TAFF Tales
1955 TAFF Report: H. Ken Bulmer

Chapter 3

Published October 1959 in Orion 23 ed Ella Parker
Rekeyed by Vin¢ Clarke

3 • Pow Wow at Indian Lake

During the con. numbers of tentative suggestions were made as to the future plans of Pamela and myself, but as we survived to write of these notable events it seems that the suggested modes of disposal were not effected. At least, this seems to be a corporeal body with which I write , even though I recognise the possibility that it may, as one wit suggested, have been decomposed and now consists merely of disembodied atoms.

Doc Barrett, who is a Good Man, and who is a long-time fan, con attendee and firm friend of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group, asked Pamela and me if we would care to go to his place on Indian Lake for a week or so before moving on. This idea was eagerly grasped by us as Doc had proved himself the best of companions, and as we had a long-standing invitation from Jesse Floyd to stay with him in Savannah, a stay timed to begin about the time Doc would be driving down to Florida for a surgeon's conference, Doc very kindly offered to drive us down to the Deep South.

We set off from Cleveland and travelled along the shore of the lake for a time, where ships existed that would have been quite comfortable in the Atlantic. With us was Doc's secretary and her girl friend, these were most anxious to see the house of a man who had just been found out and prosecuted for some crime or other, murder or sump'n of a similar nature. We cruised along with the ladies saying things like: 'you'd never believe he could do it,' and 'he was the Mayor', and with Doc making sarcastic remarks about his lady friend's penchant for the gruesome. They were not in the least put out. They took up an American trait of indulging at the least opportunity in the sort of wit called 'insulting humour' which, although practised over here, has not reached the heights -- or depths -- that it has in the U.S.

We were heading for the town of Bellefontaine, Ohio, a name which reminds many fen of the Midwestcon of infamous memories. Dusk fell,. The car -- a large Detroit wagon of impeccable comfort -- howled along. We reached signs of work along the road. We bumped over the dirt to a white new-made turnpike. Turned left and shot off. Doc wasn't quite sure where we were or where we were going, but we were humming along, anyway. The road was not yet open to traffic and was unlit. The white concrete glimmered ghostly in the light of the headlamps. Apart from car noise -- a minimum -- all was quiet. This was a most eerie experience, hurtling along a deserted white road on the wrong side and expecting any minute to bump into the bulldozers and concrete mixers where the road ended. Eventually the map told us that we were travelling in the wrong direction, so we reversed course and fled back, discovering that the dirt track over which we had bumped led us across the new road by the side of an unfinished flyover, and so brought us to our correct route.

Doc lives in a large chalet type house on the shore of the lake. The rooms are divided by folding doors. Everything is modern and up to date, with deep freezers, laundry works in the basement, elaborate cooking arrangements, central heating -- the lot. With all this luxury spread around -- 'what meat shall we have tonight, we have all sizes in the deepfreeze' -- I suppose we should not have been surprised at the standard of living. Pamela decided that a Yorkshire pudding might not come amiss to our transatlantic cousins and promptly made one. When we discovered, to our horror, that the Americans throw good beef dripping away, contemptuously dismissing it as 'fat' and Pamela had made the Yorkshire, we heard that a grand barbecue had been laid on. This entailed the whole family and us going down to a shelter on the lake shore and barbecuing beef over charcoal fires, all the rage at that time. The journey from house to shelter was considerable. The Yorkshire was made, beautiful in its golden fluffiness and swelling contours. It was then hurried down the garden path in the teeth of the lake breeze, whacked out onto plates until the meat was ready. I've a strange suspicion that the Barrett family still haven't tasted the joys of real Yorkshire.

Barbara, the daughter of the family and a girl to make some man happy for the rest of his born natural, took us out on the lake in a speedboat belonging to Doc. I was scared. We opened up, the bow rose got on the step and we went scudding along between islands and sharp-fanged rocks, scattering mere sailing dinghies, etc. There was some discussion among the Barrett children as to the efficacy of the engine, which growled to itself as though in pain. The boat stopped , the engine hatch was ceremoniously opened and the guts of the job indecently displayed. I began to eye the land and work out the number of strokes I could manage before sinking. However, after some technicalities and a withering look from the younger Barrett boy in my direction at my unspoken but obvious ignorance of the internal combustion engine -- knowledge with which every red-blooded American boy is born -- we resumed our hectic course, and arrived safely back if rather wet.

