TAFF Tales
1955 TAFF Report: H. Ken Bulmer

Chapter 4 illustrated by Atom

Published January 1960 in Orion 24 ed Ella Parker
Rekeyed by Vin¢ Clarke

4 • Cleveland Cameo

The Gift for Immortal Prose in most people deserts them the moment they put words to paper, and in retailing Pamela's and my adventures inn the land of Bloch and Tucker I feel the need to put on my best bib and tucker. I shall not, I assure you, feel competent at this present juncture to regale you with the story of Tucker's next generation and L.Sprague de Camp's dental floss or of Willy Ley. As Walter Alexander Willis has said, we shall be referring to rare objects on the fannish scene as 'Scarce as Bulmer's teeth.' I am wounded by this, wounded to the gums. But, gritting my few remaining ivories, I repeat the fatal words 'dental floss.'

This thin, stringy, fluffy, twine-like substance is not as well known or as widely used this side of the Atlantic as the other. The theory is, in the land where tooth-picks form part of the table decorations, that the floss shall be drawn between the teeth to remove the odd lobster claw or hominy grits.

L. Sp. de C. was apparently about to perform this intricate operation on his pearlies during a Willy Ley talk, probably on rockets if it wasn't about extinct animals. Now, much as we all love and admire Willy, a talk by him demands absolute concentration. Tucker, knowing this, concentrated. His off-spring off-sprang. The next we saw was young David Tucker cavorting up and down the aisle with de Camp's dental floss. de Camp has apparently, in one of his juvenile-psychological-fits, given it to the Wild Talent Junior to keep him amused.

He was successful. Stunningly successful. The young Tucker wound the stuff about him, cooed over it, ran up and down trailing it behind him like a Jules Verne steam-engine rocket-train from here to the Moon. People began to look. People began to nod their heads and to pass the word along. Willy Ley carried on sternly, oblivious to the rival attraction.

The infant enflossed

It is doubtful that even he would have been impressed by my inspired comment that young Tucker was attempting to explain an abstruse mathematical point of astronautics just then being made by Willy in more simple terms, understandable by us mere fen. On the other hand, Willy might have been talking about extinct animals. The parallel there is so bright that I refrain from comment.

At last Tucker Snr. lassooed Tucker Jnr., it was not established if he used the dental floss or not, and order was restored. But it was the most successful Willy Ley lecture in decades, I was told.

To round off the opening remarks -- and no Gift for Immortal Prose is to be expected this time round -- I doubt that any pen could do justice to the thoughts that crossed my mind when talking to Bob Bloch and Tony Boucher. Incidentally, he pronounces his name 'Bowcher' so I guess that must be right.

They both have noses. They both have gimlet eyes. And -- they both use cigarette holders. Now, many people use cigarette holders, Evelyn Paige, Terry Thomas and Ted Tubb. But the sight of Bloch and Boucher with holders, sitting at the little private, dimly lit and coloured-lighted bar in the hotel in Cleveland, aroused a storm of fancies. Imagine -- the romantically lit bar, the ranked bottles, the unobtrusive waiter, tree-like decorations swathing pillars, soft seats, good drinks -- and the two giants facing each other. At once -- at once -- they were two gentlemen from fiery Italy of the Renaissance. Their rapiers flickered, catching glints of light, flickering in and out in flashing parry and riposte. The blades clashed and rang. Or -- they were two heroes from the plains of Ilium, hurling insults at each other, hefting their well-made spears, casting them in darts of Jovian thunder. Or -- well, you carry on.

Two sf giants, sitting fencing with cigarette holders, still clenched between teeth (huh?). The stuff from which can be spun sf and fannish fantasies that still contain the sense of wonder that some people insist has been lost, by them.

The name of the bar was the Purple Tree and the atmosphere was purple. A sort of Pelham Groom twilight, if you follow. [1] The swizzle sticks were all little purple trees, and the general effect was one of Jungles on Venus. I was also reminded of Niebaldskis's Mutant. The bar was reasonably small and most select and secretive and, to me, anyway, it never seemed to fill as you'd expect. I think this was in part accounted for by the immense quantities of liquor consumed in rooms in parties, etc. I don't believe Guest of Honour Isaac Asimov went to sleep from one end of the con to the other.

Doc Barrett had a shirt with two pockets, in one of which he had sleepy pills and the other wakey-wakey pills. He used to walk about prescribing as he went. Some of the con attendees set their physiological systems by Doc's pills, snapping to a smart attention at the crack of a programme with a pill, and dropping off to sleep under someone else's bed at party-low-ebb with another.

