Exit, Pursued by a Gael
A Taff Defense of Sorts

Ulrika O'Brien

Probably the most common theme running through British reception of Widening Gyre at Corflu UK was a desire to see more of me and my personality in the zine. In the time since I've come back from my TAFF trip, probably the most common question about my publication schedule has been, "So, when are we going to see your TAFF trip report?" In hopes of addressing both plaints with a single stroke, here is the first installment of that report. Not really a first chronological chapter, just the bit that's coalesced into a semi-coherent whole in the interim; more of a sidebar to the trip report. The final report will probably have several side-bars. I'm sadly non-linear, that way.

Lest American readers be needlessly alarmed, I should note that Ian Sorensen Bashing is a sort of national sport of British fandom, and so what you see before you is in not the result of any sustained malice, but merely my first, wobbly attempt to demonstrate fluency in the cultural practices I studied Over Yonder, by donning the ritual knee pads, snorkel, and mallet and addressing the wicket squarely.

Exit, Pursued by a Gael
A Taff Defense of Sorts

Evidently Ian Sorensen wants to get my goat. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. This is not my goat. It isn't even my Croydonese drink order. But perhaps it will do as an answer to Ian, so he can move on to more exotic game. Mae Strelkov's sadly mutilated pet tapir, perhaps, or some of the more up-to-the-minute crotch-kicking Croydon coypus, or potoroos, or whatever funny animal they've taken to ordering drinks in now.

Ian only materializes to hector me once he's already drunk. Fade in: March, 1998. Corflu UK, Saturday night, the bar of the Leeds Griffin hotel well after midnight. Despite the hour, it was still the first day of my TAFF trip, since I hadn't been to bed yet. Steven Cain warned me not to judge UK beer by what the Griffin served – the real ale had run out before Hal and I even got to Leeds. Still, even weak, flat lager isn't so bad, after six or seven. Or twelve. I lost count. The TAFF halo-effect had been channeling rounds my way at an alarming rate all evening. So okay, perhaps I was drunk, too.

Out of the suffused golden haze, Ian appears before me, tall, graying, devastatingly Scottish, with a face like a ruined angel and weaving slightly, looking faintly daft as the liquor makes him more noticeably walleyed than usual. Don't get me wrong. I'm not deprecating anyone here. I might well have been weaving by then, too, and wall-eyed, had I not had the foresight to cling decorously to some handy bit of furniture. A bar chair, I think it was. Possibly the wainscoting, but I think that was probably yet later in the evening.

Ian's conversation lurched immediately into familiar territory. For what seemed like the hundredth time that day, Ian grandly, if unsteadily, re-welcomed me to the UK and assured me that he was always purely in favor of my winning TAFF. (Um. Yes. This from the guy whose first words on meeting me were, "You're the reason I stopped reading RASFF." And while we're at it, if he was always in favor of my winning, why do I need all this reassuring now?) He explained he had been volubly extolling my virtues to anyone who asked him at the preceding Novacon. (Ah.) And besides, we were pals together, united in our mutual crusade to take Don West down a peg or two. (Oh, yes?) Protesting too much? Check. Playing the you-and-me-against-a-benighted-world card? Check. Pumping me full of greasy flattery? Check.

I nodded carefully, blinked owlishly, and pondered whether it would be acceptable to show skepticism at this stage. Cross-cultural exchanges are tricky. My social-signal meters were all still calibrated in Californian, and I was all too aware of my inexperience in the nuances of the UK comedic procedure known as the "piss take." A proper, British exchange of multi-layered, mutual irony might require me to act as if these bizarre claims were plausibly sincere, rather than a series of balletic misdirections setting up whatever finely honed zing could be slipped in, once my guard was down. Ever conservative, I quirked a quizzical eyebrow and adopted a noncommittal mien. That, or the beer was interfering with voluntary control of my facial muscles.

