I joined the army fifty years ago, and the night before I entered the grim portals of the Army Training Center at Worcester, my father gave me shrewd advice he had previously garnered in similar circumstances, and his priority warning was... "Do not volunteer for anything!"
So, approaching my seventieth year, my wife and I were staying at our daughter's house in Bangor, Co. Down. We were there nominally to supervise the activities of our three grandsons whilst she and her husband enjoyed a long sojourn in the Canary Islands. She is a florist, and just before they departed, she suddenly clicked her fingers.
"Oh, I've just remembered, I have contracted to attend a Bridal Weekend at a hotel in Groomesport. I must employ someone to supervise my floral display and take orders for weddings."
"Er, Kate," I prompted, "who do you expect to attend?"
"Mostly hordes of young girls preparing for their weddings...some of them will have their mothers with them, although father and boyfriends are normally scarce, as they probably have to pay for everything, and they cannot stand the strain and stress of the severe financial drain on their bank accounts."
"How long does it last?" I breathed. Close to seventy I might be, but still fully red-corpuscled and functional, and I panted at the thought of ogling young and innocent Co. Down girls who would actually be approaching me.
"Only twelve hours," she said, "12 noon to 8 pm on Sunday, and 4 pm to 8 pm on Monday evening."
"I'll do it!" I shouted.
She handed me a thick book full of coloured photographs of floral displays, and stating that she knew I was a 'very experienced writer', suggested that I should prepare a hand-out to be presented to each visitor to the display.
Actually, I do somewhat pride myself on my literary style, laced, as it always is, with humor and slight exaggeration. Her husband gave me a crash-course on computer technique, including instructions for using the printer. I carefully wrote everything down.
"But don't worry," he beamed, "if you become bemused and lose control of the computer, Philip will speedily put you back on course."
This was rather a blow to my prestige, as, on that very day, it was Philip's seventh birthday.
First of all, I wrote a rough draft of the article, using the stock phrases in the book but incorporating my own little story lines. For example, regarding the HAND-TIED SHEAF...the book stated that the bouquet consisted of flowers not arranged in display, as if the bride had quickly garnered them.
"This bouquet is a new innovation for the nineties, designed to portray a young, innocent blushing bride, arising on the morning of her forthcoming nuptials, and gazing wistfully through her bedroom window at a flower-decked meadow. With passionate abandon, realizing that her yearning for chaste surrender was nigh, she rushes out of the house in her night attire, bare of feet, and gathers an armful of dew-dappled blooms, roughly ties them with twine, breaking off each bloom stalk to a constant length. Cradling her spontaneous floral adornment, she returns to her room, her gentle tears adding a poignancy to the fresh flowers, the brutality of the snapped stalks symbolic of her forthcoming night of passion."
Quite frankly, I was on fire. Eloquent phrases scorched from my pen -- my imagination ranged far and wide over the whole marriage ceremony. I penned each item so that the bride, however experienced in wordly terms (you know what I mean), when reading my
I warily approached the computer, and eventually designed the heading: the words FIONA'S FLOWERS composed of small hearts, and on the left, a beautiful rose, and on the right a more graphic portrayal of Aphrodite. Unfortunately, whether or not this was a design feature, I knew that Aphrodite was devoid of pubic hair (this knowledge based solely on my vast study of ancient Greek statuary) and yet the computer portrayal was rather graphic in this respect. I carefully processed the computer window, selected a rampant eraser design from the display, moved the mouse cross to this square, and attempted to cunningly de-pube Aphrodite.
After my seventh attempt, I was rather pleased with the result, except perhaps for the suggestion that Aphrodite had undergone an appendix operation.
"You're obsessed!" I heard my wife shout. She had been standing behind me, and of course, my attention had been totally concentrated on Aphrodite, and I had not heard her enter the room.
I finished typing the publication, and with the assistance of grandson Philip, adept at using the computer printer, I had nine pages of unadulterated passion in my sweating hands, including other carefully selected illos from the computer display.
I walked towards Bangor along the main road, until I reached a shop where copying was done. Ten pence per A4 sheet...hmm...ninety pence per booklet... I concluded a deal which cost my daughter £25.00, but that included stapling..."ready tomorrow at twelve noon."
I collected them next day. The girl working the copier blinked her eyes, long lashes fluttering like butterfly's wings.
"I hope you don't mind," she confessed, "but I couldn't help reading the pages whilst I copied them. Who wrote it?"
"I did," I preened. "Why do you ask?"
She flipped through the pages of stacked copies, and tapped a paragraph on page 6...
"As I stated on page 1, I cannot be present at this Bridal Weekend, but my representative, John, is in attendance, and is very experienced in preparing brides for their weddings. He will be delighted to demonstrate the floral displays, and advise on all matters relating to the bridal party. As an extra service, John, who has wide experience in the field, will be thrilled to give confidential advice and comfort to young and innocent brides who are apprehensive regarding the physical side of the nuptials...a whole 'hands-on' service guaranteeing discretion and satisfaction."
"Are you John?" she asked.
"Yes, my deah," I smirked.
"Oh," she frowned, "I though maybe John was a much younger man. Oh, well...I've retained one copy for my sister, who is getting married shortly -- she'll probably come to the Bridal Weekend."
# # # #
The taxi stopped at the hotel entrance, and I took out the boxes of flowers and accessories from the boot and stacked them in the foyer.
I felt rather pleased with my appearance. I mean, it was necessary for me to cut a dashing man-about-town figure in order to represent my daughter and obtain some orders for her.
My son-in-law was a professional 'country and western' singer, and before he left for vacation with my daughter, he gave me permission to use any items from his wardrobe. Obviously, I rejected the Stetson as being ostentatious, but the long yellow jacket, green trousers and floral vest fitted me perfectly.