On another day Doc drove us over to a local college football match. This, it goes without saying, was American football. The ground was a tastefully decorated greensward and the bleachers were gaunt against the trees lining the road. Popcorn and other delicacies were on sale. I took a walk around and observed in a field across the way gangs of lads in crash helmets and body padding prancing high-kneed, darting about, kicking footballs and generally working up. This, as I saw it, was all a good build up and loosening of the muscles before the game. Out on the field one of the famous American marching bands went through its paces, followed by three others, each from a competing college, four taking part in two halves each. The marching bands were pleasant, with the drum majorettes curving around in the van. Then, the first two teams passed me to enter the field and I saw the state of the lads.

They had quite literally been worked up into a state of nervous and physical hysteria. They were jumping up and down, moving their arms like boxers, sweating, nervously shouting, showing every symptom of drunken troops readying themselves for a bayonet charge. There was a holdup. The last of the marching bands had not yet cleared the arena, and the troops were growing impatient -- and showing it. 'Let's go,' they shouted, and variations on this. I had a fleeting impression of a chained team of horses dragging at a stubborn stump, or of a dynamo struggling to turn against an impossible force; and -- comically -- came the memory of Don Bradman walking quietly out to the wicket.

Then the avalanche was let loose and the boys poured out on to the field, looking like spaceship pilots heading back to their ship on an alien and hostile planet.

American football is an exact science, and not one that needs to be gone into here. I picked up the rudiments of the contest -- it is scarcely a game -- and found that, in truth, it is interesting in a cold, calculating way. The cheer leaders down front were not, it seemed to me, of the best quality, but then I'm no judge of that. When one team was penned in before their goal and was struggling to prevent the other team from crossing the line for a try, the cheer leaders started the chant of: 'Hold that line!' To me, this seemed rank bad psychology.

But it was quite clear, that, as was pointed out to me, American football is designed as a catharsis for the onlookers. An American wants to go there and shout himself hoarse -- on instructions -- and generally let his hair down. Not being a patroniser of British league football where no doubt a similar condition obtains, I cannot compare the two. Anyway, the day was great fun and the football expedition a great success.

Don Ford brought Margaret and the family up for the weekend and we spent a very pleasant time talking over the con and other fannish affairs which at the time were in the forefront of everyone's mind. When we saw Don off it was, as we knew, probably the last time we'd meet unless we went again to States or Don came to England. This thought, not surprisingly, affected us at the leave-taking, but here is not the time to go into the story of Don Ford and his work, as this can be dealt with in the chapter on the CFG.

Doc's life, at this time, apart from his medical work which we gathered ranked him a pretty big bug in US surgery, revolved around the Shriners and their parade, which this year was to be held in Bellefontaine, and which was a great honour for so small a township. Everyone was infected by Doc's high spirits. His deep voice, rasping chuckle and big cigar chased away any of the old morbid spirits that had the temerity to look in on us. His secretary had just bought a brand new car, and she took us driving around in pouring rain and there we were all snug in this big luxurious boat on balloon tyres, with Detroit marvels all about us -- and with a contempt for sticking in ruts full of mud that made me, with memories of the old fanvan, wince. One measures a man in the way his subordinates regard him, in this respect Doc had a first class secretary.

On the great day we went along to her house, met her family and friends, and sat on the porch watching for the parade. Bands, bunting, flags, symbols, costumes, cars, bands, a host of fun and games paraded through the streets of Bellefontaine. The Shriners is one of those semi-secret orders like the freemasons, and the men wore red fez with golden half-moons and other secret symbols. There were cowboys, Indians, sheikhs and other American ideas of the Middle Eastern way of life. We were tickled pink with it all. As an Englishman I was naturally reserved and cheered in a minor and dignified key -- until Doc himself rolled along in an open car seated beside the big wig of the order. Then I let rip a few yells to show that as far as fandom was concerned, this mobile con was put on for Doc's benefit and was his baby. The big wig looked up at the porch, caught the yell and said something to Doc. No doubt it was to the effect that his locals were a rip-roaring bunch of wildcats and quite unlike the civilised citizens of the great metropoli.

On top of the worldcon and the organisation of the Shriner parade, Doc was going South for the surgeon's con; he was a very busy man. Yet he had time to run me out to a farmhouse he owned to show me the rooms literally stacked to the ceiling with old mags and books. Doc probably has one of the biggest collections in the world; certainly I have seen no larger. Not having had the pleasure of visiting the Ackerman garages, I cannot compare, but anyone who wants to stand his collection against Doc's must have three separate homes in which to store it all. There were bound copies of the three main zines -- ASF, Amazing and TWS -- stretching around his surgery shelves for the edification of visitors. The surgery basement contained boxes loaded with treasure. The farmhouse groaned under the weight of books and mags and, back at the lake, the house possessed the piece de resistance.