Yes, Ian was awfully glad I had won TAFF – despite his own feelings about TAFF itself I should understand – but Ian would never himself think of standing for TAFF. (How did we get to be talking about him?) At this point, I sensed rather than heard the snicker-snee of the Vorpal blade imminent. Even though this year Ian would be able to attend the US Worldcon, since for once it didn't conflict with the start of his fall term, even now he wouldn't stand for TAFF. He wouldn't stand – ah, yes, here it came; I felt the point go in, just between the third and fourth ribs – because, really, TAFF was an outmoded hack of a fan fund that should be put out to pasture, or, better yet, sent down for glue. The institution served no useful purpose at all any more. (Other than bringing over such tatty personages as yours truly, one presumes.) TAFF was a dinosaur, properly supplanted by fanzines, Usenet, individual fans traveling on their own stick, and (with an airy gesture) general exchanges of fans coming to conventions such as This Very Corflu. (Never was he so gauche as to mention his own rather central role as Chair of This Very Corflu. Of course. The task of inferring what greatness we were in the midst of, and by whose humble hand it came to be, was left as an exercise to the listener.) TAFF, he explained kindly, offers nothing to fandom that couldn't be gotten by other means. (The pat on the head was implicit, rather than actual. I think.) I blinked, more desperately this time, the air having woofed out of my lungs just then.

Then, for all the world, Ian seemed to say, "So, how about a shag then?"1

Blink. I must be very drunk indeed. Hallucinating? Perhaps I just missed the obvious-to-Brits social cue that the conversation was about to take a left turn into the surreal? Blink some more, it may help.

Not really, no.

See, when you've just been through the industrial blender of sleep deprivation, jet lagged time change, omigod-everyone-will-hate-me trip stress, a thirteen-hour advanced Yoga lesson, Heathrow, scalding lemon-scented towels, and a marathon dash through Kings Cross while being battered to death with your own luggage, all surmounted by a dollop of exploding train windows and soaked in some uncounted number of pints, it's easy to begin doubting facts and abilities that, a mere 24-hours ago, seemed solid. I thought I was tolerably good at following ordinary conversation. I could have sworn that, tenuous as it was, my grasp of British idiom included understanding of the verb, to shag. Now a voice in the back of my mind insisted: everything you know is wrong. I girded up the knots of my brow and tried to sort out what Ian was getting at.

On the face of it, it seemed as if he thought that insulting me was a viable preamble for soliciting sex. My ignorance is vast, so possibly this is a time-tested Norse-Gaelic pick-up technique: Hey, I have nothing but contempt for your reasons for being here, or your fan fund, but wanna fuck anyway? Perhaps I was being ethnocentric in thinking that insult and sexual advances were somehow incompatible. Or maybe I was just feeling hypersensitive: trashing TAFF was no insult, not in a nation where "fat cow" is an epithet of jovial banter. Then again, maybe Ian was as drunk as he looked. As my time sense stretched out to the horizons, I wondered, idly, who it was that okayed the diplomatic inclusion of Tommy Ferguson's Ulrika-bashing convention review in the final Corflu UK progress report sent out just before I came over. If this TAFF assault were such another sample of the Sorensen Charm, possibly Ian's technique might benefit from skipping the flattery and moving straight on to pronouncing words with the letter "U" in them, at least for purposes of picking up humorless American girls.

But these are thoughts the mind interpolates afterwards.

I snapped back into the moment, and noticed I'd already spoken. Judging by the echoes in my head, I'd smiled gaily and deprecatingly chirped, "Not just now, thanks," before fully registering what the question was. Only on hearing my own voice did I consider what had just happened: Christ, I didn't just callously backhand a sincere offer of squalid, demeaning sexual depravity, did I? What was I thinking? Not that my ultimate answer would have been so very different. But a girl likes to be gentle about this sort of stuff. In abject gratitude for being saved the asking, we try to play our cutting-off-at-the-knees role as kindly as we can. So he had to have been joking, right? Right? Absolutely nobody on the face of the planet has romantic timing that stunningly bad, do they? I didn't – Oh, sweet Jesus God – just hurt his feelings did I?

