Taffman in Toronto

by Mike Glicksohn

As one of Greg Pickersgill's TAFF nominators I felt I had a personal stake in his TAFF candidacy. A very small but quite vocal minority of American fans was questioning Greg's suitability as a TAFF delegate based on i) his long-standing dissatisfaction with how TAFF was working, and ii) his much-publicised reputation for anti-social behaviour, occasionally verging on the manic-depressive. It being the nature of fanzine fandom to inscribe its passing thoughts in moderately permanent form, the anti-Pickersgill faction had considerable evidence that appeared to give superficial credence to their concerns. Since I had willingly and voluntarily tied my wagon to Greg's star I thought it behooved me to try and balance the scales somewhat.

And that's what I did, based on my personal knowledge of Greg (none of his critics had ever met him) along with my awareness of the changing factors in his life that had led him to eschew his previous opinions. I doubt I changed anybody's mind but at least I did my best so I sat back, along with those who were hoping to see the biggest TAFF cock-up ever, to await the results of my enthusiastic support of Gregory Pickersgill, 1986 TAFF delegate.

I had no qualms whatsoever concerning Greg's merit as a candidate. The man's record spoke for itself regardless of his thoughts on TAFF in years gone by. But. I admit I was a touch worried by his tendency to fall into a blue funk, become abusive, lock himself in his room, then vanish without fulfilling his fannish commitments. (Characteristics not exactly unknown amongst fan fund winners but hardly the things the voters actually look for.) When I was told by his detractors that Greg would never finish a TAFF report, I defended his integrity vehemently ... and wondered whether or not I'd ever have to eat my words.

And Greg showed up at the Atlanta worldcon, was abundantly social, highly visible in those areas a TAFF delegate was likely to be looked for, comported himself with style and wit and enthusiasm, handled his "official" role as TAFF winner with a candour and humour I admired, and generally seemed to have a goad time. Oh yeah, he got into one personality conflict that generated some rather harsh exchanges which were settled in situ and later resolved fully , but on the whole he functioned more than adequately as a representative/ambassador of British fandom. As TAFF winner Greg had cleared his first -- and most significant -- hurdle better than many and as well as most.

Worldcons being what they are nowadays, Greg and I touched base frequently but fleetingly. We did contrive to double-handedly split a bottle of Pickersgill provided(!), Pickersgill-purchased(!!) Welsh vodka (!!!) with the unlikely name of "Taff" (!!!!) at the Fan Fund Auction but for some reason the incident, while longer than most of our meetings, is less clear in my memory than it ought to be. Nevertheless, all I saw and everything I heard left me with the impression that Greg had Done Good. I'd expected nothing less.

At some time during the three-ring Atlanta circus I made the obligatory offer to Greg of accommodation should he find himself in the Toronto area. (I invariably invite TAFF/DUFF winners to drop by if/when they're in the neighbourhood and the inevitable reply is a polite "Thanks, I may take you up on that" but prior to that year only one fan fund winner had actually made use of the invitation. ) Greg surprised me greatly by indicating he was seriously considering a visit to Canada/Toronto and he pocketed my card + phone number, And we were both swept our separate ways in the fannish maelstrom and Atlanta's worldcon eventually wound to a close. (But that's six thousand other stories)

As September slipped by and I re-immersed myself in the Real World with no word from Greg I merely thought fanhistory was repeating itself and he'd had either a change of heart or a change of plans. It turned out I'd simply failed to grasp the extended time-line the 1986 TAFF trip was occupying. On September 25th, Greg called to say he'd be arriving in Toronto by train on Thursday, October 2nd. Somewhat surprised that he was still around, I still had the presence of mind to warn him that Doris and I were committed to attending a small regional convention in Niagara Falls, New York over the three days following his arrival. If he wanted to came along and then see Toronto ... And thus was fannish history set in motion.

