gift shop: a small hand puppet which had one ear up and one down - maybe not a pure-bred wolf, but he reminds me so much of Konig. I could have easily spent a whole day at the zoo. Marwell also has a business conference centre - maybe one day it could be the site for a proper furry conference, though I suspect their rates would be prohibitive.
The zoo closed at 4:30, so we headed back to the Moorings, except for Swampy's car as he had to pick someone up from the station I think. We had a couple of hours to kill before our next meal, so after exhausting the possibilities of the hotel lounge (which didn't take long) someone came up with the idea of walking to the beach. Portsmouth's beach is a large bank of rounded stones and pebbles, with a flat area of sand that appears as the tide goes out. Standing on the damp sand in the dark was just one of those moments that seemed "right" for me. A brief firework display across the water in Gosport provided some interest before we walked along the beach to the pier and beyond. Thanks once again to mobile phones, we managed to meet up and get to the restaurant which was, of course, an Indian.
I do like good Indian food and the shami kebab and chicken khurma were certainly good, but re-reading this reminds me of Lister's diet on Red Dwarf. At least I didn't have curry for breakfast too. It was a good chance to sit and talk, and we certainly must have done because the time seemed to fly past. Swampy had booked a function room at a nearby pub so we would have somewhere to go after the meal, an excellent idea. By the time we got there, we just about managed a couple of leisurely pints before "last orders". Chama provided a lot of the entertainment: someone had a CD of his and other furs music, and he also juggled for us. A succession of furs discovered the anthro-dog art in the lavatory, but only Sandroo managed to find the 'roo picture behind the bar.
Swampy had kindly offered to put me up for the night in his house, something I was very grateful for considering the rather flaky nature of my health right now. I had an excellent night's sleep, the first in a week or so, thanks in part I'm sure to the comfort of one of Swampy's 6 foot long croc plushies. Is his room furry themed? I'd say so - I think I could spend a full day in there and still not spot every 'gator and croc.
I finally got to hear Swampy play his pipes on the Sunday morning, and they certainly are an impressive instrument. Just the engineering is something - but the sound is something special. In the confines of his bedroom, and sitting only a couple of feet away, I got the impression of sound coming from everywhere. He was just warming up (I'll have to take his word for that - it sounded just fine to me), when the phone rang, and off we rushed to the Moorings.
Just about everyfur was standing around outside. Apparently the owner had taken exception to our presence, the stated reason being litter in the lounge, and something about a pantomime (but there wasn't anyone dressed up as a cow, horse, or a cat ... "Oh yes there was" ... "Oh no there wasn't!").
Off we went to Havant Thicket: a wooded area with an ornamental lake, a couple of smallish islands reachable by a bridges, and a folly. Being outside, and tramping around the woods soon seemed to revive everyone's spirits. Chikki found a tree that he just had to climb, it leaned over a rather black looking stream so everyfur watched and photos were taken. We didn't get to find out how much tigers like dirty water though. Chikki wasn't the only tree-climbing tiger: we "lost" Lunariia on the way back to the cars and spent a short while looking for her, but of course we forgot to look _up_. I wonder what it is about tigers and trees?Lunch was at a nearby pub which maintained a strange demarcation between its restaurant and bar staff: the food could be ordered at the table, but we all had to walk to the bar to buy drinks. Solulo produced a small plush pull-string toy that slid along on its belly by vibrating. I can only assume that the knapp of the plush had something to do with its odd motion. Needless to say this caused plenty of amusement, and also debate as to what kind of creature it was. It had a mouse-like face and ears, but the body was much darker and had spots. Was it a hedgehog, ladybird (ladybug), or dormouse?
That's more or less what we did. Of course it doesn't begin to explain the sense of freedom and happiness I get just from being in the company of other furs and weres. There's definitely some kind of connection between us. How else would 17 furs and weres, many of whom were meeting for the first time, get along so well?
We stood around in the pub car park, saying goodbyes to Utlah and Megadog (did Stormrider leave too? - short term memory problems are another interesting side effect of my meds.). This is where that other reality begins to make its self felt again, and you know that the meet is coming to an end. As we all ended up going back to Chikki's house anyway, we did the goodbye thing again there too.
Chikki managed to find enough mugs for us to us to have tea or coffee and we sat an talked through the afternoon. I imagine the combination of having had time to grow comfortable with one another, the first really private moment we'd had, and the impending end of the meet contributed to the flow of conversation. Chikki did make an effort to find us another pub to hang out in. His conversation with the telephone directory enquires was one of the sillier moments:
Everyfur giggles and laughs, Chikki turns a shade of deep red. I'm not sure if he ever got the number, we never actually went there.
My crohns chose this moment to play up, so I was really thankful to Chikki for rushing off to the shop to replace the bog-roll which had been purloined by one of his flat-mates, and Swampy for comforting me on the half-landing. Also thanks to Chama for giving me a really good scritching when I returned to the lounge, you've no idea how much that helped. I was feeling rather tense, but mellowed out very quickly. The fur-pile soon grew and was a great way to end the weekend, not that anyone wanted it to end. The lounge didn't actually have any curtains, so I'm not really sure what passers-by on the street, or the man in the first floor room opposite thought about the 'pile. To be honest it was so "right" I don't care.
Its always hard to tear yourself away from these things, even when you know there's a long journey ahead. Chama made things a little easier by "bulldozing" as all out of the lounge, once we'd had our extended goodbye hugs and scritches. There's a fur who is suprisingly strong, its been a while since I've been lifted off the ground by anyone!
Having Matt, Hawx, and Sandroo to keep me company for the journey home is certainly alot easier to deal with than travelling alone from one of these meets. The journey back was pretty uneventful, apart from a near miss as we were caught alongside a lorry that decided to change lanes just as something else was haring up behind us.
I could probably write as much again about the character we met at Aylesbury station when we dropped off Hawx. While we waited for the train to arrive, he told us his life story from schoolboy to divorcee, and how prostitutes make the streets of London safer. At least Hawx had someone with him on the train, even if he did get his ear bent all the way into London.
I was beginning to feel a little odd after dropping off Matt, so Sandroo fed me oreos and wine gums to keep me going. It was 11 at night and I hadn't eaten since lunch - I never really feel like food after leaving furs. All night eateries aren't common in the UK, and the Little Chef we eventually stopped at had decided it was time to start serving breakfast. I have to say the 'roo has fallen on his feet as far as flat hunting goes - lots of space, and pretty central. Finally, the trip home alone, and crashing out with a head full of fur, the alarm set for 6am, and the jolt back to work. Ack!
All in all a wonderful time, and a desperately needed breathing space for myself. I feel _so_ much better, thankyou _all_ for pulling me back from the edge. Thanks to Chikki and Swampy for dealing with the "feature-creep" of getting a few of us together for a weekend. To Chikki, Swampy, Matt and Sandroo for helping me though Wednesday and Thursday. I guess its times like this that I realise just how important my extended furry family is to keeping me sane (by my standards anyhow).
Okay, I'm ready to do it all again ... when's the next meet?
All text and images Copyright © 1999
by "Lone Wolf" unless otherwise stated