Last weekend at Magicon, I met DUFF winner Roger Weddell, who suggested that I run for DUFF next year. If you have not yet met Roger, let me tell you that he is perhaps the most able and personable fan fund winner this continent has ever seen. He is not shy. He thinks fundraising is easy. And let me tell you that I have known fan fundraising and it is not easy. Publishing J.G.Taff and administering the auction and the elections after my TAFF trip in 1987 gobbled up all my free time for two years. They give you the trip first for a good reason. You've already enjoyed the reward; they count on guilty responsibility to get the work done. I blinked and gasped when Roger said that raising money was easy. And I believed him. How did you get so much time off for this trip, I asked him. "Oh, I didn't," he smiled. "I quit. I'll get another job when I get back. I've only done one interview in my life, but people just sort of give me jobs," he said, and flashed that smile again. I believed him. So, when he suggested I run for DUFF, I figured that I'd better bring out the big guns right away. Distract this guy, I thought
"I think people would prefer that I finish my TAFF trip report first," I said.
"Right," Roger agreed. And then I steered him toward another subject before he asked me how my trip report was going. After five years, a TAFF winner develops a preternatural skill of predicting the onset of such questions and learns many distracting techniques to redirect conversation. Had Roger persisted, however, I may have offered him my newest excuse.
But let me digress a bit before I share this tale of woe with you ...
Without Goldfinger or some other suitably menacing character, James Bond would be deadly dull. One can only imagine the diary of such a handicapped 007...
"Monday. World is still peaceful. Miss Moneypenny asked me whether there wasn't someplace else I could hang out, other than her office. Played with my new combination fountain pen/laserstick in the pub and nicked my big toe. Maybe a lunatic will threaten world peace tomorrow. I hope so."
... Not the stuff of movies.
... Or TAFF reports, I worry. One of the more difficult things about writing a TAFF report is that there are seldom any bad guys involved. The fan fund writer needs to grab the reader's attention, all the while being handicapped by the fact that most of the characters in their story are really quite wonderful, generous, and delightful people. Seldom do one's hosts demonstrate the sensitivity to realize that in order to gather material for a well-plotted, interesting trip report, the fan fund winner might well appreciate a minor, near fatal attempt upon their life. The impending sense of doom triggered by the growing awareness of a fandom-wide conspiracy aimed at the fan fund winner's betrayal, would provide a wonderful framework for a gripping tale of intrigue and suspense. What a TAFF report we might have if the winner just managed to narrowly escape from the home of their so-called "host," by tying together the dozens of t-shirts meant for sale at the TAFF auction and climbed down the rough-hewn stone walls of their terrible prison, fleeing through the night disguised as an Anne McCaffrey fan -- a stuffed dragon on her shoulder -- and mailed herself back home in a crate marked as "unsold L. Ron Hubbard books."
No, generally the fan fund winner is greeted with hugs and -- in the case of Brit hosts -- many cups of tea and plates of cookies. One is continually offered free glasses of beer, and though the facade of genial pleasure sometimes cracked when I said, "No thanks. Could I have a Diet Coke?" the general impression is that the fan fun winner can do no wrong during their trip. All requests are met with sincere attempts to accommodate. Complaints never materialize on one's lips: the merest wisp of nascent discomfort is instantly detected and remedies are offered.
Bored? David Langford was rushed to my side to tell a witty story. Nervous? Past TAFF winners, Greg Pickersgill, the Nielsen Haydens, and even Walt Willis assured me that they too suffered anxiety attacks during their trips, and that I should just relax and be myself, and everything would be just fine. Hungry? Suddenly a gang of fans materialized and carried me off to their favorite restaurant. Beneath the magical view of a castle that seemed to float in the night air, Edinburgh fans I had never met offered us a choice of Italian or Tex Mex. Restless? Parties were thrown. Barge tours arranged. Chuch Harris drove us through the countryside at breakneck speed -- which didn't seem all that fast to him, of course, since he can't hear the tires shriek or the wind whistle through the vents. He showed off his country's beautiful castles with their delightful little torture chambers. He packed us back into his car and zoomed off to the canal museum where we learned about an early, 19th century fandom that flourished on barges. Tired? Everywhere we traveled, fans opened their homes and spare rooms to us. The Pickersgills gave their only spare bedroom to Scott and I, allowing fannish luminaries like Mike Glicksohn and the Nielsen Haydens to sleep on sofas and floors. At Walt and Madeleine's house, we were given the grandest room of the house, a third floor bedroom with a giant, feather bed. Comfy chairs sat in front of a window which looked out over the wild and beautiful North Channel; a heater faced the bed in a little fireplace nook, and a bound copy of Warhoon 28, the Willis issue, sat on the bedside table.
