HEREWITH, THE FIRST INSTALLMENT of our TAFF report: we went, we came back, we had a marvelous time. Next, the details -- and that's where it gets harder.
Oh, we made plenty of notes. We also brought back 465 snapshots, twelve hours of dictaphone cassette tape, and a large paper sack full of printed ephemera ranging from Northern Irish tourist pamphlets (a little earnest, but they try hard) to an authentic crumpled receipt from a Wimpy bar. Documentation, y'know.
And it doesn't really help; merely trades one set of problems for another. We'd planned to avoid the usual pattern of making detailed notes for the first three days and indecipherable jottings thereafter, leaving the hapless writer six months later desperately struggling to recall the possible significance of "BSFA mtg./spkr RR/ forester jk/!" (Though to be honest, we too have notes saying things like "Mdln: crphlly/ [pi] / how do y mk yr hat do that?") So what we've got instead is the whole of, or at least the most of, what seems to be a grossly improbable, inexplicable, untidy tale connected in some way to Woofie Bear, a demitasse spoon with a picture of the Queen Mother on the handle, a poodle-shaped balloon, a tabletop covered.with scattered dominos and the contents of an overturned ashtray, Chuch Harris at a series of typewriters, a faded notebook with "I hope the hotel doesn't sue" still legible across one page, Teresa prone on assorted floors, a twenty-cup capacity teapot, Tom Weber Jr. being dragged down a flight of stairs by grinning hooligans, a tape of a roomful of fans inexplicably breaking into Blake & Elgar's "Jerusalem," a great many pint mugs, Harry Bell on top of Durham Cathedral, a pebble-sized chunk of Scrabo Tower, Oxford's justly-famous spires and unjustly-neglected doorways of exactly proper height (5'5" to 5'8" -- why do you ask?); plus a large and peculiar sheepdog, John Jarrold playing air-guitar to destruction, extensive demonstrations of the ancient peasant sport Falling Down at the One Tun, hundreds of people at Yorcon (all of whom seem to be either dancing or amiably sitting about with one hand cupped around an ear), and all those pictures Patrick took of sheep that didn't turn out (the pictures, that is; we don't know how the sheep are doing).
The worst patch in the record seems to be Saturday night at the Eastercon, which probably wouldn't have taken us quite so much by surprise if we hadn't been telling each other for years that British conreports are by custom composed largely of hyperbolic exaggeration. There'd been a steady light rain of anecdotes drizzling down all that day, making things a touch slippery underfoot but still manageable. Around early evening the downpour started and we all got soaked; memory thereafter is fragmented, brief moments of fitful illumination. We may never figure out exactly what we did that night, and in what order; but claiming to be hazy about what happened after dinner on Saturday is one custom of British conreporting that we did get right, and a very merciful literary convention it is, too.
Some things are easily recalled. The hospitality we encountered was generous beyond acknowledgement (we'll try, though), the friendliness of the fans ditto; we haven't run into so much good conversation in years. The food came as something of a shock, since all the guidebooks said it would be mediocre at best, and in fact we've been missing it since we came home. The weather was ... er ... easy to ignore, what with all the other splendid distractions to hand.
The problem in writing our trip report, then, won't be one of scraping together enough to say about it. Not hardly. There's enough for a book there, though we're not planning to write one. Beyond minor details like transcribing all those hours of tape, it becomes a problem of approach: how the hell does all this fit together? There's the pastoral "Traveling in Britain," the domestic sitcom "Patrick, Teresa, and Sometimes Tom in London and Leeds," the incisive, analytical critical essays (Kev and Sue Williams explaining the Silicon Method; Harris, Hansen, Vin¢ Clarke, both Langfords, and both Willises on wherefore and whither TAFF, with later added commentary from ATom, Peter Weston, &c.; not to mention the best panel discussion of fanzines & fanzine criticism we'd ever seen), the postmodern, non-linear, epic party and convention sequences; and of course the trivial yet terribly important bits and pieces and heaps of stuff about people and personalities, British fandom in the individual and specific sense, rather than as an abstract collective.
Well, we'll get an article out of this somehow.
Most of you will have seen our note in File:770 to this effect, but to recap briefly, the story on our TAFF report (and Izzard 9, and The Complete TAFF Guide, and ...) is that Teresa recently suffered some rather worrisome heart irregularities, and while the cardiologist says she's basically okay, she's supposed to do everything she can to reduce the stress in her life. Since as a narcoleptic she can't very well cut out the prescription stimulants (though she did stop smoking), and she doesn't plan to quit her job, this means fanac: i.e., we're going to be slower than we'd like in finishing various joint projects. Just as proof that a report really is in the works, that we haven't in fact been lying around half-clothed reading the Weekly World News (much), though, what follows is a selection from our vast chromium-and-nickel-plated air-conditioned files. We were there. (We wish we still were.) Voila:
1. Greg Pickersgill interrogates Alan Dorey: "Correct me if your interpretation of this is wrong, but..." Later, he explains that he was "merely trying to give Alan an out from a difficult situation." He seems puzzled that we still find the original line funny, not to mention characteristic.
2. From chapter (x), by Teresa: I Disgrace Myself Utterly in the Alan Dorey Quiz
"I'm going to be in the quiz bowl," Tom [Weber] told me.