So it came to pass that I sat in the station bar waiting for Greg's Amtrak-induced lack of punctuality to elapse and eventually he arrived and we sat in the station bar helping his Amtrak-induced travel fatigue to dissipate, A little later on, after depositing his luggage in his room in the only "dry" zone in all of Southern Ontario, we walked across the border (all of five blocks) to the nearest licensed establishment and quaffed a few pints while talking about how wonderful North America was (or at least Wisconsin, anyway) and what it was like to be a TAFF delegate (a topic I thought might be of potential interest) and matters of similar ilk. To say that Greg was exuberant would be to downplay his obvious euphoria. I just sipped my beer and felt glad the trip was going so well for him.

The next afternoon Doris, Greg and I drove off to Niagara Falls to attend CONTRADICTION 6, a small but friendly regional with Bill Bowers and George R.R. Martin as honoured guests. Greg was very enthusiastic about seeing an American non-worldcon and on the trip down (a mere quick-step of two hours, due mostly to the unusually heavy traffic) ha bubbled over with delight at the mere idea of being in Canada. When not waxing eloquent over the wonders of Wisconsin he'd gaze out the window wearing an enormous grin and occasionally announce, "Christ, I'm actually in fucking Canada!" He even went so far as to state that it was recognizably different from our smaller southern neighbour he'd recently criss-crossed. Naturally this prompted me to hope out loud that he was writing all this down for his trip report which was probably where I got talked into doing at least a part of it for him. So it was we delivered TAFF winner Pickersgill into the maw of midwestern fandom, little knowing what reactions would result.

Toronto being closer to Niagara Falls than most other centres, we'd arrived before most of the out-town attendees and since the interested locals were all busy setting up the con things were a little slow at first. We went for fast-but-not-bad food and proved to Greg that if you've seen one, you've seen the Mall. Then we returned to the con hotel to greet arriving friends.

I'd been really looking forward to this particular convention even though in the past it hadn't been one of my favourites because fifteen or so of my favourite people in fandom were going to be there. Consequently I made a special effort to introduce Greg to my special friends hoping he'd hit it off with those I'd actually come down to spend my weekend with. In part, it worked. But in part it backfired, largely because I hadn't really thought about some of the differences between "my" fandom and the fandom Greg was familiar with. None of that came out until several days later, though, and in the meantime, inadvertently, the seeds were sown.

Still, on that first night, Greg seemed to enjoy himself and act as the TAFF delegate should. Unlike small British conventions where almost everyone knows and likes almost everyone else ((! ed)), even a small US con seems to feature at most 25% people you actively would like to speed time with and naturally it takes time for them to gather. As Greg was or more less trusting my judgement in these matters the first couple of hours on Friday night were quite slow. This being a North American convention there was no central bar to hang around in and the con suite was limited to draft American beer, a liquid Greg appeared to believe had bypassed the to-be-ingested stage and gone straight to the ready-far-elimination stage, so Greg eventually wandered off, leaving a small coterie of fannish fans on the mezzanine chatting about things of almost international interest. He soon reappeared with a bottle of Southern Comfort for himself and a bottle of American whiskey for me and we got merrily tipsy together while talking of sundry fannish matters such as our shared enthusiasm for certain members of the Algonquin round table. After agreeing- to meet Greg for some sightseeing the next day I wandered off to start a poker game, in the belief that Greg was more than capable of fending for himself and might actually prefer a little free time to be himself rather than The Incredibly Famous TAFF Winning Pickersgill.

I broke even on the night. You'll have to ask Greg how he did.

