Meadows of Fantasy
FANDOM IS DEFLATED
DAVE'S FRONT TYRE went flat just as they were entering Shropshire.
It had to be Dave's tyre, of course. Dave had only had his scooter a couple of months. Mine had had her machine for over four years, but had never had a single puncture in all that time. So they ran both scooters into a farm gateway, the verges thereabouts consisting mostly of ditch, and took stock.
"I haven't got a puncture outfit of course," said Dave. "They don't supply 'em."
"Nor have I," said Mine. "But seeing as how you had the foresight to buy the same model as I have, I suppose you'd better do the obvious thing and borrow my spare."
"I was hoping you'd say that," returned Dave gratefully.
"You know me -- I'd sell my grandmother into slavery to help a friend. However, I'm not volunteering to dirty my beautiful hands in the process." She handed him her keys. "The padlock's the second smallest. Get cracking, son of toil."
Actually she did help -- mainly by reading the relevant instructions out of the booklet while Dave and Owen performed the manual labour. For a trio of complete novices they made the exchange in a surprisingly short time, and prepared to remount.
"What happens if we get a second puncture now?" Owen asked pessimistically.
"We'll at least have a complete working machine to carry the defective parts to the nearest service station," the girl countered. "Which is more than can be said of a car that gets two punctures in succession." Owen balanced himself behind her, and the two machines pulled back on to the road and continued their interrupted journey.
Since Dave had not yet passed (or even taken) his test, he was not allowed to carry an unqualified passenger. This meant that the expedition had perforce to be three-handed rather than four, and the extra seat was wasted, which was a shame. Cynthia was working, but Bert or Ian could otherwise have come. However, the law said no, and so three Thisbury fen on two scooters chugged into the ancient little town of Much Wenlock some time in the middle of the afternoon and started looking for the right street. It wasn't hard to find, being right in the centre of town, and the machines came to a slightly doubtful rest outside an antique shop.
"Is it an antique shop we're looking for, Mine?" asked Dave.
"I don't think this town has any other sort," said Owen. "They even sell antique groceries."
Their doubts were resolved when the shop door opened and out sauntered a large mongrel, followed a moment later by a tallish figure clad in shirt, shorts and beard. "Howdy, all," Theo greeted them briefly. "If you carry on round, there's an alley -- Barker will show you, I've got a customer. Take 'em round the back, Barker -- OK?" And he retired indoors again and left them to his partner.
After nuzzling each of the three in turn Barker trotted off along the pavement, looking back every couple of yards to make sure that his visitors were following. He guided them through a narrow entrance into a branching passage, and the scooters rolled gently to a halt alongside a car that was easily recognisable as Theo's. The dog waited, tail gently a-wave, while they gathered up their overnight luggage, and then he led the way through an open door. And in an instant there could be no doubt whatsoever that they had come o the right address, as they stepped into a comfortably crowded living-room that was clearly dedicated to the enjoyment of the fannish way of life.
A coloured ATOM original hung on one wall, depicting a large canine creature driving a ramshackle car whilst a bearded near-human sat beside it on the front seat. Further along there was a blown-up photograph from some fannish occasion or other, which perfectly captured the atmosphere of the traditional overcrowded smoke-filled bedroom. The central subject was Ina Shorrock, with a somewhat dishevelled Pat Whatsit sprawled across her lap, and the expression of sheer but-this-isn't-what-I-ordered! astonishment on Ina's face was truly wonderful to behold. Despite herself, Mine felt a ridiculous triple-pang of jealousy as she looked at this picture -- jealousy not only of the two girls for having their picture on Theo's wall (which was absurd enough) but also of Theo, for being able to secure such a magnificent item for his room. There was also a blown-up coloured shot of an American riverboat (Don Ford?)
But the biggest and best picture hung over the mantelpiece. It depicted some battle or other between a force of centaurs and a force of amazons, in fabulously intricate detail, and the ornate rococo frame that surrounded it fitted the mood of antiquity to such a perfection that it came as a distinct shock to see Jim Cawthorn's signature in the corner.
