TAFF Tales
1955 TAFF Report: H. Ken Bulmer

Chapter 5

Published June 1960 in Orion 25 ed Ella Parker
Rekeyed by Vin¢ Clarke

5 • Talking Topics

Before going on with the decrepit saga of the Bulmer family's erratic wanderings over some of the Eastern, Midwestern and Southern States of the U.S. and A. I want to clear up an interesting knotty-problem brought up by a BNF. No names as they say and no pack drill. Have you ever seen a pack-drill? I have -- I, thank Ghu never experienced it -- it looks awful, and I'm not talking about the faked-up bully-yelling that most recruits get to hear behind a wall -- that's Army psychology that probably goes back to longbows and beyond.

Well, now, you remember that when Doc Barrett was taking Pamela and myself down to Savannah, we stopped off at a wayside store where 'Cider' had been advertised. I mentioned that this cider turned out not to be pressed apple juice. Now, to me, this was a simple contrast remark, like when you buy suspenders here you get suspenders and when you buy them in the States you get braces. And there is the tie-up with cider, too, which you all know about. Also there were many remarks about the old Kentucky rifleman with his jar of applejack hitched up onto his shoulder -- all these things sort of blended.

Now if this well-respected BNF gets out of these remarks that I was knocking the US and A -- well, he's abysmally wrong, of course; but the mere fact that he was receiving this impression is disturbing. Here we were, in a tremendous country, meeting many people for the first time, being feted, put-up, fed, amused, looked-after and generally being given the impression that we were important people. And so we turn right round and write unpleasant things? No, however much psychology of the gift-horse and the reverse-reaction you care to read into all this, the facts still remain that Pamela and I like and admire America and their country far too much to indulge in cheap wisecracks. Certainly we found much we didn't like. We also find a lot we don't like here, and in other countries of the world. But as a guest you have to trim your criticism to suit the requirements of the moment -- for instance, we refrained from pointing out that the Americans drive on the wrong side of the road and at the beginning almost every car drive was a nightmare experience.

One other little interesting note on this contrast thing; in NY the girls call their handbags 'purses'. For some reason this always threw me. One sweet young neofanne at a party asked me to give her purse and I went pawing over the table littered with empty bottles, ashtrays overflowing, etc. There was this black and gilt handbag but no purse, and my heart failed me at opening the thing to take the purse out. I was told, firmly and forcibly, that that was a purse. Oh! Sorry.

At this same party, the little camera-screen in my mind lights up in three-D, colour and sound, Randy Garrett and Harlan Ellison came in singing G & S about an Englishman. Now I have read Habakkuk Chap. 1., Verse 3. [1] My mind, as they say, boggled. The impression I have is that Randy was singing with one arm draped round Harlan's shoulders, and Harlan was doing his damnedest in the Ellison way to get his arm up over Randy's shoulder so they could sing in equality. Now, the correction comes. Suppose it was Randy, manfully trying to get his arm up over Bill Donaho's shoulder?

My memory is a tricky joker. I can recall faithfully many points that appear to be unimportant; and totally forget what shopping to buy and whether I've sent in my Income Tax return and if I've answered good-old so-and-so's welcome letter. As a f'rinstance, Pamela pointed out to me that I'd claimed Doc Barrett kept his 21st. Century laundry arrangements in the basement. It now appears that the chalet at Indian Lake doesn't have a basement. Umm. Equally, if Bill Donaho says it was he and Randy who sang their version of 'For he's an Englishman' then I accept that implicitly.

You just don't argue with Bill Donaho.

Bill claims that I said that I'd never heard the song before. I did say that. It was a pure defence mechanism. Now that Bill has explained that it was he and Randy, I can understand my cringing away; these two men are big; and there they were, yelling full into my sensitive fannish face. I've never heard it sung that way, is all. As for disliking G & S -- I don't. Some is just tinkle-tinkle, but WS was a first class wordsmith, and Sir Arthur turned out material that hasn't been touched. Thing here is, mucho apologies to Bill.

Harking back to those days spent in NY, I believe everyone knows of the reputation that Central Park has. You just don't go near there after dark. If you do -- the chances are that you'll be mugged, beat-up, robbed, and, if a girl, invited to lie back and enjoy it. However, my saying this may again bring down the wrath of the BNF who accused me of denigrating the American scene. So, to balance the score, I'll say I wouldn't allow Pamela to walk alone along many a London street. Okay?

There were six of us. We were going downtown to our apartment and skirting the Park. We'd been warned many times that if we contemplated an evening stroll then to steer clear of the Park; but the devil got into the four guys with us, and they suggested we might like to see the notorious Park by night. There were Danny Curran, Art Saha, Bill Donaho and Dick Ellington, plus Pamela and me. We said nervously 'Yes.'

As soon as we entered the gates and began to stroll along the path, with bushes black on either hand, my fears left me. Hell -- this quartet could do a great of damage before they might be swamped by any gang of hoodlums. In the fracas, Pamela and I could skedaddle out of there. So, feeling very daring and very brave, we wandered along, singing.

Maybe it was a silly thing to do and maybe the dangers of the Park had been exaggerated just so Pamela and I wouldn't do anything silly. But, still, with these four tough hombres -- and believe me, they were tough -- it seemed OK. Although I have no proof of this, one of them, I believe, habitually carried a nasty weapon of offence -- knife, cosh, etc. -- with him at all times. Reason was that he'd been mixed up with other characters who were just as unfriendly at times. This wasn't on the Ellison juvenile delinquent level, either -- politics had reared its ugly head.

