MANCON 5 '76
by Tom Perry
First published in Mota 19, 1976
MEIN CAMP by Tom Perry
Exactly how I recognized the man as Walt Willis I don't know. But the moment he entered the convention hall from the back, during Ramsey Campbell's talk on horror films, I knew that was who he was. I had seen him before only in photographs and ATom caricatures, but in a sense I felt that I knew him better than I did most of the people I see every day. The chance of meeting him face to face was the main thing that had drawn me to the Eastercon in Manchester, England. How curious, I thought; here I am at last in the same room with Willis (a rather large room, admittedly), and the circumstances are such that I can't talk to him. I turned back to the front of the room and tried to concentrate on the speaker.
It had been more than 20.years since I received my first issue of HYPHEN. I had been reading sf for three years at the time and while I knew that fandom existed, I had little interest in it. In fact I regarded it with a certain mild contempt, which I had acquired from a paragraph in L. Sprague de Camp's Science Fiction Handbook. I regarded fans as frustrated sf writers; obviously you wouldn't write anything for free if you could make money doing it I was 14 years old.
The bundle of green and orange pages that came on a bright snowy day in November 1954 changed my attitude forever. They contained magic. None of the other fanzines I had seen possessed this. HYPHEN excited my sense of wonder just as sf had when I first started reading it. I quickly switched from writing terrible science fiction stories to writing terrible fannish articles, and not long after that -- weary of receiving rejections from faneds who didn't appreciate the concession I had made in writing for them -- I resorted to the fannish version of a vanity press and published the first issue of LOGORRHEA.
I had no mimeo but I did have an allowance and I managed to find a shop in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, that would run off my stencils in exchange for it. A fair number of letters of comment resulted from that first issue. One, typed on the back of a map of Ireland, was from Willis himself, who managed to find several things to praise.
Kind letters from several of the BNFs of that bygone era convinced me that my first ish had been a great success. This left me facing, in my own mind at least, the same problem that successful first novelists encounter. Also, my discovery of girls resulted in other demands on my limited financial resources. In consequence the second issue of LOGORRHEA didn't appear until 1963, almost seven years after the first. Through college and well into my first job and my first marriage I preserved those letters of comment, and they formed the letter column of the second issue, with Willis leading off. Seven years between issues -- how's that for time-binding?
I stuck with the original title for a few more issues, even though the readers had no enthusiasm for this obscure medical term; certain crude individuals professed to believe that the title was DIARRHEA. Eventually, I shortened it to LOG and then changed it finally to QUARK. This word has roots in nuclear physics, journalists' cablese, and James Joyce, and thus makes an ideal fanzine title. So ideal in fact that it was later used by another fan who either didn't know or didn't care that it had been used before. He didn't even pay me that courtesy that Calvin W. "Biff" Demmon had accorded to Gina Clarke when he found himself using a title that she had used previously. He had written her apologetically saying that obviously there should not be two fanzines with the same name, and therefore he was changing the title - of her fanzine. When WARHOON suspended publication; QUARK acquired Willis as a columnist. To me this was the next best thing to being Willis. All my life I. had been subject to bouts of hero worship, with the object of adulation changing from time to time. The incumbent idol at this point was Robert Heinlein, but he was falling from favor as I matured and his writing degenerated, with Willis taking his place in my esteem. In several senses Heinlein and Willis are antithetical: Willis, for instance, regards sf and writing with the love that is the root of the word amateur, while Heinlein has said publicly that to him they are just the easiest way of making money. Heinlein has married his science fiction to the convention of realism by making the future seem as dull and familiar as the present, while Willis makes the world that exists today seem intriguing and exciting.
As the quality of Heinlein's published work declined in the early 1960s, Willis' writing was acquiring a new depth and fascination. A corresponding change was taking place in my subconscious attitudes towards life. Fittingly, it was a combination of Willis and Heinlein that brought an end to QUARK.
My life had assumed a strange dichotomy. I was disillusioned with my job as a journalist and my marriage was falling apart -- but my heart was light, for I was the faned who published "The Harp That Once or Twice." In a spasm of uncharacteristic fairness I changed the nature of QUARK by putting a price on it. Up to that time I had sent it to anyone I pleased and stopped sending it to anyone who I felt didn't appreciate it. But I had the idea that reading Willis was a basic fannish right, which I could not withhold from any fan. Besides, I thought that Willis deserved a wide audience and felt guilty about the comparatively paltry circulation of my fanzine. Willis didn't request this and I never discussed it with him -- I just did it.
Several issues later I offered to publish excerpts from Alexei Panshin's critical work on Heinlein. I had read that Heinlein was threatening to sue Panshin for libel and thus causing publishers to shy away from the manuscript. My motives were not as idealistic as they may sound. I had studied the laws of libel and slander in journalism school and from the description of Panshin's book I doubted that Heinlein would have a legal leg to stand on. If he did file a nuisance suit I felt sure I could rely on my father's law firm for legal representation. My chief motive was simply that I wanted to read the manuscript.
Panshin sent parts of it and I read them. They were disappointing. Heinlein had nothing to sue about, and hardly anything even to resent. Panshin was in fact a great admirer of Heinlein, as his own sf books were to demonstrate. This was the book that Advent published as Heinlein in Dimension, and if you've read it you'll remember that it consists largely of extended plot summaries and criticism that seldom delves deeper than the mechanics of story writing. Panshin's harshest comments are reserved for Heinlein's treatment of sex.
I had boxed myself in. I should have forthrightly reneged, but I couldn't bring myself to do so. My initial offer had been made under the pose of fearless idealism, and now I didn't have the guts to chicken out.
