HARRISON COUNTRY, Chapter 1

Introduction:

This is the first installment of my 1968 TAFF Report, which debuted in Arnie Katz's fanzine, QUIP #10. For those of you who are wondering just what a "TAFF" is, the letters stand for "Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund," a fund intended to bring Britons to American World Science Fiction conventions, and vice versa in alternate years. The fund originated with a campaign launched to bring Irish fan Walt Willis  to the U.S.  in 1952 for the second World Con in Chicago, and was officially born in 1953. For more about TAFF, click here.

Okay, so what about "Harrison Country"? According to Fancyclopedia II, William Makepeace Harrison was a mainstay of the British Empire, and his numerous adventures, which include saving Asia, America, Africa, and Europe from various dooms, were documented in the fanzine TRIODE,edited by Eric Bentcliffe and Terry Jeeves. Pity he wasn't around to have a word with Tony Blair in 2003.

According to Sandra Bond, "The authors of his tales were "Harry Hurstmonceux and Cyril Faversham", both Liverpool fans writing under pseudonyms. I think one was the late Stan Nuttall... or was it Norman Weedall? Once upon a time I knew all this by heart, ya know... John Owen (no relation to the editor of CRYSTAL SHIP) may have been the other."

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Chapter 1

It was in the spring of '67, it was, when great armies crashed in steaming jungles, and the history of man was being molded on Asian battlefields. In the cities of the United States, history was being written in the streets. Plans were made to put a man on the moon, and, in the Mideast, little David challenged the combined armed might of the Arab nations. Walter Cronkite one upped Chet & David.

As for me, I had just recovered from pneumonia.

I was totally unaware of my tremendous good fortune to be a member of the United States Army. Indeed, it seemed a drag. In the idyllic quiet of the barracks, listening to the good-natured shouts issuing from the showers, Earl Rogers And His Country Rangers issuing from my roommate's radio, all I could do was curse the fate that had brought me to this. "Damn!"

Considering the circumstances, this was a pretty ungrateful attitude to have: I was stationed at Ft Monmouth and had all the free chow I could eat (amazing how many different ways meat loaf can be prepared). Fort Monmouth is a mere hour's travel from New York: logically, my last eight months in uniform were spent in heat for weekends. And on those weekends I would happily board the special Greyhound bus to ride through the flatlands and petroleum plants of New Jersey. At the end of the trip, I would never fail to feel smug at the sight of the spires of Manhattan glistening through the blanket of mustard yellow smog.

Everyone else at Fort Monmouth seemed to be from Arizona, North Carolina, Korea, or West Germany....

As I mentioned before, there was a war on. Such being the case, slackers and traitors would make it a habit to cluster round the Port Authority building to bring the word to the ignorant soldiers on leave or pass. There were also fat vets in little caps, and it was their function to shout at the other group or at the ignorant GIs accepting their pamphlets.

I would try very hard not to look like a GI when leaving the building. My sympathies were with the anti-Viet people, but I never managed to be detached enough not to feel like an object to be reformed. The vets would wave their little flags.

On a Friday pass, my phone rang. "Why don't you run for TAFF, Steve?" asked Andy Porter on the telephone. My mind telescoped back to the times that Dave Van Arnam and Arthur Thomson had asked the selfsame question. In those cases, I had chalked up the query to generosity rather than objective reality; I had always placed high as a cartoonist in the polls, and people seemed to like my fanzines, but TAFF was for people like a Willis, a Bergeron, a Geis. The Big Leagues ...

"Sarcastic swine!" I shouted, slamming the receiver down. Good old surrealistic Andy Porter, pulling my leg....

"Why don't you run for TAFF, Steve?" asked Mike McInerney at the FISTFA meeting that night. Ted White arrived a few minutes later, asked the same thing. The matter was settled: yet another Fanoclast Plot.

Some day, when you least expect it, we Fanoclasts will take over fandom. Then you'll be sorry.