No very definitive answer was forthcoming from a quick inventory of Ian's expression, but the perplexity of this unexpected segue utterly killed any thought I might have had of addressing the Value of TAFF issue. Pffft. TAFF forgotten in an instant. Perhaps that was the real point, I belatedly realize. Devilish cunning, these Brits.

Ian solemnly sucked on his teeth a bit, and then wandered off somewhere else. Or possibly, we chatted a while longer, but as I'd gone all introspective and confused by then, I didn't notice particularly either way. I mean if he meant it, then the offer was really kind of sweet, in a completely inept sort of way. I ruminated over this, and considered being retroactively charmed, but postponed any decision in favor of a slow slide into beery catatonia.

Evening moved forward in a series of abrupt, muddled jump cuts. I spent some time clinging to the wainscoting trying to sort out whether Tobes Valois was speaking English at me, and I'd simply grown too drunk to parse it, or whether that really was the post-French Valoiese mother tongue from far-off Jersey, and I wasn't supposed to understand a word. I think I tried to suggest to Victor Gonzalez that Bill Bridget's notional and behavioral peculiarities might not, strictly speaking, be Gary Farber's fault, to no particular effect beyond exciting further dyspeptic eruptions from Victor, and I completely missed the part where women were exposing their breasts to all and sundry and Steve Green in the bar – unless that was me, in which case I must have been there. Eventually it all looped off the take-up reel into untidy oblivion. Fade out.

Fast forward to reel six, one month later: Saturday night of Intuition, the 49th Eastercon, where the central stair lobby of the Manchester Britannia hotel spiraled dizzyingly upward, an absurd confection of peacock blue and gilt Victorian gimcrackery, while the lights of British fandom twinkled below, decorously draping themselves on the scattered chaise lounges, bars, and banisters. This was the last night of my TAFF visit. Ian Sorensen hove into view again, for the first time since Leeds. This time grinning maniacally and bobbling slightly as he came. I must be frightfully naive, or else I was very slightly drunk again (a recurring TAFF trip theme, you may begin to infer) because I didn't suspect myself in for another round of Gaelic TAFF-baiting until I was right up to my tits in it. Ian had some fellow Scotsman in tow, another Glaswegian, I think, both of them salaciously flashing their accents. Ian made a point of collaring me and introducing the angular Celt as Mike Molloy, and then he introduced me – very carefully enunciating the capitals – as Ulrika O'Brien, The TAFF Winner, while doing those sexy, rolling Scottish things with the terminal R.

I drifted off into a momentary reverie, contemplating the hope of surgical accent-ectomy in my lifetime. Oh, to have those glorious, liquid Ls and rippling Rs, those pert, juicy diphthongs, installed in someone with even the vestigial nubs of a human conscience. Back in the moment, Mike and I shook hands, and he congratulated me, hoping I'd had a good trip, and wishing me luck with the rest of it. I was just explaining that my trip was only hours away from being over, when Ian's splutters of outrage interrupted me.

"What do you mean, 'Best of luck with your trip,'?!?" Ian yelped indignantly.

He turned to me. "Michael here has only had it in for TAFF ever since Avedon Carol was the winner at the Glasgow Eastercon in '83, where she made some rather tart sort of humorous remarks about the food at the banquet. He didn't take it well. It seemed a wee bit ungrateful to him, criticizing the free food others provided, as he's usually happy to tell anyone."

Scowling pointedly at Mike, Ian plunged on: "Come on. You've been on against TAFF ever since. What about it, now?"

I reckon there can't be anything more frustrating than a well-planned ambush going unexpectedly pear-shaped at the crucial moment.

Mike smiled, glanced at me, and looked faintly embarrassed. "I've only been saying that it doesn't seem right to expect ordinary convention-going fans to be forced to spend their money in support of someone they've never heard of, nor care a toss about, either."

I nodded sympathetically. "In fact, the convention isn't paying my hotel here, you know. They've given me a membership, and I'm working a Green Room shift at that. For the rest, it's all voluntary TAFF money. Uninterested fans aren't paying anything for my trip, as far as I know." This revelation appeared to take the last of the already diffident wind out of Mike's sails. I never suspected Intuition's inability to afford my room would transmogrify into a firm command of the moral high ground, but there it was. Mike seemed, if not wholly satisfied, then certainly reticent.

