As we mentioned, L.A.Con afforded us good a good opportunity to meet people.
However, someone whose absence was profoundly felt was Bob Shaw. Like many others
in fandom, we were stunned and saddened when the news of his death reached us. Bob
was a part of perhaps the most famous fan group ever, the fabled Irish Fandom of
the 1950s, which also included Walt and Madeleine Willis, George Charters, James
and Peggy White, Bob's wife Sadie, and the writer of this article. IF provided
much of the legendry that 1950s fandom is noted for, from its meeting place at the
Willis's home of Oblique House, to the fannish game of ghoodminton', to The
Enchanted Duplicator (which Bob co-wrote). The death of Bob Shaw is the
passing of a legend; we will miss him deeply, but he has left much to remember him
I retired from my fingerprint office in 1991, upon reaching the pensionable age of 65, and took the opportunity I had waited for for many years, to nicely type my Irish Fandom stories, all 54 of them, and got the contents professionally bound with green buckram, hard covers, no less, with gold lettering on the spine announcing A Time Regained -- Fables of Irish Fandom. A few days ago, I read in a fanzine about the death of Bob Shaw. It was mind-numbing; I immediately went to my den, reached for A Time Regained, and flipped through the entire 240 pages. Bob's name was on almost every page. I looked down the list of pun titles of my stories; he had presented me with many of them: "Rust in Peace" ... "High, Wide, and Transom" ... "Monroe Doctorin'" ... "Cuffed in the Fray" ... "Shill Shock" ... "The Wails of IF," to give just a few examples. I started to read the stories...
# # # #
The first article I wrote in fandom, "Coming Up for the Third Time," (a Willis title) partly concerned ghoodminton... in fact, many of my IF stories concern variations on this theme. I particularly remember Bob, a quiet, delicate, skillful player, holding his square of cardboard in a rather effete manner, hitting the shuttlecock only because he had to, being totally non-agressive. I found myself usually partnering another member of IF, with Bob and his beautiful young wife Sadie across the net. It has been said quite correctly that, when playing ghoodminton, I was a terror to behold, with hair askew, moustache at 6pm, sweating, attired in a grimy once-white vest, threadbare grey trousers and size 12 hobnail boots, leaping about in an uncoordinated manner. I chuckled to myself as I turned the pages, visualizing Bob across the net, grinning to himself, as if a vagrant witty pun had flickered across his mind, interrupting his play. And then, yesterday, after 40 years, an example of his utter subtlety struck me. Why hadn't I thought of it before? It was absolute genius, the epitome of gamesmanship.
I must say I was rather chagrined to read an article written by Madeleine Willis, in which she wrote that whenever I visited Oblique House, she always adjusted her neckline. Bob and Sadie Shaw had lived in the Willis household for a time. So it suddenly struck me, as I sat there thinking about Bob, that perchance certain conversations had taken place, and, on reflection, what else could explain Bob's ghoodminton ploy?
James White and I were 19 points against the Shaws' 16 points. James and I were superb; the game was won. Then I heard Bob whisper to Sadie, "You look rather hot and flustered. Our opponents will not object if you divest yourself of your blouse; you'll feel cooler and refreshed."
Very slowly, Sadie complied, a tactile fumbling with pearl buttons being eased out of pink cross-stitched button holes, the white satin garment with little green shamrocks embroidered around the collar and sleeves being eased off white shoulders, revealing... "21-19, the Shaws have won!" I heard Walt Willis shout loudly.
# # # #
Everybody knows that punning was a major pastime at Oblique House, and although all the members of IF were adept at the technique, Bob Shaw's were the most cultured and devious. I can do no better to illustrate his métier than by quoting directly from my column "Belfasters," this excerpt from an issue of Dean Grennell's Grue published in 1956:
"Listen," Bob said to me one night, "I've noticed you always use the expression 'a cry of frustration'."
I nodded. It was true... I love that phrase.