"Me too," said Patrick.
Chiz chiz chiz HOW DO THEY RATE? When I'm not hearing how Mike Dickinson and Malcolm Edwards think Tom is some sort of mutant because he, a mere American, has argued with them about M. John Harrison (they do not yet know that Tom will argue about anything), I'm getting called "quiet" on the same page of the program book where Patrick is puffed as "dapper" and "formidably erudite." As this bit was written by Rob Hansen, who has only talked to me in Patrick's company (or, better still, in Patrick and Moshe and Lisa's company) I think there may be some connection between my theoretical quiet and the volubility of Patrick's erudition.
"No kidding," I say, with some restraint. "How do you you guys rate?" Years may have gone by, but I have not forgotten that I was once rated the fastest finger on the button in the MileHiCon Trivia Bowl, nailing down three obscure questions about Zelazny's works in the final round when the opposing team had Roger Zelazny on it.
I mention this episode to Patrick. "Did I ever tell you about that?" I ask. "Ten or eleven times, dear," he responds.
Tom informs me that he and Patrick had simply happened to be on hand when fanroom mastermind Jimmy Robertson was rounding up teams. "Hell, I was already on 'Question Time'," says Patrick, referring to another spiff-sounding event I'd missed. "Why don't you simply be me for the quiz?"
I harrumphed, and went off to apply a vise grip and straightedge to my nose.
After a bit I wandered back into the fanroom. Rob and Patrick met me at the bar. "Hi," said Patrick. "It's arranged. You're going to be me."
"Starting when? And what are 'you' theoretically doing? Do I hafta be you? Is it reversible? What if someone slaps me on the back?" Rob explained that I would be taking Patrick's place on his team, The Guys In The White Hats, along with himself and Owen Whiteoak. Tom would be on the other team, captained by Greg Pickersgill. Rob helpfully added that his team had won all the previous annual quizzes. Not consoled, I mustered my state of panic into enough composure to go and buttonhole Jimmy about what kind of quiz this would be. "Don't warry," he told me. "Just quaystions on science feection an' fandom..." "Okay," I said. "I think."
I went back over to Rob and Patrick. In the meantime, opposing team honcho Greg had shown up, and was busily attempting psychology on a deeply unimpressed-looking Rob. "Well," he would say. "Ready for the Big Quiz now, yes indeed," and bounce up and down slightly on his toes while standing about three inches from Rob's face. Balling his fists he threw various short jabs and feints into the air, intoning "hup...hup hup...hup" into the interstices of the conversation, settling and resettling his jacket on his shoulders. Rob responded by draining his pint and ordering another. This titanic struggle of naked will continued until a problem came up with the AV setup in the next room, and Greg departed to show the hapless souls involved the error of their ways. "It's the suit," Rob laconically explained. "He always gets like this when he's wearing his white suit."
3. Jimmy Robertson waxes enthusiastic on fellow Scotsman Owen Whiteoak: "He's got all these grit records, like Wheat Rabbit. They're like the gril to him..." We nod and consult sotto voce in a desperate attempt to decode this intelligence.
4. From chapter (y), by Patrick: Chez Willis
The guest room at Strathclyde looks out over the Irish Sea; on a clear day you can see Scotland, and most days you can see the lighthouse of Donaghadee looking uncannily like the lighthouse on the back covers of all those Hyphens published years before the Willises moved out to the coast. Stacked neatly around the room were towels, clean sheets, incredible Irish apples, and other comforts; next to the bed was a copy of the Seacon edition of The Enchanted Duplicator upon which some hand had inscribed the word "Gideon"; and on the bed was an electric blanket.
Neither of us had ever slept under an electric blanket before. Neither of us had ever visited a country where "room temperature" is so cold that butter stays hard when left out, either. Having by then gone through several fannish households and the Eastercon in a state of mild hypothermia, unfamiliar or not the electric blanket was a godsend. We luxuriated, and remarked on it the next morning. "I wasn't quite sure how to operate the controls," I said. "Teresa kept wanting to turn it all the way up, but I kept thinking of all those high-voltage coils and wondering if we really knew what we were doing. Like, what were all those variable-current buttons about?" (Electrical appliances in the UK seem to demand rather more user knowledge of watts and volts and stuff than they do over here. I'd already despaired at alien, incomprehensible bathroom outlets, and taken to shaving with a safety razor instead; I've always felt a certain sympathy with James Thurber's aunt who felt that electricity might leak out of empty sockets and spread wrongful vibrations throughout the house.)
"Oh, I wouldn't worry, you can set the controls to whatever you want," Madeleine reassured me. "The wiring can take it."
"Thanks," I said. "I mean, we were mostly concerned about how you'd feel if you woke up in the morning to the aroma of roast TAFF delegates wafting throughout the house."
"Well, I suppose it'd give an entirely new meaning to the concept of joint candidacy," said Walter without taking his eyes off the newspaper. And we all went outside to ritualistically bang our heads on the pavement, five times facing east and three pointing north, as prescribed by venerable and hallowed Irish fannish tradition.
5. Walt Willis on The Enchanted Duplicator: "Writing it was like reading it, only slower."