The walls, were, after all, only a sideline. So were the ornaments that stood around the place filling the mantelpiece and the windowsill and the tops of a couple of big glass-fronted bookcases without being thick enough to clutter. There was a Hugo (best fanzine of two or three years back), two Saint Fantony statuettes (Knight and Hound), a miscellaneous jug of some description marked A PRESENT FROM KETTERING, and a sort of seraph wearing a propeller beanie. Close examination revealed the propeller as an interpolated addition -- nevertheless it looked highly effective. There was also a proportion of objets d'art of no apparent fannish significance.
In one corner stood a duplicator -- not an electric model, but a newish-looking rotary. An enormous roll-top desk held a standard office typewriter, amongst an assortment of tidily-arranged litter. Reams of paper, filing cases, piles of envelopes and other such stuff stood around in odd corners -- just like the Turtle, the Thisbury fen reflected. I wonder who keeps it so clean though? thought Mine, with another pang of jealousy. Not that the room was spotless, but neither had it gone to seed. It was just comfortably so-so.
It seemed no time at all -- though it was probably a bit longer -- until they heard a bell clang somewhere, and Theo breezed into the room. "Right," he said. "Sorry to keep you waiting. Shop's closed for the day now."
"You haven't closed it simply on our account, have you?" asked Dave, feeling a trifle guilty.
"No. Strictly on my account. I keep hours to suit myself. It doesn't suit me to keep hours right now. Other times I may stay open all evening. Depends on things in general."
Dave held up his hand. "Before we go any further," he put in, "is there a garage or something where we could have a puncture mended by tomorrow?"
There was, and Barker was perfectly agreeable to escorting Dave and Owen there without further ado. The back door was still open, and as the shoes rang on the cobbles of the alley, Mine and Theo stood there in the room looking at each other. What happened next was entirely mutual, as their bodies moved together and their mouths met in a long, intimate and satisfyingly unsatisfying kiss. when at last they pulled away from each other, Mine's fingers were slowly stroking Theo's beard.
"I don't know about you," said Theo slowly, "but I enjoyed that."
"So did I. Let's do it again some time."
So they did it again there and then.
"I'd been wondering," said Theo when the second kiss was at last over, "how long it would be before I was able to tempt you into this den of fantiquity."
"Do you run the place entirely by yourself?" asked Mine -- frankly fishing.
"No -- Barker helps."
"Oh of course."
"Then there's the woman who cleans the place up now and again of course. She's officially a shop assistant, so she counts against expenses. She knows even less about antiques than I do."
"Thus speaks the enthusiast."
"Thus doesn't speak the enthusiast. Do you enthuse?"
"I wouldn't know," Mine answered truthfully. "I don't know anything about the subject to speak of. I suppose it has its fascinating side."
"That's what all the girls say..."
"All what girls?"
"Any girls. They say 'So you're an antique dealer. How utterly fascinating'. It's about all most of them can say, I think."
"Don't you like the trade, then?"
"It's not a case of liking it. I like the freedom it gives me to organise my time in my own way. I know enough about it to bumble along somehow -- if I was really interested I could probably be quite well-off, at any rate according to my non-mundane standards. As it is, I make about as much as a fairly well-paid labourer -- and work a damn sight less hard than he would for a fraction of his hours. Of course I like it -- even if only a negative sort of way."
"How did you get into the business in the first place -- if you don't mind me asking?"
"I inherited it. From my father's mistress -- we're that sort of a family. Or were. I'm about the only one left nearer than second cousin. Shortly before she died -- I was about thirteen then -- I remember her telling me that the shop'd eventually be mine, and that in about five years' time I'd be able to start earning it. As I was living and working there most of the holidays anyway, I didn't quite see what she meant about the five years' time business. I'm still not entirely sure -- but I have some rather interesting suspicions."
Mine laughed, and turned her mouth up again invitingly -- they'd been chattering away there where they stood, without bothering to sit down. After they'd disentangled this time, they stood side by side looking down into an ornate mirror inspecting their faces for evidence. When the other three returned, Theo and Mine were sitting sedately opposite each other on a pair of non-matched but surprisingly comfortable antique sofas.
"Hel-lo," said Owen as he regarded them. "What's been going on in our absence? Mine, you look like the canary that's just swallowed a cat."
"I don't think we're supposed to notice," said Dave with a shrug. "Bennett ought to be interested though."