Ian made a couple more passes with the bait, jabbing and feinting, trying to goad Mike into some more satisfying jeremiad against the fund, in general or perhaps me in particular, but Mike didn't seem eager to rise to it a second time. Before it all got too, too mortifying and awkward, I muttered something vaguely polite about addressing my shipping boxes, packing my luggage, and saying my last good-byes, and filtered furtively away into the crowd. (Eventually I will sort out why other people's embarrassment is so mortifying to oneself.) Saturday night floated off on a few final pints of the mild and little unsought grace notes of fannish charity and bonhomie, breaking down at the last into fitful, disjointed packing for my return trip. Easter Sunday found me up at gray daybreak bundled into a vast black cab bound for Manchester International, and thence, home.

After the fact, it's tempting to chalk these strange Sorensonian pantomimes up to the quaint-if-awkward welcoming customs of island natives, or to my own fuddle-headed American clumsiness with the trickier forms of British humor, and so dismiss them lightly. But however gay and well-intentioned in context, the charge that TAFF has become redundant is sufficiently serious that it merits a serious answer. Certainly, after Bucconeer, where Ian appeared yet again to aim a bristling Julian Hedgehog, er, Headlong, at me for Round Three of Why TAFF Should Fold Up Its Pathetic, Threadbare Tents And Go Home, and other assorted ox goring, I have a keen sense that Ian wants a serious response. So, all right. I'll have a go at being serious. Sorry, folks, it gets a bit worthy from here on. I'll try to be brief.

When fans disagree, as fans often do, about whether past accomplishment, sheer fan-authorial greatness, potential for future transatlantic fanac, fiscal probity, sense of humor, or perhaps the ability to be on the receiving end of gallons of free beer and still remain upright and capable of taking notes is most important in a Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate2, they indirectly point out the most basic nature of the fund: TAFF is complex. It is large, and contains multitudes. It accomplishes a variety of ends, and people love – and hate – it for myriad reasons. TAFF is a synergy. Anyone who imagines that the fund can be replaced by single activities that resemble constituent parts of TAFF has missed other parts, and more crucially, the fact that the whole is greater than the sum of them. TAFF is not just meeting people from another continent; it is not just a means to travel. It accomplishes these things, and then completely transcends them.

A TAFF trip certainly isn't, pace critics, just a subsidized vacation. For one thing, vacations are supposed to be relaxing. With a TAFF trip, relaxing is what you do once you get home and slump onto your own couch and your nerve endings finally stop humming Bach fugues to themselves. Better yet, if you want peace of mind, relaxing is what you do after you finish your trip report, hand over the administration to the next chump, having raised a few thousand Simoleons for the fund in the interim. (By this reckoning, there are a number of fairly tense former administrators still out there...)

So the fact that many fans (certainly not all, nor perhaps even most) can take afford to take transatlantic vacations on their own funds is no substitute for TAFF. Going down to the travel agent's and looking at posters of exotic Birmingham and glossy brochures depicting the fleshpots of Croydon elicits a pleasant little thrill to be sure. So does the frisson of terror you get when you plunk down your own Visa to pay for it all, greasy, heart-clogging breakfasts included. Still, however many sombrero-clad tissue-paper coypus dangle from the travel bureau's acoustic tile, however Arcadian the vision of far-off Reading, nowhere in the process of taking a private trip will the traveler find herself stopped dead in her tracks by profound gratitude, by a sudden sense of responsibility, and honor, and debt to pay forward to fandom. Winning TAFF is a gift. It changes you, makes you briefly magical. It takes even an ordinary fangirl, say yours truly, and makes her queen for a day, or a month. Maureen Speller calls the transformative power of it her TAFF Coat, which she can don, superhero-wise, to perform feats that she would never dare do as her ordinary self.