On the other hand I really didn't want to stencil all those pages of bland comments. Panshin might have consented to a condensed version, but the nature of the manuscript's publicity had been such that condensing it would have given the appearance of omitting parts offensive to Heinlein. I looked for a strong piece to excerpt, but there was simply nothing I thought strong enough. My own review of Farnham's Freehold had been more vitriolic than anything Panshin had sent me. So I did the worst possible thing: nothing. Meanwhile a sercon fanzine, RIVERSIDE QUARTERLY, began to print other chapters of the book, and mentioned editorially that the rest of it could be found in :QUARK, giving my address. Sticky quarters began to roll in. Some of these fans wanted me to send them two or five copies of my fanzine. Universities attempted to subscribe The mail would bring five or ten envelope's a day from people I had never heard of. Sometimes I didn't even open them -- just shoved them into the fan cabinet and resolved to figure out what to do later. My situation was complicated by the fact that my marriage was on its last legs and I' was actively searching for another job. Willis seemed to be retiring from fanac; so were other QUARK contributors. The rent that Pacificon II had torn in fandom was widened further by the Vietnam war, which was to split the whole country.
Finally it became obvious that QUARK had followed HYPHEN into a state of suspension. Panshin sent a terse note, demanding the return of his manuscript. I sent it, lacking the heart, to send my lame apologies. I also started returning the subscription money.
Shortly after, in 1967, I left the' midwest, the profession of journalism, and my first wife all at the same time, traveling the 1300 miles from Omaha to New York in 24 hours of straight driving, stopping only for gas and coffee. I also left behind my fannish identity. My fanzine collection went to a west coast collector, including all my copies of QUARK -- every-thing had to go; from now on I would be traveling light.
The one thing I did keep was a bound copy of The Harp Stateside by Walter A. Willis. I had always regarded this as a book, not a fanzine. For years it was my only link to my former life. So when my job brought me to England in 1975, I had been gafiated for almost a decade. My one tenuous tie to fandom was MOTA, which Terry Hughes continued to send me over the years even though I continued to swallow up the issues as the chasm of an earthquake swallows houses. I have always said Terry is generous to a fault.
It was through MOTA. that I started getting interested in fandom again. I sent off for some English fanzines Terry had mentioned -- EGG and TRIODE. They arrived around the first of April, along with notes from their editors, Peter Roberts and Eric Bentcliffe, both of which ended: "See you at Mancon." Almost simultaneously came a letter from Terry Hughes bearing the information that Walt Willis would also be at Mancon. That cinched it. With the help of Eric Bentcliffe I managed to get registered as member number 570 only days before the beginning of the 27th British Science Fiction Convention. Good Friday found me speeding the 300 miles from Locks Heath in southern England to Manchester in the northwest. I had to rely on good old fannish intuition to find my way since my wife had thoughtfully taken all the maps of England with her while she drove my in-laws around Cornwall. The one map left in the house was the Daily Tele-graph map of Europe, which was a bit out of scale for my purposes, extending as it does from Iceland to Iraq. I managed to get a fix on Manchester from it, but I could find no trace of Holmes Chapel in Cheshire where I was supposed to meet Eric Bentcliffe. To this oversight on the part of the Telegraph's mapmakers I attribute the subsequent events.
I missed my appointment with Eric at his home, so I proceeded on to Owens Park, a campus of the University of Manchester, hoping to meet him there. I didn't stop to think how I would recognize him. I suppose I must have imagined that -- since I had a beard, an American accent, and cowboy boots -- I would stand out and he would recognize me. As it turned out this combination helped me blend into the crowd.
I registered and moved my luggage into my room. This involved a walk of a quarter of a mile to a dormitory quadrangle called Tree Court, followed by mounting three flights of stairs. This failed to excite my sense of wonder -- I simply accepted it.
At this time I had been a stranger in a strange land -- Europe and more particularly England -- for over six months and I'd got into the habit of accepting things, from French plumbing to Danish prices, without protesting. My room was sparsely furnished, there was no telephone, the john was down the hall -- no matter. I had survived worse: living in a tent on an Indian reservation, in a barracks on an Air Force base, in a small hotel in Paris. If I had realized that this campus convention had been the subject of a storm of fannish controversy for months previous, or that there was an alternative, I might have felt differently.
The programme claimed that Eric Bentcliffe was even now on a TAFF panel which also included two other old friends, Roy Tackett and Pete Weston. I hiked back to the con center -- a separate building in the dorm complex incorporating a bar and lounge downstairs and the auditorium upstairs -- only to find, instead of-a TAFF panel, a single person haranguing the audience about TAFF. `How many of you support TAFF? How many of you have ever voted in TAFF? How many have heard of TAFF?" He glared around at the uneasy fans in the room and stomped out, undoubtedly to set vinegar traps for flies. I surmised that he was not Eric; he certainly didn't sound like Eric.
I milled around in-the crowd downstairs, looking for someone to talk to. I knew there were at least three people here -- Weston. Tackett, and Bentcliffe -- that I'd corresponded with. It was frustrating not to know what they looked like. But I kept hoping to make a connection somehow. Maybe I'd see one of the fans I had met years ago in America, or one of them would see me. As I looked around I began to realize that, even if I did or they did, recognition was unlikely. Hair has been cultivated on so many male faces in the last decade that few are left unchanged. My own Van Dyke was a case in point.
As I looked around for old friends, I noticed that eyes darted away from contact with mine. This situation changed suddenly when I leaned against a cigarette machine. Now faces began to turn my way. I smiled hopefully at several people, only to have them hurry past before I discovered the reason -- I was standing beneath a professionally lettered sign that said: "LISA CONESA would like to state that she has no connection with the Lisa Conesa who the programme says will be holding a poetry soiree. The real Lisa Conesa will be holding a vodka-and-lime -- refills welcome." At this point I decided to abandon the passive approach. I acquired a pint of bitter and looked about the room, thinking that perhaps I could just start a conversation with someone and ask where to find Eric and the others. This wouldn't be easy -- I am not naturally gregarious -- but I have learned how to impersonate an extrovert well enough to get by in American society. I looked around and found myself standing next to a small man with a gray mustache.' He was alone and looked- terribly bored. He'd probably be glad to have someone to talk with, I thought, and ventured a friendly "Hello'.
