CLOUD CHAMBER NINETEEN: in which, only a few weeks before attaining The Age At Which You Can't Trust People Any More, Dave Langford aims again at FLAP from 94 London Rd, Reading, Berks, RG1 5AU.
Well, hello again all you wonderful people; and things like that. Up here at the Langford Fact & Fiction Factory the schedule is getting clogged, with non-doing novels set aside while I prepare fanzines for the upcoming Eastercon in Glasgow and pause in sudden guilty realization that I need to contribute to FLAP 21. Argh.
By massed popular request of Mr Locke I am to tell you all about the wonderful One Tun and suchlike London gatherings. As the eminent scientist always says in those-skiffy tales, "I shall just run through the facts even if you already know them, in order to clarify them in my mind." ("Gee, go ahead Professor.")
The One Tun meetings used to be the Globe meetings used to be the White Horse meetings as misrepresented in Clarke's Tales from the White Hart. Closures and changes in the first two pubs caused the moves: I caught one Globe meeting when I was a rather new fan around 1972, and have been at the One Tun most months since its inception. Silly me. Anyway, the idea is to have a fixed spot at which truly wonderful fans and pros can gather – theoretically a fixed enough spot that one can drop out for a year or two and still expect to find the same sort of affair going on at the edge of the City of London on the evening of the first Thursday of the month. (If you happen to be over here, the place is near Farringdon tube station on the Circle Line: turn right out of the station, cross Farringdon Road just ahead, walk a few yards up Greville Street and there's the Tun at the beginning of Saffron Hill on your right. Evening hours: 5.30 to 11pm. Don't expect many fans before, say, seven o'clock.)
In practice, it's sheer hell. Yes, it works as the One Fixed Point of the monthly fannish calendar: unfortunately fandom and the various fringe groups don't fit very well any more. Reading Clarke's book you might imagine an animated group at the bar with further quiet conversations. at tables: in the Tun on a typical night you find there seems to be just one group, wedged in and filling all the available space in an L-shaped bar whose arms are each forty feet long, screaming at the tops of their voices, committing hideous mayhem to get to the actual bar counter and worse to reach the toilets, sweating and gasping in the fearful heat and smoke, choking down the worst beer in London to distract them from the hell of the fannish condition. In fact there's no need to enter the pub to encounter this: provided it's not actually raining or snowing, the penumbral effects spread clear across Saffron Hill with fans standing in clumps about the road and pavement, letting the occasional motorist get through only on sufferance. On frosty nights the too-narrow door sees a brisk two-way flow, with fans escaping for fresh air only to batter themselves to pulp against the incoming phalanx of those trying to get in and let their extremities thaw out a bit.
(Every other night of the month, the Tun is quiet and nearly empty, the perfect large place in which to hold office parties, darts matches, retirement/celebration piss-ups, and so on, and so on. And every few months the unsuspecting arranger of such events blunders onto the first Thursday, and a dispirited party of mundanes can be seen squeezed like Flatlanders into the wallpaper at the extreme end of the bar, wondering what went wrong.)
After a while, two or three visits perhaps, your brain adjusts and you begin to see that the featureless fannish continuum really divides into little groups, always the same groups, always in much the same places, the Tun's eldritch shape filtering fans towards their appointed zones as in some form of chromatography. The Trekkies and London University lot always seem to appear early and bag the table seats around the outside of the L. Other permanent enclaves at the tables include a local convention planning its dark doings at one end; four neofans by the door whom I occasionally encourage with a fanzine and who I hope will one day pluck up the courage to speak, the Cambridge U people huddled at the end of the bar which serves food, and an irreducible scattering of mundanes looking bemused at the extreme far end by the dartboard.... The angle of the L is the best strategic place, handy for bar, toilets or escape to fresh air, and here the little knots of fanzine fans stand talking and drinking. It's bad drink but usually good talk, and every so often fanzines come hovering perilously over your shoulder or under your arm. Specifically I go there to talk with such as Chris Priest, Lisa Tuttle, Rob Holdstock, Andrew Stephenson, Chris Evans, Joe Nicholas, Judith Hanna, Greg Pickersgill, Linda Pickersgill (formerly Karrh), Malcolm Edwards, Chris Atkinson, Kevin Smith, John & Eve Harvey ... well, the list goes on, this being a quick selection of names which might ring bells across the great water. Famous pros and such drop in from afar, but what they think of it I can't imagine: I remember Arthur Clarke staring into the Tun with stark horror, Greg Benford telling everyone very patiently about his and Gordon Eklund's Nebula, Ted Tubb looming over everyone and Ken Bulmer looming under them.... More stark horror was seen on the faces of Vince Clarke and Arthur (Atom) Thomson, both of whom appeared one night and seemed to think that the worms and rotten cerements of their fannish graves had perhaps been preferable to this.
Despite the noise and sweat and all that spilt beer down the trousers, despite the irritating attitude of mediafans who moved in on 'our' meeting but refuse to interact, despite the expense of the monthly visit to London: I like it. (Some people tell mo that being deaf helps.) There's always someone to talk to. There's always someone you didn't expect to see. (There's always someone you did expect to see but hoped not to, but that's life.) The landlord is friendly and puts up with just about anything. The gossip is red-hot – there's even a One Tun fanzine called Small Mammal which is distributed nowhere else and contains unlikely local scandal. Last time, for example, editor Martin Easterbrook gleefully unearthed a photo of an almost nude gentleman (he wore glasses placed conventionally and a balloon placed strategically) in Time Out magazine, claiming this was someone called D. Langford. "I don't wear glasses like that," I protested feebly – not wishing to be lured onto the subject of my taste in balloons – but actually it did look rather like me. I shall not be submitting it for the next FLAP photopage experiment.
Perhaps I'll see one of you there someday. Or on the third Friday of the month there's the British SF Association meeting in the King of Diamonds pub a couple of minutes further up Greville Street.. but that's another story.
Haven't left myself very much space for those mailing comments, have I? Dave Locke: in answer to your other query, I don't think London Woman are as appalling as D.Hulan thinks. But I remember that when the weird punk minority first afflicted us, they seemed to be just everywhere despite their small numbers: staring at the dayglo crests, one failed to notice that real people were also present... Dave Wixon: A loofah is what von Sacher-Masoch used, and therefore Englishmen are expected to use, as a sponge. The fibrous and very scratchy interior of something called (in my dictionary) the dishcloth gourd .. As for Grody's (like it) hanger-on, your analysis is indubitably correct and I grovel: sorry... Jackie: Oh yes, our Lionel Fanthorpe is the famous one whose glory Jerry Kaufman tries to borrow. Author of 159 hack SF books in 13 years (in his spare time) – or have I told you the story already? Speaking of Jerry, he and Suzle should be publishing the 7th TAFFbit real soon now in Mainstream: the 6th was in Paul Skelton's The Zine That Has No Name 3 a few months ago, and the 5th in Tappen actually appeared before Bergeron published the 4th – long before. 8th and last due soon (when I write it) from the Harveys' Wallbanger (43 Harrow Rd, Carshalton, Surrey, SM5 3QH). Then the collected version! Thanks for kind words....