Winning TAFF is far more than the mere wonder of travel to another country – it is an offering of the very concrete esteem and interest of your fellow fans. It's a sudden, heady, drunken moment of stardom. It is, in a word, an honor. Until we're sure we've run out of fans on both sides of the Atlantic that we now or ever will want to honor with our collective interest and friendship, I don't see how we could consider giving up the institutional means for bestowing that honor.

A TAFF trip also isn't just a chance for meeting people in the flesh. The fan fund builds networks in fandom. Every time we send a delegate across the Atlantic, friendships start, others grow. Fans make memories together. That stuff can happen when fans travel as individuals too, surely. But TAFF inspires. It moves fans to reach out in good will, and with a daffy kind of hope of good things to come. People go out of their way to be kind, and funny, and available for each other, because it's TAFF, because of the magic of the fund itself. Chances of building a sense of mutual allegiance and connection can't help being improved by that. And in an ever expanding fandom, where we complain at every convention we go to about how awful it is that fandom is growing apart, getting cliquish, becoming balkanized, surely we can't afford to discard any means to building new bridges. Even if TAFF were merely as good as individual travel at building networks, it would be good. The tighter we can web fandom together with strong bonds between individual fans, the better.

But I think TAFF is actually better for nurturing networks than individual travel is. Individual travel is a private act. It is an act of self-indulgence, sufficient if it only serves one's own wishes and vanity, or lack thereof. A TAFF trip is a public act, conducted as a public trust. The age and history of the fund, and its deep resonance as Fannish Institution, inspires host-country fans far beyond what they might otherwise take on. It gives them a chance to participate in the TAFF mystique. I'm not making this up. People who have previously otherwise never heard of you actually show up to buy you rounds and lunches and things, cook you special meals of typical cuisine, and drive hundreds of miles out of their way, just for the privilege of treating the TAFF winner, or in the hope of being immortalized in the trip report afterwards. I feel dead certain that Ulrika O'Brien, random fan from America, could not inspire such extraordinary flights of kindness and whimsy.

Conversely, because it was TAFF I was traveling for, I resolved to get over myself, push my boundaries, take everything in in gulps rather than nibbles. As best I could, I tossed humility, restraint, not to mention personal taste, out the window. Solo presentation at Eastercon? Chatting with entire rooms or pubs full of total strangers? The threat of hot and cold running Pickersgills? Boiled, oat-stuffed sheep gut, blood pudding, Tizer, hot Vimto, mushy peas, salmon sandwiches off the GNER food service trolley, ginger fudge, Marks & Spencers pre-packed Chicken tikka masala sandwiches, Rob Hansen's bean-laced cooking? I braved them all for the TAFF and Country.

And gearing up for the trip, I had the audacity to ask people to put me up, expect that they might want to have me visit, and then go forth and try to get to every fan center and pub meet I expressing even the tiniest interest. These fans had, after all, indicated their curiosity in seeing me via the ballot box. Amazingly, the invitations poured in from all corners of the UK, giving me the necessary piss and vinegar to put myself forward even more. In the guise of my own shy, and mouse-like self, I wouldn't have had the effrontery to do it. Who the hell wants to meet me traveling just as myself? People might, but I wouldn't have the arrogance to assume it, let alone count on it. I often don't even warn people that I'll be in town if I'm just traveling privately. It's only me, after all. But being TAFF Delegate put me outside that. It's perfectly reasonable people would want to meet the TAFF representative, even if it turns out that it's only me.

The point is, if TAFF had the power to bring me out of my shell and turn me into a bold, outgoing, haggis-eating marvel of a woman, I'm probably not the only one so affected. Traveling for TAFF meant I was representing something bigger than myself (hard as that may be to credit). As a private person I wouldn't feel any obligation to go out of my way or push my own limits. As a public one, I felt fans had a right to expect it.

