We begin this 'Communication' theme issue with a remembrance of a lost friend.
Aubrey Vincent Clarke was a frequent contributor to Mimosa; he was also one of
the most important British fans of the legendary decade of the 1950s, which some
people consider to be fandom's 'Golden Age'. Every time we heard from Vince, in
every letter we ever received from him, there was always a little nugget of
information that added to our knowledge about that that decade. We were enriched by
his friendship, as we are immensely saddened by his passing.
Like everyone else in fandom, I mourn the passing of Vin¢ Clarke. A man without enemies. A dear man altogether. A quiet man, yet one with a burning enthusiasm for science fiction and an especial energy for all things fannish.
When I first saw Vince's name on the contents table of the fanzine I was being shown I was quite disappointed. I was new to the world of fanzines and, as a devotee of Arthur C. Clarke, easily misread the name of the article's author. A.V. Clarke? Why, I even had the slight suspicion that this upstart was trading on the good name of the great Arthur C.
I read the article anyway and a forty year long admiration for Aubrey Vincent was born.
I don't remember meeting Vin¢ at the 1954 British Convention, the Whit weekend SuperManCon at Manchester's Grosvenor Hotel. The small group of Leeds fans who attended gaped from afar at John Russell Fearn and reveled only in the coincidence that Mike Rosenblum, our own BNF and mentor lived in Grosvenor Park. We stuck together as neos did. And do. Not for us the wild distribution of quote cards to passers-by outside the hotel.
But by the following convention at Kettering, Vin¢ was firmly established in my mind as the compiler of The Directory of Anglo-fandom (every fan's bible), Duplicating Without Tears (and there's a neat pun for you, one which would escape a fair percentage of modern fanzine editors), and the voted delegate of British fandom in the first TAFF campaign. He had not only contributed a couple of pieces to my fanzine, PLOY, but he and I were corresponding on a regular basis. Still, Vin¢ corresponded with everyone on a regular basis. And that was in addition to producing Science Fantasy News, contributing to what appeared to be every other issue of every fanzine being published and being instrumental in the formation of the highly successful apa, OMPA (The Off-Trails Magazine Publishers' Association).
I wonder what he would have achieved had he been prolific.
And later that same year I had the honour and pleasure of staying overnight at Vince's home in Welling. I'd very recently left college and was hitchhiking my way to the small convention being put on in Antwerp. Vin¢ very kindly invited me to break my journey and I called for him after work at the wholesale iron merchants, Spencer, Bonecourt and Clarkson.
We walked through to London Bridge station with Vin¢ pointing out the various landmarks to a provincial lad on his first visit to the metropolis -- the house where Dickens had lived, Southwark Cathedral, The Tabard Inn, Ted Carnell's office...
"I should have arranged to meet you here at the station," Vin¢ told me in his slow, languid drawl. He was the master of under-emphasis. "On platform five."
Naturally, it transpired that at that time there was no platform five at London Bridge Station. One, two, three, four, six and so on. This possibly accounts for some of the math pupils I came across in subsequent years.
Once at Wendover Way we sat surrounded by bookcases full of science fiction and fantasy... what was labeled fantasy in those days... books and magazines as well as peripheral items which had taken Vince's fancy. Here, for example, Viną introduced me to Scoops and to E.S. Turner's Boys Will Be Boys, the excellent survey of boys' story magazines, the "Old Boys' Papers."
And, as though this wonderland were not enough, there were the shelves of pulps. And the treasure trove of fanzines. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And what fanzines! Voice of the Imagi-Nation, Futuria Fantasia, The Necromancer, Zenith, Slant, Quandry... they were all there.
Sadly, I can't remember the item in question, but when a certain scarce title came up in conversation, Vin¢ reached up over his head without rising from his chair and pulled the very issue of the magazine from a shelf. "Just an odd copy I happened to have lying around," he said casually and with a neatly judged tone of modesty. Needless to say, I cracked up. And the sentence became a catchphrase between us in subsequent years.
We talked, as fans do, late into the night, discussing among other topics the deeper metaphysical implications of such items as eggplants and crottled greeps. I think I rather disappointed Vin¢ by laughing at his frequent puns. The fannish tradition seemed to be to react to them only with a straight face. And then possibly -- an ability far outside my ken -- to cap them two or three sentences later. These puns, in themselves, opened doors for me. I'd grown up in a divided world. Humour was always present in family life, but puns were an unknown beast. And in my academic studies, puns were considered the lowest form of wit. Sad.
