The air was brisk and tangy in Manchester the morning Bill Burns and I made the few blocks stroll to the station where we were to catch the 11:20 Piccadilly train to Buxton. Thick with anticipation and braced with the tangy air as I was, I became acutely aware that the muscles and tendons in my wrist were popping from the effects of gravity on the suitcase in that hand. Bill was having similar difficulty with his luggage. Both of us were carrying kitchen sinks. In fact, I've yet to meet any traveller with anything more than an overnight bag who didn't have to put up with this bit while walking a distance; suitcases are cumbersome. So why don't they put wheels on the damned things?
At any rate, we made it to the station. Purchased our tickets with time to spare, and subsequently idled about talking about the Mothers of Invention and The Fugs. The Fugs were difficult to get in Bill's area, it seemed. What, I said, but we passed a store with "The Virgin Fugs" in the window. Where? where? where? Bill wanted to know. Well, uh, it was ...um...oh, I'd say a few blocks back in that direction, but I didn't catch the street name. Always glad to be of service to a fellow music freak.
The train trip was as pleasant as it was uneventful. We arrived at Buxton and disembarked, struggling up a very steep hill with the #*!&! luggage to ask directions to the hotel. A few words about Buxton, revealed in local pamphlets, seems appropriate here. Buxton, we were told, was originally a garrison site during the Roman occupation, then later a Royal Forest, the King's deer gathering for winter shelter in the Buxton basin. Apart from this, for several centuries following the Roman departure, there is a gap in Buxton's history. However, by 1280 the area had built up a reputation due to the healing properties of a local spring, the Well Shrine. Unfortunately, in 1536 the destiny of Buxton was dealt a hammer blow by a national enquiry into the value of such shrines. Bram Cromwell gave orders to close the spring's chapel. This was done most effectively, for Sir William Bassett, in his report to Cromwell, stated that he not only defaced the shrine, but took away all the discarded crutches on display. Sigh.
Present day Buxton has survived quite nicely. It looked like a pleasant town, catering to vacation crowds, and on Saturday one could go see the cannon, or check out the five & dime. But there were plenty of restaurants, and the above-mentioned Royal Forest had become Buxton Gardens -- a large botanical park. The convention hotel was ready for us when we checked in, a three story affair; I discovered that the convention committee, bless 'em, had already paid for & reserved my room.
It was a bit past two, and neither Bill or I had had lunch, so we headed for the hotel dining room. It was obvious that we were early arrivals; the place was deserted, empty tables all around and waiters and waitresses chatting quietly, sometimes flitting in and out in nervous expectancy ... a vague Kafka atmosphere on the eve of a science fiction convention. The mood pleased me -- so appropriate for the occasion -- and I silently studied the patterns in my napkin, the one I had placed in my lap when I sat down twenty minutes earlier, while ruminating over the similarities between the present situation and a Hungarian surrealist film I had seen once. On the other hand, I was getting damned hungry. (We later discovered that the hotel had recently changed management, ran into a labor shortage, and was using local talent as a fill in.)
I was into my second cup of tea when a boisterous "Steve Stiles!" sounded behind me. I looked around to see the smiling face of Ella Parker. ELLA PARKER! Ella is one of those people who are high on my list of fans who are going to have to move to New York if wish fulfillment works. Ella gave me a hug and I grinned and beamed even harder when I noticed Ethel Lindsay behind her. Ella and Ethel are walking advertisements for TAFF and TAFF-like funds.
With Ella there and cracking the whip, the waiters were put on the line and under control. Pale and trembling from the tongue lashing I hesitate to quote here, they disappeared into the kitchen with our orders, and we were soon eating.
After the meal, I decided to check into my room for a quick nap in preparation for the room parties. As I worked my key into the lock, Eddie Jones and Tom Schlück rounded the corner. Eddie introduced me to Tom, and we dug each other in the ribs and made sly remarks about TAFF reports 'n' Oh You Kid. We TAFF types are a wild lot, slans almost, and it is said that two of us can recognize each other in crowded train terminals merely by the look on our sensitive fannish faces. I don't know if this is true, though, as I had already met Tom at the NYCon, and, in any case, Tom had met me there too. We stepped onto my room and talked a bit on what a great man McCarthy is, fan art, and shop talk on TAFF. In unexpectedly winning the race, I was aware of the tremendous responsibility that I faced. What a drag! It made me nervous -- if TAFF should suddenly drop dead in the next campaign, I would be holding the bag (so to speak) -- Lord! So we talked sho about how I might best go about my responsibiities in managing the fund; nickels in a green bag, dimes in a blue one, and so forth. Today TAFF is a thriving concern; thriving so well, in fact, that I'm considering Ned Brooks's proposal to merge with TIFF (Trans Indian Ocean Fan Fund) and send a fan around the world widdershins.
