TAFF Tales
1955 TAFF Report: H. Ken Bulmer

Chapter 1 illustrated by Atom

Published February 1959 in Orion 21 ed Ella Parker
Rekeyed by Vin¢ Clarke

Historical Clarification: The first paragraph, slightly inscrutable without knowledge of contemporary fan history, refers to the fact that Ella Parker had just taken over Orion -- the fanzine which printed all this -- from its departing editor Paul Enever.

1 • Thorn on the Rose

Now that the aged -- fanwise, that is, and not physically or mentally or even GATWC-wise [1] -- Paul has with fiendish and heartbroken sobs deposited the little pathetic bundle in the wicker basket, tucked up the tiny quilt, pinned on the brave, broken-pencilled note, and then, cautiously and with many a backward glance, left the baby firmly on Ella's doorstep -- it would seem that the ripples of emotion for an abandoned child have spread to engulf innocent bystanders. I freely agree that the charms of gardening have it all over the rather tatty charms of fanning in these unlovely fannish days, when a dark spirit of violence and anger and intolerance hangs over us all and when erstwhile friends turn their backs and spurn one's overtures of renewed trust and comradeship -- but then, the world is not a perfect place, friends, and, if 'twere, we'd all don the wings of angels and float skywards, strumming our skiffling harps.

Anyway, what all this guff boils down to is that Ella wants me to tell your waiting lugholes something of what occurred to Pamela and I during the months of August, September and October, and parts of the months of July and November, in the year of Our Lord 1955.

That's a long time ago, now, and, not having been able to blackmail a horde of willing writers into writing my trip accounts for me, as has rollicking Ron from Leeds [2], and because of many other factors, some of them to be found in the taff report, we now say: 'ere goes. At first I shall attempt only to pick out a few highlights, or, in other parlance, a few choice plums can be dredged up and regarded as they shine moistly between prying finger and thumb.

Right, then, to our onions. Many of you must have heard of the rumours that bulmer was arrested in the States, that he was sent for a term to Sing-Sing, that the FBI trailed him everywhere, etc., etc. Here, then, is the truth, to set beside other accounts of my clash with the American law.

At the time Don Ford was living in Sharonville, which is a charming little -- what? township, village, booming suburb of Cincinnati. Although typically American in its arrangement of frame houses along wide roads with lawns minus hedges or fences leading up to the houses, the shopping arrangements and the narrowness of the main roads were quite familiar to us English types.

An interesting tie-up also occurs here. I may rightly have felt called from the plough, i.e., work, to travel to America, just as much in fact as Lucius Quinctius, back in the days before Ancient Rome shouldered sufficiently into the limelight to attract the attention of Hollywood, was minute-manned from his fields to go off to rescue the two consuls who were in the usual mire consuls found themselves in when legends were in the making. What's the tie-up? Well, friend L. Quinctius was generally called Cincinnatus and 'tis from this noble example of sturdy republican stock that the fair city of Cincy takes her name.

That's no tie-up, you say? Wait.

Bearded Bulmer

As you all know, I was sporting a beard at this time. Don and Margaret were more or less accustomed to it, I suppose, as were the children. But they'd taken the sensible precaution of arranging for Pamela and me to bed down in a friend's house in the next block. We were very comfortably housed there, and used to arise in the am. and roll around to Don's for breakfast and meals, and then out for the day. It was very hot. You recall that wonderful summer of 1955? Well, in Ohio just about then it was hotter. I forget the exact day, it isn't important, when I had to leave Don's house and walk around to our lodgings to pick up some trifle or other. I walked along the sidewalk and, succumbing to the temp. took off my jacket and slung it over my shoulder. I walked on quietly, thinking. (Would-be joke makers form queue to the left, please). A black car whined along from the horizon and then slowed down. I paid it scant attention; I mean, if a car isn't three or four contrasting colours in the States and a block and a half long, no-one notices the thing and they tend to get trampled underfoot.

The car paced me. I was walking on the left-hand sidewalk and so the car, being to logical Englishmen on the wrong side of the road, was able to cruise gently parallel with me. I approached the turning to the left down which I had to go. As I reached the corner the car accelerated smoothly and swung across into the sideroad and pulled up so that it was blocking the path of anyone attempting to walk straight on down the main road. Bulmer glanced at it and then angled off down the sideroad and ignored the car. This seemed to incense the occupants.

The beckoning hand

'Hey, you!' a voice called. A hand supported by a wrist poked through the open window and beckoned. Mildly intrigued, I walked across.

'What're you doing, bub?'

Now I'm not going to attempt a facsimile reconstruction of the ensuing conversation. At first it was in true Hollywood cops and robbers style, with me as the tight-lipped hood. I saw at once that they were police, and probably because the weather was hot, I felt a rush of blood to the head and decided to be (a) dumb, (b) unco-operative, (c) dignified and (e) a bloody Limey and to hell with these peasants.

I told them my name. They remained unimpressed. They asked me if I lived here. I said no. They asked me where I was going. I told them the house where I was lodging. Did I know the people? No. The driver was youngish, obviously swollen-headed over the fact that he wore a uniform and had a powerful car under his hands, a badge and (a) a tommy gun down by his leg, (b) a pistol at his belt, (c) a riot gun in the back seat, (d) and probably an H-bomb in a SAC B-52b on call from his car radio.

I showed them my driving licence. The youngster started to tear off each year's licence as though the thing were a book. 'Don't be stupid,' I said, or something even more wounding, and snatched the thing away. He bristled. The older man at his side said a few quiet words to soothe him down and then casually, as though exercising Herlock Sholmesian craft, mentioned the word 'English'. Still icily dignified, I agreed that I was English. I didn't add 'and proud of it', I felt that to be redundant. I suppose the crown, the coat of arms, the Honi soit qui mal y pense had something to do with the deduction process. After that we got on like a house on fire.

I gradually thawed, and they ceased to mention third degrees and suchlike and I asked to look at their armoury and they obliged, and we spent an interesting ten minutes or so chatting. We parted on at least pre-Suez terms. The older man really seemed quite a decent type; the younger just needed a little more understanding of life and a little less TV and film impressions of himself.

And, too, here I was, a stranger, bearded, coat over shoulder, strolling along when literally no-one was walking out. These men had a job to do, protecting the community from hobos and bums; and that was just what I was to them. Don swore I was joking and no one believed me until I mentioned that the older man had his arm in a sling. Then Don sat down slowly -- and that's a seven-foot sight, too -- and said: 'That was the Police Chief; he broke his wrist.' And so I was believed. Then Don wanted to go down to the Precinct House and raise Cain, but I said I wasn't able to worry, and so we all laughed and passed it off. But those cops figured in a story, yessir, they did too!

The tie-up: Cincinnatus, long hair down to his shoulders, was also initially misunderstood. He went back to noble poverty.


[1] The late George (All the Way) Charters, Belfast fan, received the acronym during the period of Bea Mahaffey's '53 visit to Belfast -- see Hyphen 4, esp. top of page 21. GATW was early '50s US slang, meaning OK, good, more superlative than 'real cute'. Being slightly older than other core members of Irish fandom, George was traditionally portrayed as aged, doddering, ear-trumpeted, etc.

[2] Ron Bennett, TAFF delegate 1958.

Vin¢ Clarke & Dave Langford