During the whole of my trip to Britain in 1987, I was not shot at even once, not in Brighton, not in London, in York, in Edinburgh, in Reading ... not even in Belfast! There were no kidnapping attempts. No mysterious contacts in dark alleyways. Nothing like that. Not only were there no bad guys offering themselves as useful plot devices, there weren't even any extraordinary natural disasters. Signs in London constantly titillated me with hints that the city might someday be drowned by a terrible flood, but no such luck. We saw a part of a BBC documentary about the special precautionary floodgates being installed on the Thames which the announcer pointed out with a properly foreshadowing tone of voice might not be completed on time. But nothing ever came of that. It never even rained hard during our time in London.
So you can see what a hard time I've been having trying to complete my TAFF report. My kind of fannish writing, after all, falls most usually into the category of "Exaggerated Debacle." I write most comfortably about Barbie Dolls melting inside flaming Lincoln Log buildings, hit-and-run quiche accidents, nude graduations. A wonderful trip in which everyone is extremely nice to me and I have a great time does not provide the sort of grist I look for in a good story. You know? In a fit of ambition, I actually wrote the first chapter before Scott and I left the US and published it in Whimsey #6. The portents for a disaster-plagued plotline were too ominous to ignore. Naively, I trusted that real life would respect the law of literary foreshadowing, and I wrote the chapter as if it was the first in a catastrophe-filled novel. This is what I wrote:
What a great way to start! We find the Perfect Travel Agent, who will Take Care of Us, and make sure our flight plans work out smoothly and perfectly! We had faith.
"What a good omen!" Scott said. He's always been a little nervous about flying...
Two weeks later, the day before we would have to pay for the plane tickets (or lose them), we happened to be driving past South Towne. Fire trucks were parked next to the travel agency sign. Water was being squirted on what remained of the building. The odor of charcoal hung in the air. Our travel agency had burnt to the ground.
"I don't think this is a very good omen," said Scott.
You can understand why I had such high hopes for this TAFF trip after that. Things continued to look good ... or bad ... or whatever. The week before our plane was scheduled to take us to Heathrow Airport in London England, there was a terrible Midwest storm, tornados and enormous water damage. The airport from which we would leave -- O'Hare, in Chicago -- closed down for two days. A harrowing possibility occurred to us: We might have to hitchhike to New York City, possibly throwing ourselves up into the open train cars like common hoboes, sharing grub out of cans, disguising our middle class attire with smears of mud, and singing radical labor songs with the railroad proletariat. No doubt some other incredible disaster would have closed down both New York airports and we would have to catch a steamer bound for Liverpool. Boy, what a great "How-We-Got-There" story I'd have to tell for the first part of my trip report!
But then, the next week, the skies cleared up. Our plane took off without incident, and for the next three weeks, everything went quite smoothly. Minor disasters befell those around us and I occasionally envied them for the material they were no doubt accumulating for hilariously funny trip reports, filled with suspenseful missing-the-plane anecdotes, lost passport and luggage stories, etc. I briefly considered outright lying and began to consider which of our overly-wonderful hosts I might convert into a demonic character for my TAFF report, but I had to give up that idea because Scott and I would very much like to return to Britain for another visit. Ah well.
Nevertheless, I've been listening to and transcribing the tapes I made while I traveled through England, Scotland, and Ireland back in 1987. Chapter two was just published in the latest Whimsey #7, out in time for Magicon and ReinCONation, after a five-year hiatus. I would like to think of the preceding as a sort of prologue, an unnumbered chapter of my TAFF trip report, so to speak. Certainly, I am hoping that having read this newest TAFF chapter to you, that you will resist the temptation to harangue me in traditional fannish style about the progress of my TAFF trip report.
I want to thank the ReinCONation committee for asking me to be a guest here. I'm still amazed at the extreme dedication and unbelievable energy levels that this committee must possess to be able to put on a great fannish convention mere days after many of them returned from a very wild, great worldcon. Geri, have you been able to remove the MILK 4 U pasties yet? Just curious. But I can see that this committee is capable of anything. Have you ever thought about bidding for a worldcon? Thank you. I feel very honored.