I won. It was a terrible blow, and it took many weeks to get over the shock -- such was my condition that I took to dazed wanderings about the city of New York, wondering if our skyscrapers were as big as theirs, and stopping strangers in the streets to tell them, "I am going to England!" Then having them hurriedly press coins in my hand and furtively hustle off; for such is the index of paranoia in our marvelous city of gray concrete. In one hour I made $3.25.

I think that this might be an appropriate place to thank my nominators. Any place in the report would be, for, when you stop to think of it, if I hadn't been nominated -- why, I never would have won! Choosing these people was important to me: Ted White, of course, is an old friend; F M and Elinor Busby were responsible for getting me into fandom with Cry of the Nameless; Bill Rotsler is a cartoonist's cartoonist; Atom had suggested that I run years ago; Willis is Willis.

There's also an unsung hero in this story; Buz's letter of nomination dragged through the departments of the United States Post Office, meandering through each state at a leisurely pace, mailed two weeks before I received it. And the nomination deadline drew closer. I took my problem to Bill Donaho -- the day after I mailed the letter, Buz' nomination arrived in my mail box. Faster than a speeding bullet, Bill sent a letter to Terry Carr plus a fiver for the nomination fee. It was a puzzling situation, calling for tact and grace, and what was I to do? In any case, juggling around with ethics and morality, I decided that since I had asked Buz first, and since the PO had been to blame, I'd have to, uh (it seemed to me), shaft Donaho! Christ, how embarrassing.... Fortunately, Bill wasn't miffed and even gave me quite a few good plugs in Habakkuk.

Studying for the trip, £5 equals $12, £1 equals $2.40, 1 shilling equals $0.12, 1d equals $0.01. 6d equals half a shilling, 12d (therefore) equals 1 shilling. Whew!

April 6th:

Flight 102 was to leave from Kennedy Airport at 7 p.m. At 7.30, I was waiting at the departure gate, looking through the plate glass window at the loaders throwing the luggage on the plane. There was an ease and a grace in their movements as they threw the luggage onto the conveyor belts. Even the bulkiest suitcases would describe graceful arcs through the air as they descended to meet the rough metal edges of the conveyor belts, landing with a soul satisfying "whump!" My suitcase described a graceful arc through the air to land with a soul satisfying "whump!" as I wondered for perhaps the thousandth time if I had packed enough clean underwear. Idly, I wished that I could be a plane loader -- they seemed to take great pleasure in their work -- but I reminded myself I would be disqualified from the job as my left foot is somewhat flat. This is something the US Army had brought to my attention when they informed me that the deformity would not keep me out of the US Army.

It was my experience to march once with a man with one leg three inches shorter than the other. The about-faces gave him trouble, but he was very game.

I had asked the ticket man to give me a seat next to the window, but they were all taken; I was stuck with an aisle seat, and the two people next to me seemed to be newly-weds whose greatest pleasure in marriage was to look through that window, cheek to cheek. Fortunately, there's a hollow between the jawbone and neck (orbicularis oculi and sternomastoid), and I was able to peer through this space and check out Kennedy Airport.

It's maudlin, I know. But I've always been gassed by the concept of flight -- in fact, several years ago I used to be obsessed with dreams of flying. I mean, for centuries man has watched the birds and wondered how they did it. And our legends are laced with people jumping off cliffs in feathered outfits. For a science fiction fan, flight is a natural. So I sat there, my mind spinning with excitement as our might engines revved up, and the sweat spread out from my armpits, leaving a dark stain on my J J Klein's suit. I was on edge. We're all going to die. The ants on the ground looked like people.

A plane takeoff is fun, though. The plane coasts along, rolling over the concrete with an awesome grace, gradually picking up speed, faster and faster, picking up speed, until the pilot finds another runway and slows down. The whole process is repeated three or four times, until, surprise! they're actually going through with it, and the whole place is vibrating madly -- we're all going to die -- as in a Keystone comedy, there is a small slight bump -- and the ground drops away in smooth slow motion. It does give me a fantastic sense of wonder; I always feel like cheering.