The following year I was lucky enough to have a piece of mine published in Eye, the London fanzine Vin¢ was editing. The magazine had had a fairly turbulent history as far as editors were concerned and Vince's sheer niceness could be gathered from the name "Irene Boothroyd" emblazoned under the title on the printed cover. Printed covers were rare in those days of hecto and mimeo. Each was an event in itself. Irene was a fairly isolated northern fan who had professed to Vin¢ her ambition to see her name in print. And of course Vin¢ was just the Kindly Soul to make one's dream come true.
In the summer of 1957, by which time Vin¢ was married, I decided to seek temporary work down on the south coast, but without success (in later years it amused me to recall that one of the hotels which turned me down was the Brighton Metropole, the venue for two Worldcons) and I found myself in London.
Joy Clarke made two highly acceptable suggestions, firstly that I stay with her and Vin¢ as a rent-paying boarder at their home in Inchmery Road, Catford, and secondly that I try to find work in London. "You can type," she pointed out. "Why not try an agency? They're always looking for temps."
I presented myself at an agency on The Strand, directly opposite the Law Courts and, though my typing speed is normally calculated in minutes per word, managed to con my way on to the agency's books. (The typewriter they set me to work on for my test was identical to that which I owned. You think I told them?).
And so followed a glorious month (apart from a week in the sweatshop of Butterfly Brand papers), working during the days for architects, shipping offices ("So that's a Bill of Lading! I always thought it was something in a kitchen.") and a market research firm (Marplan) and spending the evenings in the company of fans, and Big Name Fans, too. I became a regular visitor to Ted Carnell's offices and also, with the aid of Vince's bike, to Tresco, the not too far away home of Ken and Pamela Bulmer on Wellmeadow Road.
I was also taken along to meetings of the Worldcon committee, for this was approximately a month before the Big Event, the 1957 Loncon. I remember chipping in with a couple of suggestions which were heartily accepted and it was only years later that it occurred to me that because of rivalries between factions on the committee, my suggestions were considered feasible because they were those of a neutral.
On my following birthday I received a large parcel from Inchmery Road, full of all sorts of useless goodies, a pencil stub, a spent match, a bottle of solidified correction fluid, a broken stylus, a bank of rusty staples, flaking brown margins from the oxidised pages of some moribund prozine, a small sachet of potato chip salt, a quadruple-folded SuperManCon quotecard which read, "If you didn't want Crottled Greeps why did you order them?" and some duplicator slip sheets, spoiled pages from an issue of Eye... that sort of thing... plus a small yellow balloon, covered in writing which, when I'd blown up the balloon in order to read what was written there, turned out to be a selection of Hyphen bacover quotes. Plus one sentence, penned in Vince's recognizable writing: "And the mouthpiece was smeared with a deadly poison."
I was back in London, temping, a couple of years later, by which time Vin¢ and Joy had moved from Catford to Queen's Road in the New Cross district of London where they named their apartment 'Inchmery'. And with them went their permanent boarder, Sandy Sanderson. Sandy had been a leading figure in British fandom for almost ten years, primarily being involved with the SF club in his home town, Manchester. He was a regular soldier, a sergeant in the army, and when he had been posted in the early fifties first to Egypt and then to Cyprus, had formulated the most detailed and effective hoax ever perpetrated in fandom, the invention of femmefan Joan W. Carr.
At the time of the move to Queen's Road, however, the hoax had been revealed some three years earlier and Sandy had been living with the Clarkes for well over a year.
I can't say that I enjoyed moving into Inchmery. Enjoyed doesn't even come close to what I was experiencing. This was the zenith of my year, every evening being a paradise of fannish conversation and with Sandy beavering away, working on his fanzine, Aporrheta.
I went down to London a few days early for the 1960 Easter Convention and naturally called in at Inchmery. No one there had known that I was already in town, but it was Vince's birthday and I'd bought him a giant lollipop. When Vin¢ came home from work, I hid in the back room with the idea of springing out and surprising him. This I did while he was talking to his father who happened to have dropped in. Vin¢ merely took the lollipop, said, "Thanks, Ron," and carried on with the conversation.
A couple of months after the London Convention, in June 1960, Vin¢ produced a small oneshot fanzine which was an open letter to fandom, quite the most extraordinary publication I've ever had the misfortune to receive.
In it he announced that he and Joy were splitting up, that she and Sandy would continue to live at Inchmery for the time being, but that he was taking his and Joy's baby daughter, Nicki, with him to live in an apartment in Pepys Road, about a half mile away. As soon as the arrangements could be finalised, Sandy would leave the army and with Joy would emigrate to the States where they would be sponsored by a well-known New York fan of the day.