He looked around sharply at me. Then he looked down at the convention badge pinned to my jacket. He stared at it. I looked down too, wondering what he was staring at. For the first time I noticed that there was a tiny space left for filling in your name. My eyes met those of the little man again and he gave me a pitying smile which seemed to say: The badge is right. You are nobody. Then he turned away.
I tried to tell myself that he was just a rude old fart, -but actually I was shattered. I went out into the sunshine, sat down on a bench, took out a pen, and wrote TOM PERRY on the badge as clearly as the minuscule space allowed. Then I sat looking at it. It was a futile- gesture: Not only was the name impossible to read for anyone of normal height and eyesight -- but could I really expect anyone to remember my name after all this time? It seemed unlikely. Perhaps I could practice saying very quickly: "I put out a fanzine about ten years ago -- perhaps you've heard of it -- its name was QUARK." For the first time I appreciated the fact that that other guy had used the title too. If they didn't remember my fanzine maybe they'd remember his and take me for him. At least it improved the odds a little.
I decided to give it another try before letting one rude. clod, get me depressed -- the downed pilot taking another plane up before he loses his nerve. I looked about for another subject. Young people I discarded out of hand -- there was no chance they would have read QUARK; besides, the girls might think I was making a pass, and in this modern age the boys might, too. I spotted a middle-aged man on the sidewalk' in front of a building called the Tower. He was fat and bald (not to say -ing), and was all by himself. He looked bored. As a matter of- fact he didn't look like a very promising conversationalist, but I was getting desperate for someone to talk to, and at least it didn't seem very likely he'd reject me -- or anyone. So I walked up to him.
Before I could speak, three other men of similar age converged on the fat one. They broke into animated conversation, ignoring me. Well, not quite ignoring me -- each of them kept glancing at me from the corner of his eye. I stood there waiting expectantly, thinking that they would turn and speak to me as soon as they had this apparently urgent business of theirs settled. Suddenly the four men moved off, each in a different direction, as smoothly as close-formation fliers in an air parade. One second they were there, the next I was alone on the sidewalk in the square in front of the Tower. I blinked. Had there, really been four men here just an instant ago? From across the square someone snickered. He had apparently witnessed the whole thing. At least I had confirmation that it really had happened.
I walked slowly back to my room, ignoring everyone. I wasn't about to take another plane up only to get shot down again. I had to give this some thought. I lay down with an sf book I had bought in the huckster room and, after letting my emotions cool off a bit, turned my fine fannish mind to analyzing this problem.
It occurred to me that perhaps here in Manchester I was meeting British people for the first time, after living in their country for six months. Perhaps they really were more formal than I'd ever realized. My encounters up to that time had been either with trades people or with Britons working for an American company, many of whom had lived for a year or more in the U.S. Even then there had been hints of a different style of manners outside the company; one secretary had told me that she had had to address her boss on her previous job as Mister So-an-so, even after having worked closely with him over several years.
I had spent two weeks in Germany and had learned to shake hands solemnly with my co-workers each morning. I had spent two months in Paris and learned an even more elaborate ritual. If I could respect such foreign modes of behavior, then certainly I could also learn to get along with Britons on their own terms?
It was also possible that this was a fannish mode of behavior. I had read in various con reports of the problems of shedding neofans. My own feeling was that this total ignoring of another person was far more rude than just saying "Piss off, mate!" to someone who had actually turned out to be a pest -- but perhaps the second course of action was more difficult for many people. Ignoring everyone you don't already know is an impersonal act, and in a sense more passive, than rejecting someone after you've allowed contact to occur.
Perhaps it was a British custom, or perhaps a fannish one, or perhaps some of each -- but obviously you couldn't simply walk up to people and introduce yourself and expect a friendly reception. There had to be an introduction of some kind. Not necessarily a formal introduction -- my correspondence with Eric Bentcliffe, followed by phone calls, culminating in an invitation to visit, had apparently been an acceptable way of getting acquainted. Clearly I had been foolish not to make damned sure I arrived at Eric's in time -- then I could have driven him from Holmes Chapel to Manchester and been introduced to others by him. But I had been too casual about the whole thing, even to starting on a 300-mile trip with no maps; now I was paying for that casualness. Obviously I needed to find Eric or the whole trip would turn out to be a waste. A glance at the program showed he was going to be chairing the official opening of the convention at 8:15 in the bar. I would just have to wait till then. Meantime I would stop trying to introduce myself -- it was accomplishing nothing except bruising my ego and alienating people.
Having reached this conclusion I felt much better. In terms of Transactional Analysis, I had interrupted an ancient dialog between my Parent and my Child: "Tommy, go out and play with your little friends."/"They're not my friends! They keep beating me up. I don't like them."/"Oh, don't be so sensitive. Go on out now,that's a good boy." Instead of continuing to play this fruitless game, Ihad invoked my Adult and come up with a rational solution. I felt pretty good about it all. So good in fact that I was ready to venture out of my room again. I would stop trying to make contact -- I would just sit and enjoy the programme. As it turned out I picked a good time. In the con hall Ramsey Campbell was speaking on horror films. At the start it sounded dreadfully like a sercon analysis, but fortunately it degenerated into a series of beautiful quips, such as: "In the film Sodom and Gomorrah we learn that God is English when he takes the hero-into the desert and says, 'Now it's all up to you lot.'" And: "In The Fly, the fly has the man's head and can talk. The man has the fly's head, and he can talk. Now, who got the fly's brain? -- Probably the script writer."