I could tell the taxi-driver was impressed, although his comment suggested he was touting for a large tip: "You look like an absolute Count," he observed, pocketing the twenty pence tip and grinding the gears as his vehicle kangaroo'd down the road.
I was supplied with two long trestle tables with clean white tablecloths on them. I arranged my displays in quite an attractive manner, placed my hand-outs where they would be immediately noticed, and looked round at my competitors. Actually, no one else was marketing flowers; the other dozen business catered for wedding dresses, invitations cards, balloons, luxury automobiles, wedding cakes, etc.
At the entrance of the large room was a uniformed minion, who greeted the guests; a very pretty young girl gave each visitor a glass of white or red wine, and they duly explored the proffered marital requisites.
The young brides and their mothers seemed to approach my display rather warily, but I greeted them with a bow, kissed the potential bride's perspiring fingers, and gave them my hand-out, and they retired to a corner of the room, and read it, sipping their wine, but one or two downed the liquid in one long swallow.
During a break in the visitations, I caught the eye of the young girl dispensing glasses of wine; I opened my shirt collar and waved a hand in front of my face, tongue somewhere down by the third button.
Her eyes brightened up, and she brought a glass of white wine over to me, brimming to the top, spilling nary a drop.
After the initial interest there was a lull in attendance, and I willed the wine girl to look in my direction. Our eyeballs clicked, and she gave me another glass of wine, then yet another ten minutes later.
Then a most beautiful Co. Down girl entered with a young man. Her hair was jet black, she had brown eyes, and red pouting lips like Michelle Pfieffer. She dragged her boy friend directly across to my tables.
I gave her the hand-out, but she declined it with a white-toothed smile.
"I've read it already," she cooed. "My sister printed it for you."
"Well, done, my deah," I smiled. "Can I help you at all?"
She nodded... She looked at my floral display, said she would get FIONA'S FLOWERS to cater for the wedding.
"Tell me something, John," she said confidentially. "Do you think my boy friend looks effeminate?"
Honestly, it was a stupid question -- the boy couldn't take his eyes off her heaving bosom. He was obviously hetero. Nevertheless, his long fair hair hung over his shoulders, and, weeeellll, his soft blue eyes did combine with his delicate facial structure, and the slightest suggestion of a moue played peek-a-boo with his lips.
Before my wine-sozzled mind was in gear, my lips had already delivered the thoughtless riposte: "It is not incumbent upon myself to comment on your friends physical appearance, save to ask if he is free on Tuesday night?"
The young man's sweat-covered upper lip and clutching fingers left me no doubt that FIONA'S FLOWERS had lost a £200.00 order.
Well before the allotted termination of the display, the wine-girl called a taxi at the organizer's request, and I had a vague recollection of being levered into it...
# # # #
The Bridal Weekend was also open for trade on Monday evening, between 4 pm and 8 pm, and I reluctantly arrived, hoping the time would quickly pass.
Unfortunately it didn't, because we vendors in the room agreed that one could not expect potential bridal parties to visit the hotel on Monday night. The fathers of the bride, who would have to finance the ceremony, had probably returned home after a hard day's work, and did not wish to dispose of their savings quite so arbitrarily.
I noticed my pile of hand-outs was down to merely one copy, but my colleagues admitted that they had all taken copies to read, and all admitted it was nicely-written. The condom salesman asked if he could paraphrase it for his one hand-out.
Only one more person entered the room before we packed up and went home.
He was bare-headed, unshaven, and wore a long dirty brown raincoat buttoned down the front. He muttered something to the wide-eyed wine-girl, who pointed to me.
The woman at the wedding dress display next to my table whispered, "He's the local flasher."
He crossed to me, a leathery tongue rasped over his cracked lips. He scanned the table and picked up the remaining hand-out.
"Yuk, yuk!" he chortled as he crossed to the exit.
I couldn't help wondering -- had I added an aura of sophistication to this rural Co. Down village?
- - - - - - - - - -John's article was warmly received, and harkened back to many of the pieces he'd written in the 1950s for the legendary Hyphen. Walt Willis, who was Hyphen's co-editor, wrote that "I was accustomed to sorting out the fiction from the fact in John Berry's pieces about fandom, but it's more difficult when he is writing about the real world, even a village a few miles from my own house." And Gary Deindorfer wrote that "Irish John Berry's story is an Instant Classic, but then this is what I have come to expect from this fannish master of the exaggerated humorous anecdote. Long may he wave!"
Our next issue, Mimosa 18, was published in May 1996, and, in terms of content, was one of the best issues of the entire run. The wrap-around cover was by Australian fan artist Ian Gunn, whom we'd corresponded with for several years before we finally met him, for the only time as it turned out, at the Scotland worldcon in 1995; it featured a spaceport scene with a zany cast of characters including Elvis. Catherine Mintz wrote us that "I particularly liked the enterprising pickpocket -- who could scarcely be described as light-fingered, since he is all tentacles -- and the ideographic signs for where to find your luggage, your pet, and whatever the skull dripping liquid means."
Once again, there was no real theme to the issue, though it might well be described as a virtual time machine. Dave Kyle wrote about his memories of science fiction in the 1920s and Forry Ackerman described fandom in the 1940s, while both Vincent Clarke and Walt Willis described events from the 1950s; Fred Lerner wrote about New York fandom of the 1960s, Roxanne Smith-Graham related memories of growing up as a second generation fan in the 1970s, and Kev McVeigh contributed an article about British fandom of the 1980s. One of the best articles in the issue was by Steve Stiles, whose renown as a fan artist makes it too easy to overlook that he's also an excellent writer. His article for M18 described his 'secret origins' as an artist:
Mimosa 18 cover by Ian Gunn
All other illustrations by Peggy Ranson