Saturday was definitely a day of contrasts. Physically, it was a miserable excuse for a day: cold, gray, soggy and completely unappealing. Undaunted, though, Greg and I walked the few blocks from the con hotel to the wonders of The Falls. We walked across the international border separating Canada and the US (a first for me) and wandered along the Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge to get the best view of the famous falls. We were both totally drenched by the inclement weather (as opposed to the normal dampening that results from the ever-present Niagara Falls-out) and yet it was a magical time. I love the Falls, no matter how often I see them, and Greg was like a small child let loose in Wonderland. He took roll after roll of pictures and it was easy to see the Sense of Wonder radiating from him. At one point, as we stood there dripping wet watching the awesome power of the Niagara River cascading over the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls, Greg admitted that while he'd always thought he'd visit America the idea of standing ten feet away from the tumultuous lip of Niagara Falls was totally mind-boggling to him. I thought of how I'd felt a year earlier while standing in the middle of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and knew a bit of what he was feeling.

Eventually we wandered back to America, paid another dime to cross the world's longest undefended border, and on the way back to the hotel we each picked up another bottle of booze to help keep the cold and the damp at bay. That may well have been somewhat of a mistake....

Later that night Doris and I held the first room party we've ever thrown in six years of attending conventions together. We'd brought in some excellent Canadian beer (some of my best friends are American but one wouldn't want to drink like them), an entire side of superb lox with cream cheese and cocktail bread, and we'd invited the 25% of the convention we wanted to spend our time with. Well, that's probably an exaggeration. We invited the 8% of the convention we really wanted to spend our time with. The 8% we'd gone to the convention for in the first place. In that room were twenty people we really care about and whose friendship we value and quite naturally Greg was one of them. If you're trying to show a visitor why you enjoy going to conventions it makes sense to gather as many of the reasons in one place at one time as possible. And all in all it seemed like a pretty good party: lots of good food, plenty of good drink, and a concentration of Damn Fine Folk, It also turned out to be where The Pickersgill Incident took place.

The bare bones of it are thus; a somewhat drunk Greg Pickersgill got into an argument with a somewhat less drunk George Martin about TAFF. (Not unsurprisingly, the majority of conversations Greg got into had to do with TAFF, or at least started out having to do with TAFF. ) After several minutes of increasingly heated exchange, Greg called George an arsehole, whereupon George called Greg an asshole and what had been a damn good party ground to a halt watching two grown men making moderate fools of themselves. As host and as the only person present who knew both combatants I stepped in and tried to act as moderator, an action that was earn me Greg's bitterly sarcastic disapproval when we later tried to analyze what had taken place. I acted as peacemaker, placated all involved, and closed down my own party so we could all go off and cool down somewhere else.

Later that evening I ended up at the "obligatory midwestern poker game" and Greg actually sat in for two hands. (I've always believed that poker was a much more rewarding spectator sport than dominoes and even more enjoyable to actually play.) For no apparent reason he became enraged after the second hand, hurled the remains of his stake at me across the table and stormed out of the room. I spent the rest of the night winning other people's money and trying to explain my friend Gregory to a baffled and concerned group of midwestern fannish fans.

The following morning I finally found Greg sitting sullenly alone in the lobby. Angry and upset he just wanted to get the rest of his things from Toronto and return immediately to New York. In order to demonstrate the intensity and sincerity of his feeling he abruptly left his couch, marched through the front door of the hotel and threw up against the side of the building. With that out of the way I once again undertook the role of peacemaker and tried to convince Greg to stick with his original plan of spending some time visiting Toronto. I knew that was what I wanted my friend to do and I reminded Greg of his initial enthusiasm for seeing the Dominions. My silver-tongued eloquence was so convincing (or else Greg really did want to visit Canada) that he agreed to revert to the original plan. He'd return with us and take a few days to explore the city. With that settled, we sat and talked about what had taken place the night before.

After we'd cleared away the alcoholic haze we'd both been looking through, I at least had better idea as why The Incident had occurred. (More on that later. ) I still thought Greg had been in the wrong but at least I had a better understanding of his motivation and I recognized that he had no intention of apologizing because he didn't see he had anything to apologize for. I told him flat out, though, that he owed the people at the poker game an apology for his behaviour and he agreed completely. (The two incidents and the reasons behind them were largely unconnected although the former probably created the mood which helped the latter develop.) Later that afternoon we located Tim Pruit, in whose room the game had been held, and Greg apologized for acting like a real jerk. Tim had initially been predisposed to like Greg and seemed to appreciate his comments and much of the rest of the afternoon was spent in typically harmonious convention-ending conversation.