It was during this speech that I looked around and saw Willis entering the auditorium. At last I had recognized someone. It seemed ironic that I had just promised myself not to walk up and introduce myself to anyone. Well, I would stick to it. Certainly that was one contact that I wanted to make correctly.
I turned my attention back to Campbell.
But not for long. Someone walked up the aisle and sat down noisily about four rows behind me. Chairs were scraped around. Once settled down, the newcomer began to interrupt the speaker with shouts of "Haw!" and "Rubbish!"
Campbell politely pretended not to notice, but I turned around to glare. And wound up staring. It was the man I'd recognized as Willis. I felt like a pilot who'd been shot down three times in quick succession.
He wore a look of smug arrogance. In one hand was a pint of ale and in the other a cigarette. His feet were propped up on the chair he'd dragged so noisily into place. Obviously this was not the Willis I knew. Over the years, through his fan-writing and correspondence, I had gained a clear picture of a gentle, thoughtful, sensitive man, one who combined intellect and warmth, deft wit and compassion. This attitude permeated all his work in a most convincing manner.
I had grown used to discovering that fans I met face to face were different from the personalities that radiated from the pages of their letters and fanzines. Biographies of writers suggest that those who are skilled with words often use them to distort their own images -- indeed this seems to be one of the most common motives for writing; I know I've done it myself. But this was worse than distortion. Obviously the Willis that I knew from his column and such works as "The Harp Stateside" was a complete fabrication, as calculated and phony as the generous, friendly, folksy images that are created by ad agencies for ruthless greedy politicians. Those who might be tempted to expose him were deterred by the devastating wit he could unleash when necessary. I could think offhand of a couple of fans who had attacked Willis. They had been ostracized by other fans, including me. But apparently there had been some basis for their attacks. Certainly the man heckling Ramsey Campbell could not write truthfully. "I have never been able to think of anything so important that I had to shout it." Willishad written those words in admonishing a loud and obnoxious American fan, years ago, and I had reminded myself of them many times when I -felt the urge to raise my voice unnecessarily. Sometimes it had helped. I doubted that it would after this.
The Campbell talk ended and the room emptied. It was supper time but I. didn't feel like eating. Back I went to my room in Tree Court. I was hot and tired and my emotions were once again getting the better of me.
There were two possibilities, I reflected. One was that Wilis was a fake and always had been. The other was that he had changed over the year - that his success in fandom had goine to his head and changed him into the hideous gibbering unspeakable thing I had seen in the con hall. Perhaps he had even realized this even if only subconsciously -- and this change had caused his gafiation in the mid-sixties. There is no way to discipline fans, no way to keep them from laughing raucously at what they consider funny; this is why no one has ever been able to impose a military dictatorship upon fandom.
Once you get a swelled head, it will tip you over and drag you down. Fandom is the one place where hat size is directly related to capsize.
Probably then Willis had once been something close to the Willis I thought I knew through his writing. Perhaps 20 years of Fannish success, or his automobile accident, or the publication of his book, or the troubled situation in Northern Ireland, had changed him. Whatever it was, it had happened. The man I had come here to meet no longer existed.
By this time I was in a real funk. I can't remember having felt so bad since 1961 when my best friend put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head open. If this seems like an extreme emotional reaction to a few minutes of noisy behavior, I guess it is -- but it happened., Looking back I can only surmise that the stresses of my recent life contributed to my reaction. For six months I had been living in a foreign country and traveling in several other foreign countries, with the attendant subtle emotional stresses that that entails, and for the past week or so I had been living in an isolated state -- work had taken me to Denmark the previous Monday and Tuesday, and when I returned Wednesday my family had driven off to explore England with my visiting in-laws, and I had spent Wednesday and Thursday nights in an empty house. The events of the last few hours hadn't helped, either.
But in a sense the malaise I felt was largely my own fault. All my life I had been too ready to venerate mortal men, only to reverse my feelings sharply when each one in turn revealed human flaws. Possibly this constant seeking for the perfect father figure had something to do with the fact that my father was flying missions over Germany when I was growing up. Or perhaps it was a characteristic of my generation, as indicated by the wide popularity of Superman and Batman comic books when we were young.
Whatever had given rise to it, though, I was now an adult -- and a father, too, come to think of it. Certainly I ought to realize as well as anyone the limitations df fathers and their surrogates. We were human beings, that's all.
Slowly, over the course of an hour or so, an attitude that I had held for a lifetime began to change, and as it did my depression began to lift. At the end of that time I realized what folly it was to castigate Willis for a few minutes of boorish behavior of which I might easily have been guilty myself. I pulled myself together and decided that from then on I would use ideals as a goal for my own behavior; rather than trying to measure others by them. And I would try to guard against this tendency of mine to enter into blind hero-worship. There are no heroes -- only people.
Sobered by all this reflection, I washed up and headed back to the bar, where Eric Bentcliffe would soon be opening the con. On arriving at the bar I discovered that the Official Opening had been moved upstairs to the con hall. I went on up and found a spot in the crowded room where I could lean against a wall.
Eric and Pete Presford were introducing famous fans and pros, who would then rise briefly while everyone went clap clap clap. Many of the names I didn't recognize, but I clapped anyway. Suddenly I realized I was applauding the man I had recognized as Willis. I hadn't caught his name, but it definitely hadn't been Walt Willis.
I had now been nursing my misconception for over two hours, and I found, it difficult to shed it all at once. If that man wasn't Willis, who was?
