Speaking of Irish Fandom, Walt Willis now continues his look back at the year 1954 in this newest installment of "I Remember Me." The thread of Walt's correspondence file this time takes us from London Circle fan club meetings with Vincent Clarke, to learning touch-typing with Chuck Harris, to James White's hospital stay... with lots more yet.
'I Remember Me' by Walt Willis; title illo by Peggy 
  Ranson Once again you are entering into the golden age of frequent letters from me.

Thus wrote Vince Clarke in a remark which went straight into the Hyphen back cover quotes. He went on to explain that he had lost his job, his boss admitting under questioning that he had given it to his own brother. Halfway through his letter, Vince touched on London Circle parties.

London fan parties are odd things in that, fandom and sf not being well known, the talk usually borders on the fantastic embroidery of some current news or set of facts (this latter commonly known as s-c-a-n-d-a-l), and Ted Tubb and Bert Campbell being two of the best extempore talkers around, the party usually hinges on their topics. The funniest party I've been to in London was at the Ratigans' old place, when Bea {{ ed. note: Bea Mahaffey }} was here, and Ted and Bert were discussing the possibilities of founding a new religion. I shall never cease to regret not having a tape recorder for that. After laughing for three hours I had such a violent pain in my side I had to go and walk in the garden out of earshot. That was 3.30 am.

I'm getting a tape recorder this week...in bitter opposition to Dot {{ ed. note: Dorothy Ratigan }}, who's been trying to mother me, and who still expects fans to act like normal human beings. Would I be mothered if I moved to Belfast, Madeleine?

((Madeleine commented: No. It would be more likely that she would find you two at an auction.))

On 20th January 1954, Chuck Harris reported getting his typewriter back from the repair shop, a development greeted with relief by all his friends, who had been suffering from stiff necks from trying to read his backward sloping handwriting. I had quoted at him Napoleon's comment on the handwriting of Marshal Nez, "Who has been sending me maps?"

Top o' the morn from the top o' the heap, keed. A veritable frabjous day! "Dear Mr. Harris," the chit said, "the Management have decided to increase your salary." All this and a FAPA mailing too.

The typer came back on Friday, but I didn't write before, because I didn't have anything to say -- which is, come to think of it, a peculiarly fuggheaded reason for not writing to you.

I did intend to spend some time stencilling that Redd Boggs thing, but I got carried away on a Ken Slater letter and didn't have enough time left. If I'm impotent or not working on Sunday, I'll do it then. I want some normal sex life this Sunday. Sublimation is all very well, but it gets tedious.

27 Jan 54. After the egoboo from Vince, I think the last two pages (of Hyphen) pleased me most of all. I always think you are at your very best when you're being icily rude to someone you dislike. I'm awfully glad that I always seem to be on your side.

Whaddaya mean, "no one, literally no one, will be told anything until the poll for TAFF closes"? Do you mean me?????? Ghod, eighteen nicker in the kitty, and you go have an attack of scruples.

illo by Peggy Ranson Feb 54. I lent an Ellery Queen book from the library months ago and I owe about twice its value in fines. I used to get special treatment down there, but I've antagonized the woman and she'll insist on every damn farthing. She's one of those motherly types, and got the wrong idea about me. At first, she used to save me all the new Westerns because she approved of them. (I didn't mind because my father likes cowboys and indians.) When I kept a book out late, she would gently chide me and let me off the fine. This suited me very well. I don't mind being polite at all, if it saves me money. But it's all changed now. I put in a reservation card for Sexual Behaviour of the Adult Female and she hasn't gotten over it yet. She told my mother, too!!! My mother isn't very tactful and told her that, "He already has the other volume, but he couldn't afford this one so he's going to get it out of the library."

Somewhere about this time an undated letter from Vince Clarke, containing some unused quotes...

I will face my fate steadfastly and go down with a smile on my face and a water pistol pumping in each hand.
  -- James White

Are we oneshots in some cosmic FAPA?
  -- WAW

Bea Mahaffey trod on these paving stones.
  -- James White

I'll retire to fondle my tramcar collection.
  -- FAPA

Anything that can't be done in New Orleans is impossible. In America's Most Fascinating city it is impossible for a Science Fiction Convention to fail -- if the Con Committee should drop dead to a man, the Chamber of Commerce would all hastily become fans and carry on...
  -- advert in Dawn, August 1950

Here's a curiosity from Chuck, undated, and containing an average of about two typos per line, each corrected in ink by hand.

Haven't heard from anyone at all since I last wrote to you. Every time this happens I start to worry. Do I stink in the nostrils of all decent fen, along with Bill Morse? Is Walt sore about the advert? Has he got pneumonia again? Did Vince finish off his part of the zine? Have I been banished to the outer wastes? Has fandom aborted again, and all my friends started to write for dirty pros?

Say something, if it's only goodbye.

illo by Peggy Ranson I haven't been wasting my time. I am learning to touch-type. I bought a Pitman's Commercial Typing and have been spending all my spare time (about 15 hours so far) in practising.