Nor is TAFF just a commodity means of soaking up fannish charity. Julian Headlong points out that there are concentrations of fans – in South Africa for instance – that are in far more urgent need of fan funds for travel exchanges than Europe and North America mutually are. He implies that this need would somehow magically be met if we were to shut down TAFF. I'm sure he's right that greater needs – or at least greater financial gaps – exist. But the fact of greater need elsewhere hardly means there's no need for TAFF. And even it did, how could we ensure that the energy and money and loyalty that now support TAFF would shift to a South African fund once TAFF was mothballed? It's too much to suppose that established loyalties, friendships, and interests, and the energy of continuation can be automatically hand-waved into new interests, loyalties, and the energy of creation. If fan funds were as interchangeable as manufactured Ford parts, then TAFF would be just as cheerful, feud-free, and pan-fannish as DUFF, and UK voters as likely to vote in a DUFF race as in a GUFF race, and North Americans in GUFF. But sadly, it ain't so. People's loyalties are specific. They care about particular funds, and particular causes. The real risk, I think, would be in deciding to discontinue TAFF, only to find ourselves with no TAFF, and no South African fan fund either, but only lost momentum and fandom the poorer for it.

If we want to build South African connections, by all means let's do that. But sitting fan fund administrators are a resource. We share a remarkable pool of experience and information with other administrators and new winners. Why handicap a new fund by dismantling one of the very resources that can be used to help make it successful? If we want to start a South African Fan Fund, let's start one. This has fuck-all to do with TAFF.

Some of the claims against the fund are just silly, of course. The proposition that everyone can now afford private transatlantic travel is just false. Especially on the British side, there are current candidates and recent winners who could not possibly have afforded the trip on their own. Conversely, there have been winners, especially Americans, able to afford the travel for almost as long as the fund has existed – Lee Hoffman traveled on her own money as early as 1956. TAFF was never strictly a need-based fellowship, though that can be one of its practical functions. Nevertheless, indigence was never an eligibility criterion for TAFF.

Likewise, Ian's suggestion that online and fanzine fanac replace TAFF is piffle. If print friendship were a substitute for in-person friendship, we would never have gotten fan funds in the first place. Hell, we never would have gotten conventions, or fandom as we know it. We'd all still be swapping zines and replying to each other's locs in the lettercols and never bother with all the fuss of running clubs, or pub gatherings, or putting on and traveling to conventions. But written conversations and spoken conversations are different animals – they support each other, and contribute to each other, and often continue each other, but can't fully replace each other. Though I admit I could have spilled beer on scrawly, water-soluble notes in my own kitchen, and spared a lot of trouble and expense, they wouldn't have been notes on the tragedy that is the shortage of American lesbians in Martin Smith's love life if I had. Nor would I have the accompanying photos of the undersides of the chins of the dreaded Oxford Stripe League. These little details matter. However much we push writing as the key ingredient to fanzines – with justification – you just don't get at least some people to participate in the written portion of our fannish conversation until you get them interested in the people conversing. Meeting people is a crucial part of even our written conversation.

I've also seen the suggestion that TAFF can be replaced with one-off funds for individual stars. Perhaps so, but the continuity of funding and loyalty could easily disappear as a result. Meanwhile, as the Auld Lang Fund and Farber Fund so show, nothing about the existence of TAFF prevents fans from putting together one-shot funds for individual travelers. A one-shot fund has the kind of versatility of timing and recipient that TAFF doesn't – thus they complement each other. If there is a great foment to bring particular fans cross country to Corflu, for instance, this seems like a sterling case for a one-shot or for creating a separate Corflu travel fund, rather than monkeying with the established one.

As I've been hinting, many of these claims against the value of the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund reduce to a single one: that TAFF is unimportant because private acts can replace public ones. But that is simply dead wrong. Private acts are qualitatively different from public ones. We are animals of the agora; we need public acts to define ourselves by what we share in common. By our public acts are we known, to others and ourselves. The very core of TAFF's importance lies in the fact that it is a public institution, a particularly venerable one, redolent with tradition and memory and spilled beer. It fairly vibrates with fannish identity. Who we are is the people who argue about, love, hate, support, criticize, revile, and go through repeated fits of abjuring, TAFF. Who would we be without TAFF to kick around anymore? How can we be certain that all our golden ages, all our shining stars, are behind us, such that all we are fit to do is remember the days when we had TAFF to care about?