James White was introduced and stood up. Bob Shaw was introduced and :proved to be dwn in the bar. Avoiding this situation was the reason the Official Opening had been planned for the bar in the fit place. Unfortunately so many people. had shown up to see Shaw actually present as his introduction that it had had to be moved, and he had not moved with it. "And now," said Eric, "I'd like to introduce a man whom many of you will recognize when I say that his father was a printer and he merely reverted to type--"
I recognized the famous pun. It dates from the days of the printed fanzine SLANT, and had been made famous by Rog Phillips, who had repeated it in one review after another in his fanzine review column (yes, that's how long ago it was -- back when the prozines had fanzine review columns) until the puns authord had written another column about that repetition.
Everyone.in the hall was applauding now, so that Eric had to raise his voice to finish: "... Let me introduce WALT WILLIS! Walt, where are you? Ah, there he is in the back of the hall." All eyes turned to focus on a man in a bright red cardigan sweater who was not ten feet from me, perched easily on a deep windowsill in the corner. The man, stood up, waved and nodded to the crowd, then retired back to his nook. Eric went on to introduce others.
I stood there trying to think clearly. Here I was standing ten feet from Willis.. I had decided earlier not to try introducing myself to people -- but certainly this was a different situation? I had corresponded with Willis, contributed to HYPHEN, sent him a bootleg copy of "Fanny Hill," written to the United States government about his missing luggage, published "The Harp That Once or Twice" in QUARK.
Furthermore, he had been to the U.S. twice and had liked it. He knew that the easy, open manners of Americans -- which undoubtedly struck many Britons as brash and pushy -- were just our own way of showing friendliness.
Could it possibly be wrong just to walk those ten feet and say hello? Wasn't it almost ridiculous not to?
The most compact and powerful computer known to man ingested all this raw data and massaged it thoroughly before producing, once again, the wrong answer. I pulled myself together and walked over to Walt.
"Excuse me, I wonder if I might introduce myself," I said carefully, being a little more formal than is usual with Americans. "My name is Tom Perry." Willis blinked. He shook my hand and said absently, "Pleased to meet you. ... Oh, excuse me," he added, and moved over to where James White was sitting. White had just motioned him over, saying, "Here's a seat for you, Walt." Obviously the seat had been there all along and White was providing the getaway route in the unlikely event that someone would commit. the incredible gaffe of forcing himself on Willis.
I sat down in the windowsill from which I had just chased Willis. It was easy to think, "Maybe he just didn't recognize my name," but that thought was inevitably followed by another: "Maybe he did." I started planning to leave the convention early the following morning -- obviously it was too late to drive back to Southampton that night. My gaze traveled back to the front of the auditorium, where Eric Bentcliffe was still introducing people just as if nothing had happened. "And finally,' I heard him say, "I'd like to introduce a fan I haven't met myself -- but whom I was supposed to meet this afternoon. Is Tom Perry in the room?" There were puzzled glances and shouts of "Who?" I moved forward out of the shadow and waved to catch Eric's attention, while trying to imitate the hearty grin of the American extrovert. "Ah, there you are, Tom. In the back of the room is a fan of many years standing --"
The fan of many years standing was suddenly invited to sit. I found myself seated next to Pete Weston and directly behind James White and Walt Willis. Willis scrunched himself around backwards to talk to me. "I thought you said your name was Derry. I was trying to figure out how some bloody Englishman could have the nerve to call himself Derry..." James White turned around to whisper, "Why do the English speak English with that horrible English accent?" -- always my favorite of his many deathless quips. Pete Weston was reciting from his bottomless memory all the street addresses in America to which he had sent me copies of SPECULATION over the years of my gafiation. He had pursued me relentlessly across the continent; at times I thought he must have hired a private detective agency And I was sitting there trying to gat my vocal cords back into operation. After six hours at the Mancon, people were speaking to me.
A few minutes later I found myself seated in a corner of the bar, between Weston and Willis. As we settled into place I took a moment to study Walt's features. He has a rugged face with lines around the mouth and eyes that testify to his sense of humor -- he can express the equivalent of a belly-laugh by crinkling the corner of an eye. I didn't notice the multiple earlobes found in the ATom cartoons, but I did notice another feature I'm surprised has never been caricatured: the eyebrows, which extend out beyond the sides of his head like a guardsman's mustache. We three former faneds inevitably began to speak of how our fanzines had come to an end. SPECULATION had lived to a ripe old age, not petering out until well into its thirties, while HYPHEN's last issue was number 36. "Did you remember that you were a HYPHEN columnist, Tom?" said Walt with a twinkle in his eye. "'Perry and the Tirades' appeared from issue 36 onwards." The discussion turned to Walt's long gafiation. Inevitably it has to do with the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. Willis is active in the Alliance Party, a group of Protestants and Catholics seeking peace in Northern Ireland. "I'm doing all the same things I did in fandom -- writing, publishing, making speeches, trying to persuade people -- and I just can't stop. In this kind of work you always have this feeling that if you can do just a little bit more, it might make a crucial difference. That's why I haven't had time for fandom recently."
"I've read your book on Ireland," I said.
"It's a little outdated now," said Willis.
"Yes;" I said, remembering the note of hope in the final chapter. "Do you still think Ireland will be reunited?"
He sucked thoughtfully on his pipe, as if he knew the answer but didn't like to say it. "No," he said at last. "No. Too much has happened. I think-that eventually there will be a sort of repatriation, or an adjustment of borders."