One evening, as Dale R.Smith had very kindly offered to take Pamela and me to dinner, as a generous gesture showing his support of the TAFF man. Arrangements were quickly made that Chinese food was just the thing for a group of the CFG. [2] Dale is a large, soft-spoken, very pleasant individual with the sort of mid-Western sincerity that makes every topic important. He is not to be confused with Death Ray Smith of immortal memory, and also of Nuneaton. [3] Dale went out of his way to be pleasant to us, as did most everyone, and we all repaired through the streets of Cleveland to the Chinese restaurant.

As in any city where you go out to eat with a bunch, so it was in Cleveland. Where was the restaurant? Which restaurant? This way -- no, that one was not it -- well then, this way... We eventually arrived at a Chinese restaurant and entered.

At that time Pamela liked Chinese food and I didn't. I'd been foisted off in various Chinese restaurants with terrible stuff by Ted Tubb from time to time and had conceived an aversion for it. So I watched with some trepidation as waiter after waiter brought in bowl after bowl...

It has only been in the last couple of years that my palate and susceptibilities have accustomed themselves to Chinese food, through the gourmet of Dan Morgan and John Kippax. They share my views on what is eatable and what not. Altho' I cannot follow them all the way I can, at least, understand how to order.

There were a number of notable diners around that Chinese table in Cleveland. Ellis Mills, Ben Keifer, 'the one with the stomach muscle', Don Ford and Lou Tabakow. We started in and I did find some quite nice things to eat. The atmosphere was fine, and, I recall, it was that sort of conversation where anyone speaks to anyone and it all fits in but there is nothing you can pin-point for posterity. At one point Pamela and I were warned most carefully about a certain foodstuff, on a small dish, and told that this was hot, really hot, hotter than anything you've ever tasted.

This was Chinese mustard. From all I gathered, it was uncommon in the States for English mustard to be used -- they have the powder but make it in some complicated way that comes out something like Continental mustard, which of course is just like fish paste. Anyway, one of the chap's wives was tasting this and making the appropriate cooing noises of heat, so we tried it and it turned out to be like English mustard, so that was all right. It may have been made a little bit stronger, but the difference was minute. I recently heard from Ellis that someone stuffed a wedge in their mouth and nearly exploded. I've an idea we disappointed them when we didn't exclaim at how hot it was.

In a bar somewhere I pulled a juvenile action pun. Dale Tarr and Dale Smith, two chaps who although not small are not as tall as Don Ford (is anyone?) happened to be standing talking, so I ups and begin to marshal them around. I put Tarr there and Smith there, and stuck Ford between, there. Surveying my handiwork, and their puzzled expressions, I hadn't the heart to make the pun and, anyway, it had slipped in the making and wasn't the full blooded one I'd originally thought of. So, I said: 'Behold, a mountain between two Dales.' Of course the 'ford' aspect of it should have been worked in but I'm not a punman a la WAW. (For which small mercy, Ghu be thanked). They were quite polite.

When I'd eaten all I could, and most of the others had called it a day, Ben, Ellis and Don, with Lou still in there, cleared the table. Don began to chuckle, but he knew that these lads could shift the food without ill effects. The Americans eat a lot more than we do, it seems, and the theory is that this gives them their energy. Could be. Doc had figures which showed that the size of us'ns over here had not increased through the war years, as most of the US folk are increasing in size -- over the generations and by averages, of course -- apparently because we had rationing which, although giving us a perfectly good and liveable diet, didn't give us that little extra which allowed growth increase. I thought of the dinosaurs and their flopping, also of the early-type mammals which ran to size until us little 'uns kicked 'em out. Still, even though the Black Prince was quite a shorty to us, there were big fellows in his days, and I suppose that even though the height of the average population-unit (how's that for another new and ugly way of saying something?) is steadily increasing, there will be enough shorties to hold the balance level and to prevent the big 'uns from ruining the race. (Come in, WAW, James White, Ted Tubb, Don Ford et al, and shoot me down. Hah!!).

Here endeth this episode of TAFF Tales. In picking out a few snapshot memories of the con we're hoping to build up a multi-dimensional picture that although more difficult than a mere straightforward narrative, has already picked up some favourable comment. If I haven't made it clear from the beginning both Pamela and I were greatly appreciative of the goodwill and hospitality shown us; but think that is abundantly clear from what has already been written -- even if not in any style showing a Gift of Immortal prose...


[1] Reference is to The Purple Twilight by Pelham Groom, a now forgotten SF book of '48.

[2] Cincinnati Fantasy Group.

[3] Pre-war very active British fan.

Vin¢ Clarke