If we dismantle TAFF, we would be sending another public message. We would be redefining ourselves, for the worse. If we say we don't need TAFF, can't be bothered with finding and publicly honoring fans across the Atlantic, what are we expressing but our collective, mutual indifference? What would our message be, but, "You have nothing to show us that we have not already seen. Let each fan find his own friends, but as for us, we have enough already, and we certainly don't need you?" Who could fail to be hurt by that? Privately, as opposed to public postures of invulnerability, who wouldn't smart from an entire continent giving them the cold shoulder? (Here we should insert a musical chorus of Ian Sorensen declaiming, "I. Just. Don't. Care." But this only proves my point. If ever there was a man obviously desperate for the praise and attention he pretends to be Too Cool to seek or acknowledge, it's Ian.) I can't help thinking such a declaration would drive a cold iron wedge in transatlantic relations. What a sad pity that would be. What a way to end a fund intended to extend and cement international friendship. You can't tell me that ain't ironic, even if I am just an American.

Ian, or, perhaps it was Julian, has also gotten fond of asking rhetorically, "Who does TAFF help, really?" The answer we're supposed to come up with, I gather, is, "Nobody but the TAFF winner." And I suppose if you only count help in terms of money received, that may be so. But if you count it in friendships, jokes and good times shared, and bonds across fandom, then the real answer is, literally anybody who chooses to participate in someone else's TAFF visit. Of course TAFF doesn't give absolutely everybody a sudden shot of the adoring warm fuzzies for whole nations. But if you spend a bit of their trip with a TAFF visitor, share a pint, give 'em a ride, go to the zoo, chat at a party, or argue over what they said in their last issue, then you get a bigger sense of that person, perhaps discover they're actually all right after all, and that's one more person you know a little to hang out with at future conventions. In some cases, lots of cases, a few hours together turn into the start of a friendship. And gets you somebody to impose on if you travel across the pond yourself. But you do have to drop your ironic distance to get there. You have to get involved. Participating in public acts only works for those who self-select into the polity; it only helps those who choose to take part.

Perhaps the very best answer to Ian and Julian and the current crop of TAFF bashers is TAFF itself: the ongoing, vital existence of the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, despite and perhaps even because of recent setbacks. The fund continues and prospers, right now. Because it does, it baffles that anybody could seriously propose it has outlived its usefulness. I'm not sure an all-volunteer effort such as a fan fund is capable of doing that. It is, after all, utterly dependent on the freely given time and money of dozens or hundreds of people to keep going. The fact that fans continue shelling out their hard-earned buckazoids and quidazoids in order to vote, to buy trip reports, to bid for fanzines and random-ass kipple in fund auctions, and just outright donate to the fund, suggests that they value TAFF in a very concrete way. The fact that fans open up their homes, extend their hospitality, and go out of their way to invent and host events for delegates suggests they value the fund in a very personal way. It may sound circular, but isn't really: so long as we have TAFF we can know that we want and need it. When we truly no longer want or need TAFF, then it will simply cease to be. Nobody will have to argue for taking it apart; nobody will have to do anything to anybody's goat, coypu, hedgehog, tapir, or ox. The fund will simply waddle off in the footsteps of the dodo, doing wobbly, drooping pirouettes as it goes. I for one will be saddened if that day ever comes, but it hasn't come yet.

And in the meantime, I'll have double vodka goat, twist of lemon, shaken, not stirred. Ian can have whatever goat suits him. Cheers.

1 What he actually said, as I learned later, was "No chance of a shag, then?" Which is Very Different. Apparently Brits will have gotten The Reference. I didn't.

2 The real answer of course, is that an ideal TAFF delegate is all of those things, and more. The ideal TAFF winner, as we all know, is Walt Willis. However, once you've run out of people who are Walt Willis, you may have to make some tough decisions about which of Willis' many virtues are central to being a TAFF delegate. On this, reasonable people may legitimately disagree.