Ireland's troubles interested me (one of my grandmothers was a Cassidy), and Walt seemed willing to talk about them, so we got deeper into the subject. It wasn't until Ethel Lindsay came up to talk to Walt that I noticed Pete was no longer taking part in the conversation. I turned to him. "Tom, you just have no idea how sick we English are of Ireland. It's been going on for years and it just never stops. And what's it all about? It's a goddam religious war, for Christ's sake. You know what we English say? That thank god it's the Irish who are planting these bombs in our country -- otherwise they'd do twice as much damage. As it is the damn fools usually manage to blow themselves up or plant a dud. Did you read what happened a couple of weeks ago in Birmingham? Five Irishmen planted these bombs, see, and they caught them because they all took the same boat train all gave false names to anyone who would listen, pretended to be traveling separately when they were quite obviously together, and so on. Hell, they probably had gunpowder under their fingernails! Anyone else would have laid low for a couple of weeks and got clean away." He shifted in his chair, warming to his subject. "I tell you, Tom, a couple of years ago, England went through a bloody awful winter -- no oil because the Arabs were embargoing it, no coal because our coal miners were on strike, the whole country was on a three-day week, and even the weather was horrible. All this time I was taking the Times and the Tele-graph, two papers that really give the full story, and I was spending upwards-of two hours a day reading all this bloody awful stuff. And then one day I just said screw it, and stopped buying them. What a great feeling! Saved myseif a pound a week and had more to drink and more time to drink it in." Pete gave a happy smile at the memory and took a long pull at his pint of bitter. But his mood changed again and he began to catalog Britain's woes, This is something every intelligent Englishman seems to do and in a sense it actually testifies to the country's basic health. What other country constantly undergoes so much self-criticism?
After finishing this gloomy recital he cheered up a bit. "But you know? --England is just going through a stage that all the other countries will come to someday. The British Empire used to span the globe, Tom. We conquered the world. We were first."
"Now wait a minute," I said, "what about Greece and Rome?"
"Let me modify that," said Pete. "We were the first to conquer the world when it was round." Pete also gave me my first inkling of the controversy over the consite by apologizing to me, on behalf of English fandom, over the discomfort of our surroundings. I murmured something about they didn't seem so bad to me, and he looked at me sharply, as if trying to decide whether this was a fannish put-on or was I possibly demented. Apparently he settled on the put-on, for he chuckled and continued explaining the situation that had put the Eastercon in such shabby quarters: "The same group wanted to put the con here last year, and a group of us got together a counterbid solely to keep them from doing it. But they wouldn't give up the idea, so this year here we are." It began to dawn on me that the other Easter conventions had been held in comfortable modern hotels, and that this one was an anomaly not only to myself but to the British fans here as well. Peter enlarged on his theme, branching out to the general lack of organization: "Take the TAFF panel this afternoon. The committee told all the participants it was going to be Sunday afternoon. Or take the lack of a fancy dress period --"
They've got one scheduled now," I interrupted, pointing to the latest revision of the programme which had been posted on a blackboard near the door.
"Sure they do, now," he said. "But originally they didn't. I said to them, 'You didn't say you weren't going to have fancy dress,' and they said, 'Well, we didn't say we were going to have one, did we?' And I replied, 'That's not the point -- you didn't say you weren't. Hell, Tom, for 27 years these conventions have had a fancy dress period. A lot of people put a lot of time and work into costumes every year. No one told them not to this year. So the committee said, 'Uh, do you think maybe it would be better to have one?' I told them, 'You're going to be fucking well LYNCHED if you don't!' And so now they've got it scheduled."
Traces of the consite controversy could be found even in the Mancon 5 programme book. The Chairman's Address by Peter Presford hailed the campus Convention as an experiment and somehow associated it with greater numbers of fans and pros coming to the Easter conventions. He contended that a hotel convention kept many fans from attending. "Staying at the Convention Hotel to some is a mere dent in their monthly salary, to others it is six-Months of hard saving. And if they are like me it means staying outside the Hotel in a local B and B with their family. ... The University Campus Convention allows everyone a far greater choice. It means basically that no one cannot afford to slty Where the action is. For those that require that little extra comfort ..fair enough, they can spend as much as they wish. They are not lmited by the Convention Hotel. ... Do you know there are folks who stay outside the Hotel so they can spend an extra £15 to £20 on books." By "B and B" he means "bed and brsakfast," a form of accommodation to be found throughout England in private homes; i imagine an American equivalent might be a boarding house, or renting a spare room from a hard-pressed family. In a B&B you would have a small, sparsely furnished room, no private bath, no telephone, and a long trip to the convention hall. It can't be entirely a coincidence that these were exactly the conditions that prevailed on the campus at Owe.ns Park. The Manchester group had in effect turned the con into one enormous B&B.
One thing that hurt the con was the absence of telephones. Modern human beings can endure all sorts of privations without harm -- after all, a hard bed is still a bed, poor food is still food --- but severing links of communication truly diminishes human potential. We had all of us traveled to this town in northwest England simply to communicate with one another,' and now one vital instrument of communication was missing -- the common. taken-for-granted-everywhere telephone. By Saturday afternoon fans were leaving messages for each other scribbled at the bottom of the blackboard by the entrance to the lounge below the con hail; above these messages could be found the latest version of the official programme.
You could also argue the statement that the campus convention meant "that no one cannot afford to stay where the action is." If you define "the action" simply, as the official programme, okay. But for most of us our fannish friends and acquaintances count as part of the action, too -- not to mention the professional authors and editors. London's Ratfans stayed at a hotel nearby rather than in the convention dormitories, as they had announced they would months before. Some of the pros stayed there too.
The result of scattering congoers is that no one at all can stay "where the action is" -- because it isn't in any one place; it's been dispersed instead of being concentrated at one point. And that concentration was the whole point of the convention in the first place. Weston introduced me to Peter Roberts, the Fan GoH, who wore long blond hair and an incredibly wrinkled orange outfit. Roberts is the quintessence of modern British fandom -- young (around 25), quip witted, a follower of such quixotic causes as Cornish nationalism, vegetarianism, science fiction, and fandom. He is also a linguist and has recently turned pro by translating science fiction stories from German and Polish.