After the nap, I unpacked and went over my speech notes; "My Fellow Science Fiction Fans, ..." I wrote. Nope, crossed it out and started again; "... the casual reader, your average man in the street, does not understand science fiction ...". Didn't sound quite right. Glancing at my watch, I noticed it was time for dinner, and gratefully wadded up my notes. A man has to eat. I headed downstairs.
Fans had appeared as if by magic. The hotel was no longer deserted. I met Tom again, and he introduced me to Ken Bulmer. Ken, a TAFF winner, and longtime fan turned pro, was the pro GoH at the ThirdManCon, and obviously a deserving one. Outwardly a quiet man, he is both friendly and an interesting talker -- as I found out later at parties. With the tendency for U.S. conventions to be mammoth affairs, professionals have a tendency to stick to themselves rather than -- understandably -- spending the time nodding to, pumping hands with, and signing autographs for a lot of unfamiliar fan faces. And large conventions tend to keep those faces unfamiliar. But British cons tend to be smaller, with a hardcore of regulars, and with everyone on first name relations the line of distinction between fan and pro had all but disappeared; the pros I met, as typified by Ken, made fandom their social scene.
One of the first items of Friday's program was "Amorality Anonymous", a lecture of "great import, with the aid of an off-white screen" by John Ramsey Campbell. It was a film for monster fans, but despite the handicap, Campbell gave a humorous line of patter similar to Bloch's "Monsters I Have Known" at the Chicon III. People in the audience helped John Ramsey along with constructive criticism, "Rubbish!", and advice, "Get to the point Campbell!". Unperturbed, he finished his talk with the short film "Nosferatu" -- a forerunner of the Dracula films, and a great deal more effective than many of them.
The accumulation of too many cigarettes had dried out the membranes of my mouth and tongue, and it was about this time that I made a great discovery; the bar was adjacent to the con hall. I discovered that I liked Guinness Stout. Moreover, you were allowed to carry drinks back into the hall to sip while listening to speakers. I did so, and was just in time to catch a traditional s.f. quiz conducted by Phil Rogers. I was disappointed to realize that I couldn't name three major works by Charles Fort, but consoled myself with the knowledge that I did know the publication date of the first issue of Galaxy -- which is, of course, June 1st 1948. "What is the troposphere?" Rogers queried, appealing to the science minded.
I cut out. Party time.
There was a party going on in Billy Pettitt's room, and although it was about 8x9, it seemed that most of the convention was there, clustered around the drinks table. I had just secured a glass when I noticed someone in a day-glo yellow sports shirt, mod tie, and bell bottoms, and reading the name card, I recognized Charles Platt, someone I had corresponded with when we were both neos. Platt asked about various U.S. fans that he had known, and Ted White in particular, and after the usual gossip, race relations once again popped up as a topic. It was a downer, but to be expected and hard to avoid. As immigration problems multiplied and Powell blithered, people wanted to know about the scene in the U.S.; to see the lines of their own future. John Brunner would write The Jagged Orbit and scare me.
A second drink refill, and we were on New Worlds and William S. Burroughs; I've got almost everything Burroughs has written, but Platt thought more of him than I did. I've appreciated Burroughs' writing in Junkie and The Yage Letters -- where his descriptive powers work for him, but we climbed out between the walls at the bottom. I'm discovering a whole new world, the friendliest translations from English songs are increasingly resented; "My family has been American for some three hundred years," I told Charles Platt, "shaking my head and pushing the air the way a vulture will do into my briefcase."
"*" said Charles Platt, "*".
"That calls for a drink!". We drank.
The rest of the evening hazes out at this point; I so remember talking to Billy P. and Heinrich (whose last name I didn't catch) about chances for a German world convention. I ventured that most of the American fen I knew were behind the idea -- that is, in favor of it. And I recall Billy earnestly explaining to a non-fan femme that science fiction was something like the James Bond novels. At about two a.m. I began to notice Fortean phenomena, and decided to go to bed.
My room was bitter cold; with some experimentation, impeded by the Fortean phenomena, I discovered the meter for the gas heat unit was in the closet. Soon the area of the room six inches in front of the grill was piping hot. Grump.
TO BE CONTINUED -- DON'T MISS IT IF YOU CAN.