Aisle seats are a drag. The men's room was right behind me. Elbows would catch me as I dozed off to sleep while reading Brian Aldiss' Breakthrough Planet. I was really too excited to sleep, and midway over the Atlantic we ran into a storm -- and all that yawing and pitching reawakened my sense of wonder... By that time we had passed through time zones; it was the 7th of April.

We landed at London Airport at 9.55. There was some time to kill before my flight to Manchester, so I wandered around the grounds, eventually winding up in the restaurant/lounge. As luck would have it, there was a bookstall.... I picked up Tunnel in the Sky and two books by Colin Wilson, my favourite mystery writer, but rather scarce in the States. It looked like a good omen. After getting my change from the counter girl, I asked her how many pence in a pound. As I walked away, "'E's not too deep, is 'e?" drifted back to me.... Sigh. To hell with omens.

Martin Luther King had been murdered a few days earlier. The New York I had left behind had the look of an armed camp, the local government fearing that many blacks would feel that this had been the last straw. The impression was by no means subjective; in my own neighborhood, armed police stood on every street on Second Avenue in twos and threes for an area of about ten blocks, and the tension was hairy. Away in the Southeast for two years, I hadn't really emotionally grasped what was happening in the cities....

And while riding the shuttle bus to my Manchester plane, I was surprised to notice that the British had also been gripped by the latest assassination -- people were talking about it, and an Irishman from Boston assured a London relative that "King was a good man. I was sure he wasn't a Communist," and "the blacks back home are really happy, it's these troublemakers...." Blah, blah.

I got a window this time. It was hard to stop looking: the sky was clear and cloudless, and I had great pleasure in reminding myself that it wasn't New Jersey down there, but, indeed, foreign soil -- I was the first Stiles to leave the country in many generations (traditionally, my family suffers from a phobia against boats, planes and travel rates). Sometimes I would thumb through Wilson's The Glass Cage and gloat over such names as `Keswick', `Scarborough' and `Wasdale Head'.

It had been years since I had last seen Eric Bentcliffe. I had just gotten into NY fandom at the time, and had been quietly overwhelmed at the party held in his honor at the Dietzes': so many BNFs, not to mention Harlan Ellison. That had been in 1960.

Such being the case, I was a bit worried that I might not spot Eric, who had generously offered to meet me at the airport. I pictured a milling throng of people hustling about, while I scanned the mob for a fannish face. I needn't have worried; the airport was empty, and there stood Eric, bedecked in a St Fanthony jacket for purposes of identification. And while it was the jacket with emblem that first caught my eye, Eric was easily recognizable -- a warm, friendly looking sort who didn't seem to have changed a bit after some eight years. I had the feeling that the years had just been weeks, and here we are again: Hi!

After a conversation over drinks, we drove out to meet Norman Shorrock, host for the Liverpool Group (LiG) that evening. Norman is another winner: a quiet, good-humored fellow with a distinct talent for wine-making. This was something that appeared to be widely practiced in Great Britain as a necessary adjunct to fanac. And rightly so, for Norman's wine -- he was won awards -- was marvelous; an ingredient, to my mind, which greatly contributed to the success of the ThirdManCon (like water, fans, flowing like water!)

We talked a bit over the usual pleasantries -- my flight, Anglo-American fandom, the political situation -- and listened to a tape that LiG was in the process of making: a fannish `This is Your Life' to be presented to the victim, er, subject Harry Nadler at the convention. This is another type of fanac that we Yanks haven't indulged in: the making of humorous little taped plays. I heard quite a few during the next two weeks, a lot of them quite funny, and the whole idea seems like fine fun. I suppose we lack their inspiration, The Goon Show.

It had been a long flight over, and I suppose Ina, Norm's wife, noticed that my eyelids were beginning to droop. At any rate, I was having increasing difficulty in following the conversation.... Ina made up a couch for me in the dining room, and the last thing I remember was my head touching the pillow.

Waking up, I followed the sound of voices, and walked into a room full of Liverpool people. The Liverpool Group, I'm told, is one of England's oldest fan groups, and as I surveyed the crowd I could tell I was in with a fannish lot: Eddie Jones, John Ramsey Campbell, Norman Weedall, John Owen, and a pleasant looking woman named Marge. Puns and jokes were flying furiously as the group continued with the tape, mouths watering at the prospect of a stupefied Harry Nadler.