His renowned rapier wit was in evidence when I asked him about OMPA -- was there a waiting list? "Yes," he responded, with a malicious gleam in his eye, "there's a waiting list to get out." Roberts works for the British Museum. "Did you know the British Museum collects fanzines? In fact you have to send them two copies of every ish. I got a notice from them saying they were missing the following numbers: 3 7, 13, etc. And down at the bottom it says PTO, and on the other side is a list of the fines for failure to comply: .£25 first offense, and so on."
Of the two appreciations of Peter in the Mancon programme book, one focuses on the legend that he is immobile. This legend would have it that a popular sport among British fans is to gather together to watch him not move. To quote Ian Williams quoting Rob Holdstock: "'At one point he rose to his feet and the room fell silent, all eyes turned upon him. He stared at the floor for a moment and put one foot in front of the other, held the stance for a few seconds, then quickly reversed the position of his feet. The room was tense with expectation, but he shook his head and sat down again. It was a most disconcerting moment.'" I can now report definitely that Roberts does move. I was well along by that time, having consumed several pints of bitter after skipping supper and thus getting more use out of the alcohol than usual, but clearly remember (sort of) Roberts leading a party of fans to a room, thus creating a room party. Whose room it was I never established, nor can I recall the 20-some inhabitants by name, but I know Roy Tackett was there. I know because my notes include the foillowing conversation:
Tackett: "Say, Tom, you remember the furious battles between the duper fans and the mimeo cranks?"
Me: "Yes, but the duper Fans lost. Their pages are all blank now. There's one for sale in the huckster room -- all blank pages."
Roberts: "Oh yes, that OIon F. Wiggins fanzine. Twenty pages of paper, stapled together. Cost you a quid to buy it."
Some time the next morning -- I managed to get up about 7 o'clock despite not going to bed until 4:30 and without the use of an alarm clock or a wake-up call (there was no phone, remember); these British sunrises are relentless -- sometime Saturday morning I asked Roberts to describe the game of Fannish Football that had been played between the London Rats and the Gannet Flyers on Friday afternoon, Bob Shaw refereeing (FLYERS SHIT ON RATS, 1-0). Roberts and Harry Bell, the team captains, were nursing their aching muscles in the bar as a result of this unaccustomed. exercise. The word football in Europe usually denotes soccer, but this game had apparently been a modification on rugby football. This is sort of like American football without pads. And hence, I suppose, with tears. I tossed off a remark to the effect that it must be a very mild game compared with the American version. For some reason this remark inspired, Roberts to go into a delightful comic pastiche of the American game. "I think American football developed from the game as it's played at Eton, where the pitch is 220 yards long and ten wide," he said. "In ,America they put on these padded pants, and shoulder pads, and arm pads, and-rib pads, and finger pads, and spiked shoes, and top it all off with a big helmet with a face guard, so that by now you really can't tell who's in-side, if anybody is at all." He had donned these imaginary garments, yas he went along, and seemed to be hiding inside an American football uniform, though in fact he was still wearing the same wrinkled orange outfit (he had changed the shirt, you could tell by close inspection and asking him). "Then they sort of bounce about off each other, recoiling off the pads you know --" Hilarious bit of business, but if he wins TAFF next year he'll have to be deterred from performing it in an American bar. It could be fatal.
Later Saturday, Peter introduced me to Greg Pickersgill, who was sitting in the midst of a circle of Ratfans. He reminded me a little of a Hell's Angel I used to know -- an impression that was confirmed that afternoon at a faneds panel when he spoke with bloodthirsty relish of "burying Harry Warner in the wahfs."
But perhaps it was only his mood. "I don't like being in a waiting room," he snarled. A waiting room? I looked around. Sure thing -- the room, supposedly the lounge of a bar, was an exact copy of a thousand Greyhound and Trailways bus depots throughout America. Bad lighting, uncomfortable seats, rickety tables, cheap chairs, full ashtrays.
The Ratfans were holding a competition to see who could be the most bored. For some reason I couldn't get interested in this, so I went upstairs despite Peter Roberts' taunt: "Only fakefans attend the program, Tom."
In the con hall the Mastermind competition was under way. Pete Weston was posing as an expert on Heinlein. He rattled off the answers until con-fronted with the question: "What was the unpleasant profession of Jonathan Hoag?" Then he began an awful waffle. Something about the Sons of the Bird, the fourth dimension and I don't know what all. "It's really terribly complicated," finished Pete lamely. The moderator gave him a cold eye. "Hoag," he said, "was an art critic."
But surely the highlight of the competition was Bob Silverberg, who was enlisted as an expert on Bob Silverberg when the real contestant, Malcolm Edwards, failed to show up. He breezed through all the questions with an ease which would probably be impossible for anyone else, given that Silverberg's work falls into two periods with strikingly different characteristics (on the internal evidence, the change was probably influenced to some extent by LSD). An element of humor entered when he was challenged with identifying several goyische male names: "I refuse to answer on grounds it would tend to incriminate me," he said. They were, of course, Silverberg pen names. But then came questions on General Knowledge -- in this case, other people's sf stories. Silverberg disclaimed any knowledge in this area but the questions came anyway. After turning aside several with statements like, "Am I supposed to answer these ridiculous questions?" one came along that as worded so that he could answer it. "Name the dog in 'A Boy and His Dog.'" "Roer," said Silverberg quickly.
The moderator looked nonplussed, but after some urging from the audience marked it down as correct. " I can see I'll have to change the wording of the next question," he said. "Let's see. What did the dog call the boy?"
"What did the dog call the boy?" said Silverberg.
"Correct," said the moderator, marking down another right answer.
