This was to be a short interview, as I wanted to limit the stress on Ken. However, I wanted to ask one question I had about his career.
Ken wanted me to get out and about, to see Tunbridge Wells, and London, which I fortunately did get to for a short time. Both of these trips were rewarding. They say that sometimes the first trip to a new place is the most magical. This was certainly true for me on this trip. Amazing place and people.
SP: We are going to ask Ken a few questions about the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund. [TAFF.]
SP: Ken, you were you the first recipient of the TAFF?
HKB: Well, not really. I was, and I wasn't. The reason--I thought just about now about my pal Vincent-- well, TAFF was simply a fan fund. Everybody banded together, and they had an election--[staff interrupted here...]
HKB: TAFF--Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund. So we all collected together--the idea being to send somebody from England to America. And then the next year, somebody from America to England. First year Vince won. He got it without my help, Vince. He couldn't go. He didn't go. So everybody got worried, and no good, its all going to file going on like this. [Probably English for going in the garbage!] So we still had another election, and I won. And I went. And it was really important.
SP: So when was that?
SP: 1955. So what Convention was that?
HKB: Cin-vention. Cincinnati? I don't know which number it was, off-hand, I don't remember...
SP: So was it a Worldcon?
SP: So how did you get to North America? Did you take a ship? Or a flight?
HKB: We went across--no airplanes--we went across roads to Ireland. And then we picked up a ship there going to America. It was a tramp-steamer. And we didn't know where she was going to port. They said the ship, wherever the ship was going, would be at last minute. In the end we landed in Baltimore.
SP: So you had to get from...
HKB: When we landed at Baltimore, the people in Baltimore came down to the ship. They had been radioed. So they took us back and looked after us. And then--the New York people drove down, and there they were. And the New York/Baltimore fans were frightened of each other-- who was going to keep us? We thought about this, for a number of reasons. In the end, we decided to go back to New York. So we drove back, and stopped at a Howard Johnsons. And they were playing the Yellow Rose of Texas.
SP: bit of a culture shock coming to North America?
HKB: Very much show. The first thing, was I was the coldest ever been in my life, then the hottest I have ever been. When I got of the ship, in the middle of the ocean, with the breezes--and got into there, it was hot. A big black car came down from New York. We got in this black car, and it was like an oven. We have to keep the windows shut--since we have the air-conditioning on. I thought I was going to pass out, it was the hottest I had ever been. [More than 90 degrees F.] And then we went down in the car, went around a corner, and a car was heading straight at us. The car was coming straight at us! We are going to hit that car! I braced myself. Driving on the wrong side of the road you see! [Ken laughs.]
SP: You weren't used to the other-hand drive.
HKB: Yes, [it was a shock for] assorted reasons. What I missed was--I didn't see a number of people. I didn't see Don Wollheim out there--I missed him. But we saw a lot of people out there.
SP: So how did you get from New York to Cincinnati? Did they drive, or take the train?
HKB: Well, these were very, very good people. First of all, Don Ford--who is now dead poor chap--and he discovered, Don Ford had the same birthday as me. Born on the same day. And he waited [for us] in New York, and from New York we went to--he lived in Cincinnati--and we went down there on the Greyhound. And then Don--we drove up to Cleveland where the convention was. Cleveland. Cincinnati was where Don lived. And from Cleveland...
SP: So that must have been a long drive, so I guess that was back before they had Interstates? So it must have been quite a journey?
HKB: Lots of roads, but the pace was always slow. But the cars are bigger now. Poor old Don he come over--his wife had said it would be a big car. Poor old Don's back is out on the roof when he got in. [Laughs.]
HKB: Then from the convention Doug Barrett, a wonderful bloke--he's dead now--he drove us back to Bellefontaine. Where we lived. And then he took us down to Savannah. There we stayed with a local bloke--Jesse, a nice chap. A sailor. Never heard a word from him since, very, very strange, his ship sunk or something. Very strange.
SP: So you were all over North America, at least the Eastern Seaboard?
HKB: We went up to see some forts--towards the border--but they were all shut! We came back, and stayed in New York for a bit. Then we got on the ship, Brittanic, and sailed home.
SP: So you took a liner home?
HKB: Oh yes--Cunard--a proper ship. So it was just over three months. Then we went to the mid-West.
SP: So it was a wonderful time?
HKB: Oh yes--very good. It is all--it is all written up somewhere. I can get you--fanzines about all this. Messes of them, I had them! [Lucy commented here that they had all gone to the Science Fiction Foundation.] Are they? [Ken was a little put out here, but his collection of fanzines, fan memoribilia, and manuscripts are well taken care of.] SP: Okay, good answer! Thank you.
Ken and I talked further about the end of Prescot. I am shy about my own writing, but I wrote him a piece called "The Tapes from the New World", and gave it to him at the end, rather in trepidation. He read it, turned to me and said to me with a sly grin: "So where is the rest of it, ay?" I suppose that is a supreme complement. He told me I could write this story if I wanted to. I have thought about it in the last few months, seriously. We will have to see where this idea goes.
It was tough leaving him, it was very emotional. As I shucked my jacket on, threw on my Canuck poorboy cap, he halted me with one last thought: "You know, I am lot like Prescot. Except, he is a big, strong, brave warrior. I am a coward, a complete coward. I have made cowardice a religion."
[Was this a necessary confession for him? Perhaps...]
No, not really Ken. You are a brave man. You have been through a lot in the last two years, yet you remain to tell the story to us through these tapes, and letters. You took on the task of writing the longest series by one author in SF History. You have written a wonderful story that touched a lot of people. You did it in such a fun way--more people should be enjoying it, and its powerful message. A message about peace, understanding, independence, the equality of all life, but most of all about the importance of character.
You realized it may never be finished in one lifetime. But, there will be more wonderful adventures, and the mysteries of Kregen will live on via the Internet. I speak for many on the Web in saying: may Opaz shine their blessing upon you, Koter.