"Well, I thought of a brilliant pun today," he enthused. "This is the set-up. One afternoon, your wife is out, and you decide to prepare a special dish. You go out and purchase a few oysters, shellfish, crabs, etc., and when teatime is near, you drop the whole lot into the frying pan. When Diane comes in, you knock the contents of the frying pan onto the kitchen floor, as if it was done accidentally. Then give a loud shout. Diane will say, 'Was that a cry of frustration?' and you will be able to reply, 'No, that was a fry of crustacean'."
I once wrote an article for Gregg Calkins's Oopsla about a robot Bob Shaw and a robot budgerigar, as part of our long-running feud about whether or not budgerigars could talk; I avered that they were quite good conversationalists, although not understanding everything they uttered. I couldn't think of a suitable title for the work, and I asked members of IF to assist me. Bob immediately came to my rescue:
"This is my idea, John," he explained. "Imagine in your story the two robots break down due to some mechanical defect. To mend the bird would be quite easy, because all you would have to do would be to insert a finger and make a small adjustment. But to try and fix the robot Bob Shaw would be more complicated. You would have to open a trap door in the back of the robot, put both arms inside, and fiddle about with the works for hours."
"So?" I yawned.
"So," said Bob, "you could call your story 'A Hand in the Bird Is Worth Two in the BoSh'."
One of the stories that went the rounds of fandom in the middle fifties concerned my typewriter, which worked only by the use of a can of beans' drive. Naturally, because fans suspected that I was prone to exaggerate, it was treated as a myth, broadcast by IF -- it couldn't have happened, it was just too incredible. But it was absolutely true, the typer was a wreck, but I needed to use it because my flow of articles for fanzines was a waterfall without the dam. But the platen had seized up, and the only way I could get it to work was by tying a length of cord to the roller on the left end of the platen, and suspending a can of beans. Ergo, every time I pressed a key, the platen was released and the can of beans, using gravity, forced it to move one stop with each pressure on a key. I wrote over one hundred stories for fanzines on the 'can of beans drive' typer, until Les Gerber presented me with a portable typer in New York in 1959. But how did I get conned into purchasing that typer wreck in the first instance? I explained it all in a 1957 Oopsla:
(Bob had invited me to his room in Oblique House to examine a typer he wanted to sell to me. I was thrilled being asked to purchase a vile pro's typewriter, even though it looked rusty, and in fact did appear to represent a hunk of junk.)
"Type something," said Bob, biting his lower lip.
My pet word for breaking in a typewriter is 'terminologicalinexactitudinously'. I've typed it so often that I can do it blindfold, so there was no requirement for me to remove the layer of scum on the keys.
So I typed it.
The keys made a series of staccato noises rather like someone trying to start a car on a frosty morning.
I peered at the sheet of paper and saw something like this:
I must impress on you all that I don't really type very fast. Compared with Walt Willis, you would think my hands were crippled with arthritis. So Bob's next remark, savouring as it did of flattery, came as rather a pleasant surprise.
"No, no, John," he explained patiently. "You are typing far too fast. I can see that you are an accomplished typist, and I can assure you that this is the machine for you. Try typing 'the' again, but a little slower."
So much more slowly, I typed 'termino...etc.'. I looked with apprehension at the result, which looked something like this:
"Hmmm," mused Bob. "There must be something wrong with the gribble draw-back lever. It's probably being gouled by the trumbickel snatch wire. I think I can fix it."
(And so on... With each moment that passed by, as Bob tried to demonstrate how I needed that machine, the situation deteriorated...)
Meanwhile, Bob had collected his scattered wits, and with remarkable aplomb said, "...and as I told you, you can have this magnificent machine dirt cheap!" Rather a difficult situation for me to be in. I guessed that only a dedicated typer mechanic could fix it, but at what incredible fee?? I didn't want to hurt Bob's feelings and say something reasonable, like half a crown. On the other hand, I didn't want to throw my money away and say something fantastic like five shillings. Whilst I was trying to formulate a reply, Bob leaned over the machine, and patted it affectionately. Tears welled in his eyes...
"What about... three pounds?" he asked quietly, a throb in his voice.
"Well, er, that is...I...um..." I stuttered.
"Settled then!" announced Bob, shaking my hand firmly.