Dinner: pickled octopus. This is Liverpool tradition.

(You know, as I write this I can't recall a damned thing we said -- certainly a shame because there were a lot of funny things said that evening. That, however, is your loss. On the other hand, later during the week I began taking voluminous notes, so as the report continues the events as they happened will take on frightening detail, down to the very last glass drained. At this point, though, everything is an invention and a fraud. Thank you.)

As it was getting late after the fantastic feed (we had more than octopus -- each member of the group is supposed to bring a favorite dish to the meeting), Eric and I drove home... And got lost. Eventually we found Thorn Grove and I met Eric's wife, Beryl. I think that Beryl is a non-fan, but well-used to fannish ways, and a charming hostess. We sat and drank tea over a roaring fire, watching Martin Luther King's funeral, and wondering what was happening to the US. That and John Kennedy's assassination was a favorite topic while I visited in England, and I often found myself acting as a spokesman, although I was usually at a loss to explain the intricacies of American politics. George Wallace, as seen abroad, must be croggling.

April 8th:

Up late that morning, I had tea with Beryl. Eric had gone on to work, and Lindsey, their daughter, to school, so I decided it would be a nice idea to take a long walk and have my first proper look at England. Wild horses couldn't have stopped me; I've always enjoyed taking walks while in new convention cities, the sensation of being in a different part of the world is delicious. Beryl armed me with a map and telephone number in case of emergencies, and I set off.

It was a bit brisk and overcast, perfect weather for a stroll. The area was dotted with suburban dwellings, but lacked the overall sameness that ours have; each house of brick and stone had its own individual look, and, golly gee, there was a genuine horse in one backyard. A woman stopped me to ask for directions, noted my accent ("I'm a stranger hyar mahself"), blushed, laughed, and hurried on.

After a few hours of strolling, I decided to head on back to the Bentcliffes'. As I walked through a small village, I noticed that a bobby seemed to be trailing me on his bicycle. I slowed down a bit, and soon he was at my heels with a "Pardon me, sir, could you stop a moment?" "Must want the time," I thought to myself.

"Er, what are you doing in this area, sir?" he said with his mouth, taking out a small notebook, pen in hand poised to take down the gruesome details.

I explained that this was my first day in England, and I had been walking around soaking up the atmosphere. My mind was whirling like a turbine as I thought back on my last few hours: hmm, I had dropped a cigarette wrapper on the street, and on one occasion had jaywalked. Perhaps I had photographed a vital defense installation, disguised as that Old Folks' Home. Visions of explaining things at the station house, frantically phoning Eric, the Embassy, missing the convention, and a variety of things I had read in Brendan Behan's Confessions of an Irish Rebel flashed through my brain. I'm one of those stiffs who always feels vaguely guilty around blue uniform.

"I was jaywalking, right?" I guessed.

"Well, I wouldn't know, sir," bobby replied. "It's just that some girls complained of some stranger making improper remarks and gestures, and he answered your description."

I'm 5'10", 140 lbs, brown eyes, brown hair, and a slightly receding chin caused by improper tooth grip while teething. The type, in other words, who stands out in any crowd. Needless to say, I was innocent as a newborn babe and hadn't made any improper remarks since that redhead in the sixth grade had thrown a hammer lock on me. I hastened to point all this out, smiling earnestly and waving my passport. Fortunately, he believed all those lies, and I was let go with a cheerful "Enjoy your stay, sir."

Seriously, I was quite impressed with the British bobbies; they are both friendly and polite. A N.Y. cop would've handled the situation with a gruff "Okay, hold it right there, #!!*!!"

As I walked down Thorn Grove Lane, Beryl's car pulled into the driveway. A little bundle of energy leaped from the seat, zoomed down the road, and threw her arms around my knees. It was Lindsey Bentcliffe, the cutest blonde I've seen in years.

"Jesus!" she whooped. "It's Jesus from America!"
 

To be continued...

--Steve Stiles