When we finally did leave the con, Doris and Greg and I drove over to the American side of the spectacular Horseshoe Falls. Despite being drenched by the omnipresent spray we had a fantastic time. Although I'd visited the Falls dozens of times I'd never before seen the Canadian falls from the American side and even though Greg took all the pictures it would be hard to say who was the most moved and impressed by the awesome natural spectacle we were standing so close to. Eventually, soaked through, we forced ourselves to leave so we could drive along the Niagara Gorge and give Greg the chance to take even more pictures. We stopped for a meal in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake and with the tensions of the convention behind us we were able to relax, sip a few beers, and start trying to put things into some sort of perspective.

And that's what Greg and I tried to do over the next four days. The tourist/TAFF winner part of it included Greg wandering all over Toronto, finding odd books he needed, visiting the site of Edwards-Holdstock world, snorfling down all-you-can-eat queen crab legs and finding out whether Canada really is observably different from the United States. At the same time I enjoyed explaining baseball to a bewildered Brit, sharing the animated Brunel biography with an appreciative fellow fan, preparing a meal of pork spareribs for the man who'd prepared so many breakfast for me in London and discovering just how different similar cultures can be. Together we joined Taral and visiting Californian Marc Schirmeister for excellent-yet-very-cheap Chinese food and sipped Pickersgill-approved draft Guinness in a downtown Toronto pseudo-British pub. And over and over again we came back to trying to get a grip on why we couldn't seem to see things — fannish or otherwise — in the same light.

Over the three days Greg spent exploring my city we spent many hours in conversations aimed at trying to figure out just what had happened in Niagara Falls, and just where we stood vis-a-vis each other and fandom. During the course of those talks I learned a great deal. I learned, some things that gave me a better understanding of the interaction between American and British fandom. I learned some things about Greg and some things about Greg and I. If Greg learned anything he'll have to let on himself.

Greg made some telling points. Unfortunately I don't think he realizes that many of his most accurate observations are equally valid when viewed from the other side. For example, Greg was most adamant about insisting that what he referred to as "the home islands" are not an offshoot of the North American continent. Good point. Impossible to argue with. Greg further used this fact to explain why British fans frequently don't think about things in the same way American fans do, Another good point. I accepted this and have since used it to explain/defend differences between Them and Us. But what Greg blindly refused to accept was that if this was a valid reason why he shouldn't necessarily agree with a North American it was an equally valid reason why a North American shouldn't necessarily agree with Greg.

To me, this was the crux of Greg's argument with George Martin and his subsequent refusal to apologize to George. Greg explained that in his eyes George's view of TAFF was so totally incorrect that it excused Greg being rude and hostile towards George and removed any need for an apology afterwards. (As it happens, my own view of TAFF is much closer to Greg's than it is to George's but I lack Greg's single-minded conviction that only my own opinion can possibly have any validity.) But whereas Greg insisted that North Americans concede that the British think and feel differently about certain fannish matters, he wasn't willing to accept that the situation could be reciprocated. Having argued eloquently for the right to think and react according to different guidelines from those used by Americans Greg wasn't willing to grant the same rights to his opponents. When it came down to a disagreement between the way an American looked at TAFF and the way Greg thought about it then the American was just an arsehole and any rudeness or abusiveness was somehow justified. I tried to explain the inconsistencies in his arguments to Greg but I don't think I ever got the point across,

(An excellent example of how cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings can be found in one of Greg's observations about the nature of CONTRADICTION itself. I hinted at this earlier when I suggested that I hadn't thought through the differences between my fandom and the fandom that Greg usually inhabits and it illustrates my point about Greg's inability to accept differing viewpoints very well.

