TAFF Tales
1955 TAFF Report: H. Ken Bulmer

Chapter 6

Published November 1960 in Orion 26 ed Ella Parker
Rekeyed by Vin¢ Clarke & Brian Jordan

6 • Scrabbling Around

Most of the journey up from Savannah to Washington is a blur in the minds of Pamela and myself. We'd had some Greyhound training on the trip from New York to Cincinnati so now knew enough not to sit in the front seat behind the driver. There you had no leg room; there was a beastly partition against which tired and irritated legs thrust all night seeking a comfortable position. Up front, too, you were continually being startled into a half-awareness by the abrupt oncoming dazzle of lights blasting straight into your eyes through the enormous expanse of glasswork. So we sat further back, where there was leg room and protection from the lights. Even so, I remember little of the trip. We were both exhausted. I do remember with a vivid pleasure the tremendous help and understanding from Bob Pavlat. He met us at the depot in his red fire-wagon and whisked us through the torturous toils of Washington traffic to the home of the Derrys.

From what we gathered, when Washington was planned, they laid it out on the grid system. Then -- for some reason -- another grid system was laid down at a forty-five degree angle over the older one. Thus you have an enormous number of pointy buildings and roads intersecting at forty-five degree angles all over. In addition, we were told that some avenues had to go straight through and to hell with the planners. The result was a lusty sort of traffic confusion that although both normal -- in terms of density and flow -- and yet abnormal -- in terms of congestion -- for America, resulted in most people being lost at least once a day.

I suppose Washington was in one sense a sort of legal, juridical and political mausoleum. Some of the fine avenues and seemingly unending facades of tall grey stone buildings gave an impression of withdrawn cerebral cogitation. But, in America nothing -- that we saw -- could be considered static. They were busy tearing up a busy intersection and driving a tunnel through under the level so as to give a crossing free from interruption. Whilst the work was in progress life was hectic, and Bob said he knew a man who had driven round the area for half an hour trying to get out.

When we arrived at the Derry's place we were welcomed in a wonderful style by Chick and Juanita. They had a charming house set in one of the housing estates, and I remember with awe the way they discussed one item on the agenda, that of choosing the right sort of tree. Chuck was indignant that when the builders came to put up the place they simply tore out all the trees and bushes so as to let their bulldozers have a clear run and allow easy ingress for trucks. Now the greenery was conspicuous by its lowness to the ground. You can consult a catalogue, choose your tree, order it, and have it delivered and -- erected? -- planted, that's it. After that it's up to you if the tree thrives or withers.

I believe it was at Don Ford's place we saw a tree that was in full bloom one side and bud the other. Answer was that in the budding stage a freak snow storm had killed off one side of the tree, which had regrown into bud as the other side went into bloom. Odd looking, rather attractive, and a little pathetic; it conjured up memories of the passing seasons and of the old man beardy and his scythe ready for us all.

The only problem on this tree-buying lark is that the things are expensive. Like almost anything else, the tree before the front door was growing into another status symbol. The fact that the trees are necessary to provide shade -- and Americans call any sort of tree with wide flat leaves 'shade trees' -- tends to get lost in the confusion. Although not as hot as Savannah, Washington was still plenty hot. We felt thoroughly at home with Chick and Juanita, and we dubbed them as being the typical American family as they had two wonderful children and a half. According to the statistics, families in America were father, mother and two and a half children. So there.

Chick Derry is a fan full of bubbling enthusiasm. He goes at things with full steam up. As a rep for a ditto company he was in the enviable position of being able to secure bargains in the ditto line, and Washington as well as Baltimore fandom duly profited. He had ingress to the Pentagon, but somehow or other was reluctant to let me crouch on the floor of his car as he drove through the armed guards so I could have first hand information on the arsenal where US military might is planned. He confirmed that there are so many people in the place you could walk around for hours without meeting a soul you knew, and if you had the right credentials you could penetrate right into the place. He's had one or two salutary experiences, and took the whole business very seriously, and when you stop to consider for a moment, it is.