Silverberg never approached this high again, and the Mastermind competition was won by Ian Williams, the expert on Farmer. A few minutes later, going down the staircase into the bar area, I saw Silverberg at the bottom. "I first met you in Harlan Ellison's apartment in New York in 1955," I told him. "My name's Tom Perry." I knew he wouldn't remember, but I didn't want him to think we hadn't been introduced.
He gave me a keen glance "Ah, yes. You've changed a lot. Back then you had a crewcut." I stood there staring at him until he decided that I wasn't going to pick up my cue, and delivered the next line himself, though in a slightly disappointed tone: "I guess we've all changed a lot since then." I was still staring at him. Too right You've changed, I thought. True,. my crewcut had grown out and I had a small beard -- but he looked ready to step on the stage as Jesus Christ Superstar.
"Christ you've got an incredible memory," I said reverently. "How come you couldn't answer any of the general knowledge questions?"
He looked around to make sure no fellow authors were present. "Hell, haven't read any of those stories."
Then he stared into space and flexed his memory again. "I remember more about your visit now. You came through New York just before Jan Sadler or she came through just before you did, and said you were coming."
"That's right," I said quickly, and tried to change the subject. But he was not to be deterred. "No, wait -- now I've got it. You came through and said you were Jan Sadler; from Mississippi. It was only later that we found out you were actually Tom Perry, and Jan Sadler was a girl." "Oh ghod, you would remember that," I said, to the laughter of the little group of fans who had gathered around us, and murmured something about the fuggheadedness of youth. I had been 15 that year and like some other fans living in fannish wastelands I thought that hoaxes,Were the highest form of fanac. The fannish population of Nebraska tended to rise and fall with my moods. For quite a while I sustained an imaginary younger sister, and another of my hoaxes, Jim Caughran, actually took on a separate fannish existence; last I heard he was a member of FAPA. it took Dean Grennell to finally cure me of this tendency. I had submitted an article to GRUB which bristled with Laney-like sneers at all sorts of fans I considered fuggheads. Grennell sent it back with a tactful note, saying that he didn't think GRUE's letter column could sustain the barrage of comment it would generate, and then added impishly: "There's one sort of fugghead you left out of your catalog, which I mention only for reasons of completeness. That's the fan who switches sex with every letter like some sort of hapless hermaphrodite. This trend seems to have been inspired by Lee Hoffman (who did the same thing unintentionally) and now every neofan, on hearing about her, declares that whatever he/she was before it's the other thing now and isn't this the most delicious joke ever?" Answer: "(yawn) No!"
Grennell was wrong in one particular: it wasn't LeeH who was the model for my hoaxes, but John Courtois and his imaginary sister Jean and they lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, only 15 or 20 miles from Grennell's home in Fond du Lac. In retrospect it seems quite appropriate that it should be Dean's old pal Agberg who reminded me of this forgotten aspect of my early fanning. In a sense the convention seemed to be forcing me to knit together the threads of my fannish existence,' which I had' deliberately torn apart at intervals -- a clear case of sewing what you rip. That afternoon I heard Silverberg read aloud from Dying Inside, after which I immediately went to the huckster room and bought a copy of the book. Despite Silverberg's rather flat intonation -- or maybe because of it -- the power of his writing came through dramatically. It seemed a sorry commentary on the sf publishing world that the book was originally issued with a bug-eyed monster on the cover, thus virtually assuring that no one who would read it would like it, and no one who would have liked it would read it. Silverberg has managed to get it reissued with a cover that bore some relationship to the contents.
I ran into Willis on the way to dinner and we walked into the dining room together, only to be motioned to two vacant chairs by Dave Kyle. After sitting down Willis turned to me and said quietly: "In fandom today you never know what era your audience is familiar with. For instance, if I had said, 'Dave Kyle says we can sit here,' I wonder how many people would have noticed." I had to scan my memory banks for a full minute before this allusion to the Chicon in 1952 registered with me.
On the other side of Dave Kyle was one of the four men who had refused to speak to me in front of the Tower Friday. We were introduced over the length of the table; he turned out to be Keith Freeman. I remembered the name from a BSFA flyer distributed at the con that had urged me to seek him out and give him money for a membership; I wondered idly how this membership drive could succeed if he wouldn't speak to people he didn't already know. If we had been within speaking distance I might have needled him a little, but since we were at opposite ends of the table needling was impossible -- it would have had to be a shouting match, or nothing. I settled on interpreting his faint look of embarrassment on being introduced to me as an apology of sorts. In all likelihood it was really a symptom of indigestion.
For me Mancon came to an end Saturday night. I had an absolute unbreakable commitment to return Sunday to see my in-laws, who had then been in England a full week without my having laid eyes on them. It was unfortunate that they had chosen the two weeks over Easter for their visit, but they came by a cheap chartered flight booked months in advance,, so it would probably have been easier to get the Pope to change the date of Easter than to alter their plans. I finally got to spend a little time -- not enough -- Saturday evening with Eric Bentcliffe and his wife Beryl. Together we attended Dr. Shaw's learned discourse on the newest developments in rocket propellants. I lucked out of the room parties early that night, exhausted from having got so little sleep the previous night, or morning, or whatever the period between falling asleep and waking at cons is called. (There seems to be material for a fresh fannish neologism here.) Early Sunday, while everyone else slept, I left the key to my room where Eric could find it (he would use the room to sleep over Sunday night at the con), packed and left. As I departed from Tree Court for the last time, I noticed that its buildings were distinguished by the hexadecimal digits A, B, C, D, E, and F. These are the equivalents of the decimal numbers 10 through 15 and are used in computer programming because base 16 numbers concisely express base 2 numbers. In this sense then the court was a binary tree, a thought that gave me a smile as I carried my luggage to the parking lot. It seemed only fitting that this con, which had put me through so many changes invisible to others, would end with a private joke.
+ Tom Perry +