I've already stated that I was particularly looking forward to this convention because a goodly number of my best friends were going to be there. Now when this particular group of friends gets together there's a lot of physical contact. We hug, we touch, and we kiss. Males and females, males and males, females and females. It's the way we express the deep bonds of friendship that exist between us and if sometimes it leads to something more, okay, but mostly we're demonstrating simple affection. At our room party, freed from even the slight constraints of being among fannish outsiders, I'm sure this aspect of physical closeness was even more apparent than usual.

And not unsurprisingly. Greg misunderstood it completely. He was to tell me later, when we were trying to understand what had happened, that he had gained the impression that all of us spent the majority of the convention fucking like crazed weasels! And since he was a few thousand miles away from Linda and wasn't getting any himself this severely exacerbated his already tense mood and may well have contributed to the eventual confrontation with George Martin. All because of a simple misunderstanding brought about by Greg's inability to comprehend or accept a frame of reference different from his own.

But I digress....

When Greg took me to task for trying to act as mediator in the dispute he accused me of not having any principles, I wasn't willing to take a stand, he said, Somewhat naturally I disagreed. I take stands and I have opinions and I'm rarely wishy-washy. Perhaps, though, the difference between us is that where fandom is concerned (FIJAGDH, after all) I don't see the necessity for holding so fast to principles that rudeness, insults and anti-social behaviour become justified. I can support my beliefs without recourse to invective, abuse or temper tantrums and I quite enjoy doing so. In fact, for over twenty years few things have pleased me more than a healthy intelligent argument about the aspects of fandom I daily immerse myself in. But at the bottom line has to be my belief that it's perfectly possible for someone to disagree with me totally without being brain-damaged or actively evil, Greg, it seems, is so completely convinced that he holds all opposing perspectives — and those who hold them — in contempt. And that justified, in his own mind, his remarks to George Martin and his subsequent refusal to even contemplate apologizing for them.

And one amusing aspect of the whole matter is that I can understand and forgive Greg far the way he acted but he can't understand or forgive me for what I did. It is to laugh....

Lest I appear to be overly harsh towards. Greg let me state that I learned a lot about the pressures of being a TAFF delegate from him. At least the pressures of Greg Pickersgill being a TAFF delegate. At various times while he was staying with me, Greg told me that if he had any say in the matter he'd lie in the middle of the floor and scream as loud as he possibly could. He also said on more than one occasion that if there were a way to do it he'd take a plane back to London right there and then.

Greg spent longer on his tour of North America than any TAFF winner in decades. And at the best of times the man is not spontaneously gregarious. He voluntarily subjected himself to enormous personal pressure and by and large he handled it very well. Regardless of what may have happened between us personally I believe I supported a Damn Fine TAFF delegate. And if Greg Pickersgill has feet of clay sometimes, who among us doesn't? He did everything he possibly could to live up to the expectations he set for himself as a TAFF winner and I know just how high those expectations were and what it sometimes cost him to try and live up to them. I may not agree with all he did and I don't share many of his attitudes but I respect his personal integrity and I'm proud to have supported and been a part of his TAFF candidacy.

Greg is my friend, I have great respect and admiration for him and I accept his imperfections as my friends accept mine. I regret his apparent belief that he has a lock on Truth and that those who disagree with him must need be morons but I like to think that over a few pints of Guinness sometime I might eventually be able to convince him to lighten up. After all, I do owe him. For his generosity and friendliness when I've visited London and for a career in fandom that has been matched by only a handful of fans. If I sometimes wish he'd learn a few things from me, well, what the hell: things don't always turn out the way we'd like them to.

Contradictions aside, I believe Greg Pickersgill was a good TAFF delegate. His talks really opened my eyes to the differences between American and British fans and someday I'd like to do the same for him. He may not be perfect but he's no further away than the rest of us and I plan to keep working on him.

If he'll let me.