Having seen Jack Williamson's study, Doc had decided that this was the thing, and had constructed a facsimile in an upstairs room. Evelyn, his wife, had carpentered it herself, and a very fine job it is too. One wall was solid bookcases with a sloping desk for current periodicals. Through the maze of books ran a railway system, this, of course, belonged to the son; but I recall that on a tape we cut and sent to Ted Carnell, I was more enthusiastic over the railway system than over the sf side -- a reflex defensive action.

Looking back I regret that I didn't have the energy to explore Doc's collection more fully, in particular the very old fantasy magazines he possessed, which are indeed rare and precious items to any sf fan. But after the con and its attendant excitements, Pamela and I were trying to recuperate in preparation for the balance of the trip.

On the day we were to travel south, Doc piled us all into the largest of the family's cars and we set off in fine fettle, first calling on his elder son at college.

Doc's son greeted him from the steps of a building from amongst a group of friends and came over to be introduced. He was quiet and subdued; but that may have been merely because parents were in the offing. During a school play a short time before, the students had fixed up a magic trick which involved having fumes rise in the background and for the purpose they had used a jar of acid which gave off suitable fumes. When the props were being dismantled one lad at the top of a ladder clumsily dislodged the jar of acid and shouted a warning. Doc's son looked up and got the lot in his face. He can still see from one eye but Doc, as a doctor, scoured America for hope for the other, the last we heard there was none. Comment here is superfluous.

Driving down to Savannah, from where Doc was going on to Florida, was an experience. Pamela stopped off to pick real cotton in a field and the obvious crack about keeping her cotton-pickin' fingers off -- whatever she was touching -- was duly made. We still have this cotton ball -- but, perhaps fortunately, no boll weevil to go with it.

At one point somewhere along the route we stopped for gas and a Coke, they had jugs of cider for sale too. These were bought but turned out to be apple-juice rather than cider. I couldn't understand a word the natives were saying -- this must have been Carolina somewhere -- and they couldn't savvy me. I asked Doc what they were saying and he wasn't 100% sure. So much for the English speaking union. Yet, in Kentucky it is claimed, the natives still speak Elizabethan English, although this claim has recently been shown to be a wishful-thinking daydream, the moral is clear.

Along the Blue Ridge mountains of ole Virginy, we stopped for the view which was immense and grand. I kept thinking of the battles that had raged here during the Civil War -- or, as we were going South -- the War between the States -- and this ground was as much history-drenched to a thinking man as a deal of the Old World. (Which seemed a hell of a long way off). Just to keep up our spirits I showed the younger Barrett son how to bowl an off break guaranteed to remove Hutton's bails. He kept bending his arm as though indulging in baseball pitching. I would not have been surprised if the stones we bowled had pitched near a rusty sabre or a blue or grey kepi.

Then looking right away across the blue plains with the mountains trending left and right, and seeing the whole vast area as though covered with trees, you could not but help picture the sleek red skin of the Indians flitting from tree to tree, tomahawks upraised, moccasins silent, and see the settlers with axe and fire carving out their homesteads, their tricorn hats hung on a convenient branch and their long muskets handy. Yes, even though we found an abysmal and appalling ignorance of the historical progression in the youth of America, history is all about them.

At last we reached Savannah, rolling in over a fine new bridge which was recently the scene of that ghastly accident where the butane wagon went over and burned up the swimmers in the river, and then got lost. We struck off to the right and going down a road lined by toppling shacks, filth, spilled dustbins and grey washing, and a general air of decay and neglect, to find we'd entered the Negro section of the city, so we about faced and went back, striking this time through the city centre, which is a series of squares all neatly planned the day the town was started and not the result of haphazard growth. They are disliked by car drivers as they demand a succession of turns to go in a straight lines.

We went into a high-class eatery or restaurant, full of chrome and glass and neon, where I rang the number Jesse had given me. A friend came out in a car, saying he that couldn't direct us there but he could take us. We stood on the curb and waved good-bye to the Barrett family, as fine a family as anyone could wish anywhere and then entered Jesse's friend's car to drive to his apartment.