Vin¢ thanked the fans who had written to him for their kind messages of support. The future seemed pretty black, he wrote, but he would try and keep some time open for fandom.
Several fans suggested to me that I must have known or at least guessed what was happening. After all, hadn't I spent more time at Inchmery than any other outsider? But no, whatever the reason, I was as surprised and as devastated as every other fan of the day.
Later that year I was in London again for my summer break and took the opportunity to call on Vin¢.
It was a sad meeting.
By this time Vince's attitude had crystallized.
He did not invite me indoors but stood with me on the top step of the fairly sizeable house which had been converted into apartments. He was bitter, understandably so of course, and told me that fandom was no longer for him. Henceforth, he said, he would watch television. And to anyone who knew Vin¢, watching television on a regular, non-selective basis was, to him, the absolute worst waste of time to which one could lower oneself.
He also told me, in a straightforward fashion that he did not want to have anything to do with "someone who has had social intercourse with the people who have ruined my life."
The words stung, as they were so designed to do. What could I say? I mumbled something about wishing him luck, anyway, and stuck out my hand as he turned to step indoors.
He took the hand limply. "Well, if it means something to you," he said, clearly implying that the gesture meant nothing to him. He went inside and closed the door behind him.
Ten years later I enjoyed a three-year stint working in Belgium. For various reasons I'd drive to or through London perhaps ten times a year. The road from London to Dover and the cross-Channel car ferries is the A2, along the Old Kent Road and past the end of Pepys Road.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the apartment house where I'd last met Vin¢. I'd wonder about him, and, if the traffic was sufficiently light and I wasn't making a mad dash for a particular sailing, I'd contemplate stopping and seeing whether Vin¢ was still there, with Nicki who by then would have been eleven... twelve... thirteen.
But, guilty as I felt for driving straight past, that's exactly what I continued to do.
Perhaps one rebuff, as intense as that handed out to me in 1960, was enough. Vin¢ deserved better than my continually driving past, but I was a coward.
Then, some years later, out of the blue, Vin¢ returned to fandom. A fan who was researching into the life and career of Wally Gillings came across Vince's Welling address, tried his luck to see whether Vin¢ still lived there and lo! The old fannish flame in Vince's bosom was rekindled.
We sat together in the lounge at NovaCon and talked as though nothing untoward had ever happened between us. To my amazement he was surprisingly sympathetic with my own position, which by that time had to some degree mirrored his own, that of a single parent having to raise, in my case with the aid of a teenage son, a young daughter suffering from some ghastly side effects of radio- and chemotherapies.
It was a mark of the man that at no time did he point out that he'd been through it himself.
We kept in touch after that, via occasional letters, Christmas cards and, of course, at a dozen succeeding conventions, including the Glasgow Worldcon of 1995 when Vin¢ was the worthy Fan Guest of Honor. Neither of us ever mentioned Inchmery, Joy, or Sandy.
He wrote to me full of excitement and enthusiasm for having discovered computers, modems and e-mail. I suspect that everyone in the world, the world of fandom and the world of mundanity, received e-mails from Viną. Possibly even those without a computer. On one occasion during a discussion we were having about old British comics, I mentioned a particular comic collector by name. "Yes," came the reply, "a fine person. Very intelligent." Someone with whom Vin¢ was, much to my surprise, in regular contact.
In May 1998, Vin¢ wrote to me when he was taken into hospital. He was obviously finding it difficult to fill the days away from his new-found toy. In one exchange I explained some medical procedure to him, gleaned from personal experience and mentioned that he probably already knew of this and that I was undoubtedly teaching my grandmother, as it were, to suck eggs. His reply mentioned that he liked to make sure about such things. I thought he meant the medical procedure. But there followed a lengthy and detailed description of exactly how to prepare an egg for sucking.
And so, for a while, we once again began to exchange letters on a more than weekly basis.
Until November, when my letter to Vin¢ was answered by a phone call from Nicki.
One fan has mentioned to me that Vince's leaving us is very much a deja-vu experience, that he'd left us before. But, of course, it isn't. Even if I did drive past the end of Pepys Road, feeling as guilty as hell, there was always the chance that one day Vin¢ would return to the fold and that we'd once again enjoy his soft-spoken dry wit and wealth of fannish and literary knowledge.
All illustrations by Joe Mayhew