Sprague de Camp is to blame for all this. In his SF Handbook he advises all would-be authors to learn touch-typing. That's me, Bud.

The main trouble with learning is that there is a constant temptation to cheat. It has been a little tough for me. The family have a low sense of humour and seem to find something funny in the curtain I have invented. This is a piece of cloth with one end tied to the baseboard and the other round my neck. For some reason this seems to amuse them. Last night, I forgot about the curtain and got up to fetch my cigarettes from the mantlepiece. I nearly broke my neck. They nearly bust a gut.

As you'll have gathered, this correspondence file includes Vince Clarke as well as Chuck Harris. We were at this time sending each other carbons of our letters. Here is part of a general reply from Vince, dated 10th February, 1954.

Mike Wilson and self were at Ted Tubb's over Christmas and we had borrowed Arthur Clarke's tape recorder. About 1 am Boxing Day morning, Ted and I were sitting at the table with the recorder... it had been going rather oddly and we were testing it. Suddenly, Ted leaned forward, and in the appropriate tones, went into quite a long monolog that left me with bugged eyes and a tremendous admiration for him. I won't give it all now, but this is the beginning... quite without preparation, mind...

"For there in fairy planets of long gone, the crystalline towers of civilisations long dust remain a mute memorial to their wanton pride. And there the sons of men do walk arrogant in heart and questing of mind, to mould amid the rotting dust, strange secrets of civilisations spent, relearn and with their new toys do hunt and kill their brother men. ... On such a ship once I served, many years ago now, Aye, young I was then... Now, withered and old and bent as a tree... Wed! Not once but thrice... and red with wine and sitting 'neath this foreign sky, this instrument of music playing softly, speaking to those who wander by..."

And then he went into histrionics, with self playing anti-strophe. Of course, it's not the sense in the above that matters, but the realisation of the rhyme of the words: Poetry lost an asset when Ted took up sf.

I notice from a letter of mine a mention of an issue of Hyphen that never appeared, a 'Special Science Fiction Issue'. This imaginary issue was to be...

...partly a burlesque of the serious constructive fanzine, with for instance a scholarly deadpan analysis of something utterly trivial, and partly our usual fannish stuff in thin disguise -- Chuck's "The Decline of Astounding" (with particular reference to James' story) and James' review of the second issue of the Vargo Statten Magazine (in which Chuck's first and only professional offering appeared). And partly genuine serious constructive stuff better than the serconmags can do it. (Vince is the main hope for this, I think.) I'm expecting an anti-London Circle blast from Hamilton which should fit in nicely. Even Toto could fall into line, right down to cartoons like the Rotsler one: "We know all about him -- he throws away his old prozines."

illo by Peggy Ranson On 25th April 1954, I was reporting to Chuck on James' admission to hospital: "After his food poisoning cleared up and they put him on the new insulin, his metabolism went haywire. Medical profession baffled. They were pumping him full of insulin but his sugar count or whatever it was still up there in the googols. It got so that every time he asked them how long it would be before he was out they'd double the previous answer. The last one would have taken him away past Easter (when he was to get engaged. He is engaged now officially and I can clear the information to you. They went down to Dublin for the ring on Easter Tuesday because it's cheaper to buy them there free of Purchase Tax and smuggle them across the border, and you're in fine fettle for the honeymoon when you get out of prison), and he was getting really worried. Then one evening, the doctor stopped as usual by his bed, and shook his head over him. Just as he was moving away, he asked the nurse idly to confirm that this patient hadn't been getting any drugs. "No," she said. "Huh," said James, "that's what you think." (He'd been getting them every other day, on the average.) The nurse clapped her hand over her mouth, and she and the MD had a hurried consultation. Next day, James was back to normal and they sent him home. Apparently there had been another patient in the ward called White, and every so often James had been getting his medicaments. Now don't go around telling people like Wilkie Conner about this, as if it was a reflection on the National Health Service. After all, he didn't have to pay for the drugs, did he? He was getting killed perfectly free of charge."

In another letter to Vince, I asked him, did he ever feel that one of his hoaxes had ever been too successful: "Mal Ashworth, evidently prompted by my cracks about first issues, sent me an 'advance copy' of BEM consisting entirely of spoiled sheets, scrap and slipsheets (one of them featuring the outline of a neck tie) with a neofannish note explaining it was the best they could do. Naturally I cut a hole in the stencil of p.2 of Hyphen 8 and inserted a violent denunciation of BEM as a disgrace to fandom, urging everyone to refuse to sub to it as a dreadful botch, and ran off one copy for Ashworth. Just got a bitter letter from him -- he's going to run off a circular over the weekend, explaining how his hoax was too successful, and write to KFS {{ ed. note: Ken Slater }}, Orbit, Space Times, and Ghod knows who else. Poor Mal, he's all worked up about the unfairness of it all. I've just been out to send him a telegram suggesting he call on Tom White and look at his copy. Heigh ho. But gosh, he should have guessed. I hadn't time to do a proper job on the stencil and there's blank space and black lines round the inserted bit."

-- To Be Continued --

All illustrations by Peggy Ranson

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