He took his wallet out, counted out three crisp one pound notes, and thrust them into my hand. "Now take the bloody thing away!!!" he screamed.
# # # #
Most fans nowadays all have wheels; even neofans turn up at conventions in high-powered autos. They would not know or appreciate that, forty years ago, Irish fans predominantly used pedal cycles to travel on, although, as we gradually became somewhat more prosperous the motor-assisted pedal cycle began to make an appearance. But in 1954, Bob and myself possessed pedal cycles which were velocipedes in name only.
My pedal cycle was very old and had served me well when, as a village constable in County Down, I had spent most dark nights speeding round the quiet county lanes looking for miscreants who dared to encroach on my district without having red taillights on their bicycles. It had become rusted, and needed to be almost permanently sprayed with oil to make the wheels go around.
But Bob Shaw's bike was in a much worse condition, and he decided to give it a symbolic burial. The whole poignant affair was described in my "Rust in Peace" in the March 1955 issue of Hyphen. Bob decided to dump the bicycle in the River Lagan at Shaw's Bridge, aptly named. It was a few miles west of Belfast, and Bob asked all members of IF to attend the ceremony. We met there at the appointed time:
Everyone was there except Bob.
"Where is he?" I queried.
"He said he would cycle over as a last token of respect. He should be here soon," said his wife Sadie.
Ten minutes later a horrible squeaky noise issued from the Belfast direction. We exchanged knowing glances. Fifteen minutes later he arrived, and stopped by the simple expedient of kicking away the back wheel. He replaced the wheel, and jerked spasmodically over to us; the bike didn't have a saddle.
"Here it is," he said slowly. "Let's get it over with.
Walt Willis asked James White to fire the salvo. Thirteen rockets blasted to the Heavens, one for each year of the bike's co-existence with Bob.
Then Bob came over to me. The rest of them turned away.
"This is for you, John," he sniffed. "It's not much, but I know you will treasure it." He handed me the cycle pump. I put it in my pocket. I didn't say a word. He knew how I felt.
We all lined the towpath: Walt, Sadie, George, Madeleine, myself, James, Peggy, and Bob. Walt read the address:
"...and so, Roscoe," he concluded, "we ask that this long-suffering velocipede shall rest content in the shadow of Shaw's Bridge, until rust has finally merged it with its parent Earth."
We hummed the opening bars of "Dragnet" as Bob picked up the bike from the bank and slowly rode into the middle of the river, gradually disappearing until only a trail of bubbles showed where the bike had finally finished its labours. For a moment, we began to think that Bob had taken it too seriously and had gone down with his bike, but a few seconds later he appeared on the surface and swam to the bank. We wrapped him in blankets and hurried him to the car. They all piled in with him, and shouted "Goodnight!" to me.
I pulled by bike from the bank, ran down the towpath for a few yards, and vaulted onto the saddle.
I shrieked aloud in torment. Instead of a saddle, I had landed on a vertical piece of steel tubing. The hair rose on the back of my head. I got off the bike and rushed to the bridge. I still had the handlebars in my hands.
I thumped my fists on the parapet. "You fool, Shaw!" I screamed. "You absolute fool!"
I am writing this in bed, recovering from pneumonia. The only pleasant recollection I have of the event is that Bob's bike now lies strewn over the fields between Shaw's bridge and my home.
I am keeping the pump until I meet Shaw again. It is filled with lead shot...
# # # #
I could fill this issue of Mimosa with stories about Bob Shaw, but my brief sojourn into his persona is to merely try to give the impression of what a live-wire, bubbling character he was -- always kind and thoughtful, lips trembling with the attempt to express the whimsical thoughts tumbling through his creative mind. Bob Shaw was the compleat fan, almost unique in the fannish requirements he possessed -- as fannish wit, cartoonist (as BoSh), prolific fanzine writer (including much fan fiction), convention attender and speaker, raconteur, and vile pro (some thirty novels, and many short stories that have been anthologized). Frankly, who else in fandom at the present time could compete with his vast fannish umbrella?
Bob Shaw is irreplaceable. To quote a well-worn but magnificently apt cliché, we will never see his like again.
All illustrations by Diana Harlan Stein