"Don't start jumping to conclusions on an empty stomach," said Theo easily. "Talking about which, is anybody ready for eating yet? Because I am."
Barker ambled over and sat down in front of Mine, resting his beautifully-shaped head on her knee. "I haven't said hello to you properly yet, Barker-boy, have I," she said as she fondled his ears. Barker's tail swept the floor behind him slowly and contentedly.
Presently they were all sitting round the kitchen table tucking into heaped platefuls of all-in salad.
"How's the filthy prodom these days, Owen?" asked Theo. "Sold any more stories yet?"
"Never a one," said Owen ruefully. "I think that one must have been an absolute flash in the pan. The things come rolling back almost as fast as I send them out. Another half dozen years and I'll begin to feel discouraged." He paused. "Dick's had three accepted by Carnell though."
"Dick?" asked Theo. "Dick? Oh, Dick, yes."
"I suppose," Dave hazarded, "you'll have made quite a collection of rejection slips in your time, Theo?"
"As it happens," said Theo, "you suppose wrong. I've never had a rejection slip in my life. Mainly, I think, because I've never submitted anything anywhere -- except to fanzines of course. The trouble with me is that I don't like writing -- and know it."
This brought his listeners up short.
"But surely..." "As a fan..." "Your OMPAzine..." "But every fan..."
"Not quite," Theo grinned. "Fans don't have to like writing. I know several who don't. Archie Mercer's one -- thought he says it took him several years to realise it. Yes, I know I do things in fanzines. That's different. If there's something I want to say -- what I think of the book I've just read, or fanzine, or the Conservative Party, or Liverpool Bank Holiday part, or things in general -- that's fair enough. I can just sit down and type. But if it's a case of writing for the sake of writing rather than simply to say something, then I daren't even think of it."
"Why not?" Owen asked.
"Probably because I'm the ultimate perfectionist. All right. Say I sit down to write something. I compose a sentence. Right. I look at it. Immediately I want to switch the words round. Then I want to change a word here, a word there. Stick in an additional phrase. Cut out an existing one as unnecessary. Then, perhaps, I prefer the altered words in their original order. But I'm still not satisfied. I'm never satisfied. I get it on to stencil -- I still want to change it. I see it in print -- and that's the worst of all. Absolutely essential alterations leap out of the page at me, screaming to be made. And I can't do a thing about it."
"But surely," said Mine, "I mean -- some of your things are supposed to be classics. That thing about the antique flying saucers in that ORION -- I loved that."
"So did most fans, apparently," said Theo with a shrug. "But they don't ever realise how infinitely much better it would have been if I'd taken time to make another twenty-five revisions in every line. Or fifty."
"But if you don't mine my saying so," put in Dave, "isn't that rather a ridiculous attitude to take? Few sentences of anybody's are so perfect that they're absolutely incapable of being improved. But a line has to be drawn -- otherwise nothing would ever get written at all."
"Probably so. I'm like that though."
"What a frustrating life though," said Owen.
"One thing," Mine pointed out. "You don't exactly look frustrated."
"Don't I?" said Theo with a shrug. "Wait till you see me when you're not around."
Nobody was quite sure how to take that, so they left it alone. "When's the next SCHLAFENFEST coming out, anyway?" Owen asked.
"Sleeping-feast," Dave translated.
"Sleeping-festival," translated Mine almost simultaneously. "Is there such a thing?"
"Of course there is," said Theo. "I publish it. Didn't your mother ever tell you?"
"No, but really," wondered Owen.
"My stock answer here," said Theo, "is that if there isn't one there most certainly ought to be."
"H'm. When is it coming out, anyway?"
"Have a heart. I put one out only last February."
"Any publication which appears at intervals greater than six months," Mine pontificated, "begins to look suspiciously like an annual."
"Now that, Mine," said Theo, "is a most profound statement. Allow me to bestow upon you my heartiest congratulations."
"He noticed!" beamed Mine in a sort of mock-aside.
"How far along is the next one, anyway?" asked Owen.
"I suppose we couldn't..." began Dave.