He had a room at the house crammed with duping gear and production facilities for zines, and much of the Washington stuff had been done here. Trouble was, in his job, he has to go off for long periods into the hills, as it were, and time is at a premium. I'd say that Chick was a first class example of the fan who really believes in fandom as something positive, a force of pleasure in life, and yet does most of his work in the background and couldn't care less about egoboo and bnfmanship. The same can be said of Bob Pavlat. To me, those two fen represent most of what is good in fandom. They lived at that time fairly near each other, even by our more restricted standards, so that they were able to form a sort of continuing nucleus of interest in sf fandom around their area.

They took us to a bar where we could lower a stein or two and I was expecting one of the typical brash, neon-lit, chrome-plated, high-powered, and supremely efficient American bars. Instead, although the place was American in the sense that it throbbed with activity and possessed most of the usual appurtenances, it was a quiet sort of activity, with a closer, darker look and a strong atmosphere of friendliness to the customer, which although it may exist in any other bar is not particularly noticeable. A smooth and machine-like precision doesn't necessarily mean that the customer is made to feel at home. I feel that part of the reason why Americans say they like an English pub is just this immediate air of friendship and welcome which the place itself, quite apart from the people involved, extends. This added up again, like the time we went to the White Horse in Greenwich Village -- but of that,more anon.

Juanita cooked us a superb meal which might easily have been photographed and used on the front cover of a glossy. We sat around until late into the night, talking and relaxing and generally being made to feel at home. Juanita, whilst being staunchly non-fan, is interested in people to the extent that she might as well be a fan, as Chick and we proved. The evening was like that, very pleasant and then we went off to bed.

Next morning they said: 'We know you slept well last night.' 'Huh? How?' 'Oh, the walls here are so thin and the bed creaks!'

It was at the Derry's -- I believe -- that I first saw 'Scrabble' played. I didn't try it -- we were in the middle of preparing to go somewhere else and time was short -- but I watched a few hands being dealt, etc. I couldn't make head or tail of the game but a few odd facts filed themselves away in my brain. We also tried a detection game with cards and who was the murderer, etc., which was quite good fun except that Chick and Bob were too hot for Herlock Sholmes himself to handle. Anyway, now that in 1960 I am spending a month at the seaside with Walter and Madeleine Willis and families, and when the Scrabble board appears I play with all the aplomb of Ken Nagle sinking a six-inch putt.

That I put down words which ought to be in the English language but for some inexplicable reason aren't, I cannot blame on the TAFF trip -- American dictionaries don't carry them either. But it is odd how minor events of the trip carry over to the present time, and the big things seem to fade. Most odd.

This, I suppose, is concrete evidence of the fact that Bulmer has a bird brain. Maybe. But the whole TAFF trip was so big an experience, so gigantic an impact, that you just can't be serious about it all the time, neither can you keep up an air of wide-eyed wonder all the time in the report. I'm afraid that if I tried to recapture all of it in that style it would rapidly become insincere, shallow, a mere groping after a pretty phrase or a dubious pun. I'm not too bothered about writing style and I've already explained that any attempt to maintain strict chronological order is a waste of time and patience, besides being boring.

If I can get over that the TAFF trip -- my TAFF trip and all the others -- is something that is so worthwhile that all detractors ought to feel ashamed, and that some of my deep feelings about it is conveyed to the reader, then at least a part of what I want has been done.

I'm no longer starry-eyed and full of jumping beans about the trip -- I haven't just completed it. I've had time to think about it and digest, to realise what it has done, not only to me personally but to everyone else even remotely concerned. In the long run and on balance, TAFF is a good thing. I know only too well some of the bad facets, and some that most of you in general fandom don't know; but on balance, TAFF is worthwhile. Salut.

My apologies for the brevity of this instalment but it is being written while on holiday in Ireland and if these circumstances aren't sufficiently extenuating in themselves ... well!