We'd been up to have a look at the building into which this quartet was moving, the famous place that became known as 'Riverside Dive'. Walking back in the night -- and in NY where we lived to find a dark spot wasn't easy -- gave a sort of shivery feeling quite unrelated to the dangers, real or imaginary, of the surroundings. The glow in the sky was phenomenal. Light forms such a part of the NY nightscape that we noticed the lack of it as soon as we returned to England.

And out on the roads, well, the Americans really believe in lighting up all they can. This is, of course, in many ways a good thing. I wonder how many of you remember the story 'Moth' by G.R.Malloch, pubbed in the June-July 1931 ish. of Weird Tales, subsequently reprinted as 'Winged Terror' in Fantasy in 1939? Malloch postulated that the great 'Electric Age' had driven moths almost out of existence, and followed that by a suggestion that giant moths might fly in from some other place. Lights in the US along the main habited stretches are fierce. To stand as we did and look out over a city, or the outskirts of a city, where roads and highways and freeways and turnpikes looped and joined and flowed with living light was an experience worth all the bother of actually travelling on these roads.

One amusing instance of this light abundance -- and yet a fine example of planning -- was in the lighting of road repairs. We were travelling fast with Larry Shaw when ahead we saw an orange light going off and on, off and on, with a regular rhythm. Larry eased the car down. We came up to the lights and I saw they were two big amber spots, each one going on when the other was off. They were set up in front of a hole in the road about two feet by three. The current supply was high -- above the hum of the motor you could hear a distinct click as each light went on. Back in England there'd be a red lamp with a dirty glass.

Anyway, this discursion into lighting isn't half completed -- the sight of a US motorway at night is one of the wonders of the world.

Coming back to NY and that night-time walk thru Central Park with a tough escort, these lads certainly did us proud when we were in NY. I'd always wanted to go see a Planetarium. In the first issue of Star Parade, in 1941, I'd done an article on Planetaria, with the usual bemoaning groans that there was none in Great Britain. Now there is one in Baker Street I still haven't been. I'm no longer attracted -- and that is my fault.

I made a special point of going to the Hayden Planetarium up by W.61 St., along the edge of Central Park. Pamela and I went in and for me, at least, this was going to be a highspot. The show was a children's one -- and still I wasn't warned. We sat down and were given an elementary run-thru on the solar system, etc., and then went through into the dome. The whole thing was a mock-up of a journey to the Moon. Remember, this was just after Eisenhower had announced that satellites were to be put up and before the Sputniks, and we were still living in the pre-Space Age. The show as such, and to me, was a flop. I felt, however, that the fault lay with me.

I'd been imagining seeing the wheeling stars, seeing them as they were a million years ago, and as they would look when we set off to explore them and their planets. I'd built up far too much anticipation, and that usually lets you down. I came out really fed-up with the idiocy of the whole show.

Then we went and had a look at a rocket exhibition and that was very nice -- actually seeing components and working models of the models of the rockets with which I was familiar. We found a horseshoe-shaped passage with a chunk of rock on a pedestal at each end. This, the label said, was a meteorite. I looked at it. Then we went on, into the corridor. It curved, and suddenly, we were in a different world. Just the painted corridor, no one else, quietness, a gentle and far-off hum of machinery -- and this gigantic chunk of rock that had fallen from space.

I began to warm up. I stood before the rock. It was big -- pitted with holes and rotted away where it had lain in the earth. This was a piece of another planet. This had once exploded with immeasurable violence, flung into space, circled in the solar system, and at last fallen with fire and thunder upon the Earth. And here it was, and here was Bulmer, staring at it.

I suppose if this were one of the conventional fan reports I'd have to make some funny remarks about there being no provision to prevent anyone walking out with it. It weighed about half a ton. But the silence got me. Silence, a distant thrum which emphasised the quietness, loneliness -- the corridor remained empty all the time. The meteorite sitting on its pedestal. A perceptible coldness flowed out from it. I looked at the black holes in it. What was in there? I began to get the breeze up; anything could come out of that hole. A long-quiescent monster, a BEM, an alien, awakened from his aeons-long sleep, creeping out into the brilliance and heat of a NY summer day.

I looked for Pamela and she wasn't there. I began to be frightened that someone would come round the corridor -- some thoughtless laughing kids sucking ice-cream -- and make a noise. I kept as quiet as I could. Any noise, I thought, would awaken the being in the rock and bring him -- or it -- out. I breathed shallowly. I was sweating -- and although it was a hot day the coldness of that rock made refrigeration unnecessary.

How old was it? Strangely enough it was probably of the same age as the rock under Manhattan, or the rocks I dug out of the garden at Tresco. But these rocks were of the Earth, Earthy. This was alien. It had not been made on Earth. And I began to get the shivers worse than before.

At last, nonchalantly, reluctantly too, I turned and sauntered out. I wanted not to turn my back. I wanted to run. But instead I found Pamela, and she said : 'Where have you been?' I said: 'Looking at the meteorite, the big one.' She gave me an old-fashioned look and said: 'Yes. I need an ice-cream.'

She knew.

And then we were out under the trees with yelling kids and littered candy wrappings and brilliant sunshine and the smell of NY -- strong, familiar, reassuringly Earthly sights and sounds and scents. We caught a bus back and I handled the thirteen cents ( I think it was) with aplomb. But that had been another experience worth crossing the Atlantic for. There were lots of them. Like camera flashes, they light up in the Bulmer bonce -- but they don't necessarily come out in the chronological order. I don't feel that's important, though.

There'll be more.


[1] Habakkuk -- Bill Donaho's fanzine.

Vin¢ Clarke