"Hardly, I'm afraid -- there's only about two stencils cut. No, you won't be seeing another SCHLAFENFEST until after the Con I'm afraid. Even I haven't got unlimited time, and I'm trying to keep the Plot going full blast."
"Plot?" Owen queried. "You mean the Con?"
"PLOT TO TAKE OVER THE UNIVERSE," Dave explained.
"His OMPAzine," amplified Mine. Both she and Dave were on the OMPA waiting-list.
"Oh of course."
"Talking about the Con..."
"Yes -- how are things going?"
Anything he might tell them, said Theo, should be treated as strictly confidential.
"Can't we even tell the gang?" Owen asked.
"None of us'll tell a soul if you'd rather we didn't," Mine promised. Dave and Owen endorsed this.
"Right. Well, first of all, I'm planning on shifting the film show to Sunday morning."
"Will anybody be up?" somebody wondered.
"Precisely," said Theo. "It's usually the AGM Sunday morning -- and hardly anybody is up. It starts late, with about half its wheels missing and causes confusion -- not to mention consternation -- by over-running the dinner hour. Now most people seem to make a point of seeing the film show -- it's possibly the most popular item. So if they want to see it, they can damn well get up Sunday morning."
"I like films," said Owen. "I like my sleep too, though. That doesn't sound such a good idea."
"So do I," Mine concurred. "Some of them, anyway. I don't know about when I'm only half-awake though."
"I was only half-awake the whole time," said Dave. "I nearly went to sleep during this year's film show. Particularly with the smoke-filled lack of ventilation."
"One thing," said Mine. "Doing as you suggest would help to clarify how popular the film show actually is."
"What I'm hoping to prove," Theo declared, "is that a mid-morning film performance is a bigger draw than a mid-morning AGM."
Owen grunted. "You may be right at that. Was anybody at the AGM this year?"
The other three had been. So had Barker.
"What happens to the AGM then?" asked Mine. "You're not thinking of abolishing it, are you?"
"Certainly not. Whatever its position in the top ten, it is actually the heart of the Convention, and should be given the best spot with a minimum of interruptions. So it's being shifted to Sunday afternoon, three o'clock sharp. At that time, just about everybody will be there. Refreshments will be laid on free at half-past four or so, and the meeting will be given every facility to run on indefinitely just as long as it seems to be going somewhere. Usually it's sandwiched between a late start and lunch, and too much important business tends to get strangled at birth. I want to try to restore it to its rightful significance.
"That sounds fair enough, anyway," said Mine.
"Any more radical innovations?" asked Dave.
"Well, there's the auctions. They tend to run on, too. I'm trying to marshall them into short sweet bouts of exactly ten minutes each, between the other items. In fact I've got a vague notion of timing them with a stopwatch -- whatever item's being auctions when the ten-minute bell rings, it's cut off in mid-flight and the highest bidder so far gets it unchallenged. I'm not quite sure how that'd affect the receipts though -- it could be that this way may keep the takings up by stimulating more interest than would otherwise have been -- er -- stimulated.
"Might almost be worth trying even if the takings did go down," said Dave. "What happens to everything that's left unsold at the end though?"
"Oh, after the AGM there'll have to be the usual final clearance session of course -- but there'll be no more programme to follow, so it won't matter so much."
"I wish we could take that idea up in the Club," said Mine. "We might be able to get some sort of consensus of opinion about it."
"This is a club," Theo told her. "The Science Fiction Club of Much Wenlock. What d'you think I asked you all here for?"
"I'd hate to give an authoritative opinion," said Owen ambiguously, "but I like the idea."
"So," Dave agreed, "do I -- but I'm afraid of snags."
"So am I, unfortunately. I'll have to try it out on my official advisory committee."
"Have you got a committee then?" (Mine)
"An advisory committee -- several past con-organisers who have agreed to answer my letters if I write to them but won't have to take any responsibility. The actually committee proper is strictly as listed on the front of the progress report."
That, they remembered, had read simply: CHAIRDOG, Barker Trunkard; SECRETARY-TREASURER AND ASSISTANT CHAIRDOG, Theo Trunkard.
"Strictly a one-dog-and-his-man show then," said Owen.
"So far. Part of the reason I asked you up here though was with a view to doing a bit of recruiting. As it happens you're about the three most active Thisburians."
"Except for Cynth," Dave corrected, whilst Mine asked almost simultaneously: "What's all that smoke?"
"Cynth? Smoke? Oh -- hot air charged with grains of carbon mostly. Huh? What smoke, anyway?" Theo swung round to face towards the back alleyway, into which a considerable amount of smoke was billowing. He was on his feet in an instant, and through the passage into the yard, Barker beside him. Then he was back. "Stay here, everybody," he told them curtly. "Stay here, Barker." Then he was through the shop, there was a rattle of keys, a pause -- and then he was back again, all in one continuous movement.
"This is going to be fun," he said. "It's the shop next door but one -- where I get all my paraffin from." Consternation promptly ensued. "It's things like this," he went on, "that make life almost worth living. It's all right -- I've seen the proprietor, there's nobody in there. In the mean time, this isn't the best..."
A loud rat-tat-tat on the shop door fetched him out again, to be confronted by a policeman in a hurry. The policeman obviously knew Theo. "I'd advise you to evacuate the premises at once," he announced. "I'll have to ask you not to leave anything outside I'm afraid -- front or back. It'll obstruct the brigade." In view of the extreme narrowness of both thoroughfares this was obviously an eminently practical request, so Theo readily agreed to comply, and the policeman moved on to the next house.
The others joined Theo in the shop.
"Anything we can take?" asked Dave.
Theo ran an eye over the stock. "Can you take that chest thing?" he asked. "Mine -- there's a couple of vases in the corner of the next room under the stand thing, could you bring them? Thanks -- Owen, can you manage this armchair? It's genuine Sheraton -- the pair to it's in Australia unfortunately, but a thing like that's worth saving in its own right. Out the back and turn left -- I'll join you in a minute."
Dave, Mine and Owen staggered out with their various burdens in the direction indicated, setting them down in a tributary alley where, they hoped, they'd be in nobody's way but their own. Theo was more than the minute he'd mentioned, but not much more -- in one hand he held the Cawthorn centaurs-and-amazons picture, whilst the other grasped the ends of a large and laden curtain. When the others had a chance to inspect the contents later, they found them to include such fannish irreplaceables as the small ATOM picture and the Saint Fantony statuettes.
"Where's Barker?" Dave asked suddenly.
"Just coming -- he had to go upstairs." Barker galloped up to them a moment later, a large black volume between his jaws.
"What's he carrying?" asked Owen.
"A SENSE OF FAPA," said Theo without looking.
"You mean he went and fetched it on his own?"
"But -- that's ridiculous."
"It does sound a bit far-fetched," Dave agreed. "Are you sure you're not having us on? I mean I know the dog's a genius, but this is ridiculous."
"Not in the least," said Theo equably. "Every now and then I take the book out of its place on the shelf, show it to him, and tell him its name. So he knows perfectly well what the words A SENSE OF FAPA denote. I believe in being prepared for this sort of thing."
Even so, his preparations had not -- so it turned out -- been perfect. The shop where the fire had started was a burned-out shell, and one of those immediately adjoining had also been damaged, but thanks to the prompt arrival of the fire brigade the rest of the row had been saved, and after a couple of hours of hanging about Theo was allowed to return home. The back door had not been locked -- in case the firemen wanted to get in in a hurry -- but simply closed. Opening it, Mine found herself paddling inches deep in water.
:What -- the -- hell..." she began.
"Hell," echoed Theo who was just behind her. "And damnation into the bargain. I left all the windows open. And the front ones too..."
"They waded into the interior. The whole floor was awash, and the furniture and stock had all been thoroughly soaked. Theo ran upstairs -- it was the same there. Water, and sodden effects, everywhere one turned.
"But why?" demanded Mine. "Why turn the hoses on this house?" Then she answered her own question -- "Of course, I supposed they wanted to make it less inflammable in case the fire spread this way. Strikes me you could do with the entire Thisbury and District Circle to help clear this lot up."
It could have been worse, of course -- a lot worse. All Theo's books were behind glass -- even the special shelf from which Barker had retrieved A SENSE OF FAPA had somehow shut or been shut before the dog carried the book off. His fanzines were for the most part in metal filing cabinets, which were effectively showerproof. Several hung pictures had been infiltrated and would never be the same again, but the Cawthorn was safe.
Theo picked up a wet block from the corner of the living-room. "Duping paper," he said sadly. "Reams of it -- mostly awash to the eyeballs."
"It'll dry better if the sheets are separated," said Dave. "Not that there's anywhere dry to put them to dry."
"There's a couple of reams here that seem to be fairly dry," said Owen, who had started rummaging in the same corner. "Let's put out a waterlogged one-shot or something."
Theo hurled the ream he was holding at the couch with a dramatic gesture. The packet fell with a sodden squish, and water sprayed up.
"Boys and girls," he said. "The next SCHLAFENFEST will be produced forthwith, here and now. Only a small one, mind -- but a genuine SCHLAFENFEST nevertheless. I'll subtitle it 'The Fanzine That Is There When It Happens'. Four eye-wetness accounts of the Much Wenlock firthquake. Five if I can persuade Barker to contribute. Bennett'll be positively redundant when he sees it."
"Have we time?" Mine wondered practically. "There's all this floor water wants mopping up, and all sorts of things."
"To hell with that. That can wait -- floor needed a wash, anyway. This is an important fannish occasion." He swept a sheet of water off the working-surface of the roll-top desk with one arm. "The stencils are behind you, Owen -- in that cupboard. Give the duper a rub down, Dave -- dunno what with though. Mine -- if you must try your hand at woman's work, see if you can find any dry food or wet drink out there."
And amid the watery chaos all around, he sat down at the typewriter and began to type.
What with all the assorted excitement, they very nearly forgot to collect the delinquent wheel from the garage the next morning. Owen remembered however, and brought the thing triumphantly round to the back door as the others were loading the scooters.
"Shall we change it back now?" he asked.
Mine considered. "I don't see why we should bother," was her verdict. "Dave may have another puncture before we get back, in which case it'll just be extra work. Leave it down there, Owen -- I'll stick it on my carrier for the time being." And she went in to say goodbye to Theo properly.
Shortly afterwards the two machines were straddled by their three riders. "I wouldn't have missed it for anything, Theo," said Dave, to which both Owen and Mine added their concurrence.
"Next time you come," Theo returned, "I hope I'll have some dry beds you can sleep in."
"I'll bring my gum-boots," said Owen.
"We'll just bring the Turtle and leave it at that," said Mine.
One after the other the two engines roared into life. Theo waved. Dave and Owen waved. Mine blew Theo a kiss. Theo winked. Barker woofed. And off they went.
About half-way home, Dave's back tyre went flat.
"At least you're having a bit of variety," Owen pointed out as they came to a halt. "It was your front one before."
"Naturally," said Dave. "The tyre on the front at present is Mine's. Mine's tyres never get punctures."
Everybody dismounted and prepared to go into action. And they all three saw it virtually as one. The spare-tyre holder underneath Mine's carrier was empty.
"Right," said Dave. "Who had it last?"
"I -- I'm afraid I did," Mine confessed. "I -- I'm sorry, Dave. I..."
"Take to the boats," sang out Owen.
Dave wasn't quite sure if the situation called for anger, or tears, or hysterics -- and if so, on whose part. He collected himself with an effort. "There's a thing," he said slowly. "A sort of syndrome. Something to do with double standards between the sexes. No matter how clever and sensible a girl is normally, when faced with eligible male company she goes all stupid and helpless and poor-little-female on it. I'm beginning to believe there's something in it after all."
"But," Mine could not help pointing out -- "with all due respect to those present, I am not right now in eligible male company."
"You mean you didn't leave the tyre lying out there right by Theo's back door?"
Mine blushed scarlet.
"Well, I can't very well go back for it now," she said. "We'll be late enough as it is. But -- come to thik of it, I might possibly run up there next week-end to recover it. It's an ill wind and all that jazz."
"Well I hope you have a puncture every five miles," said Dave -- but he said it with a grin. All the world loves a lover, and all that jazz.
"Well," she said. "I was wondering if one of my friends wouldn't lend me one of his for a spare. If he doesn't particularly need his own machine that week-end that is. I'd promise to bring it back safely."
Curiously enough, she did.
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