The Cheltenham SF Circle had invited me to visit their city as soon as the results of the TAFF election had been announced. Eric Jones was on my list of frequent correspondents and prozine exchanges in the early fifties, and it was through him that I came to know Terry Jeeves and Eric Bentcliffe, the other two of the TRIODE staff; when we met at the Harrogate convention, he repeated the invitation, and we set Wednesday the second of May as the date.
Ella Parker was worried that I would get lost (or that I'd lose the worn envelope on which I had Eric's phone number and unlimited other information) but well before supper I was walking up Nesters Way towards Barbridge Road with Eric, and that's only a few steps from the most modern home I saw in Britain, and the hospitality of the Joneses.
Eric seems not to have been contented with a typically British home. From outside it's an ordinary two-story place on a small lot; but inside you find yourself bracketed by stereo speakers and contemporary furniture. The print above the hi-fi console is not a grey landscape, but a forceful Oriental girl, outre in color and carriage. The effect of bright colors and clean lines is seemingly to increase the size of the house by fifty per cent -- it's a small home with the effect of luxuriant expansion, breaking with style all around it.
Margaret Jones unfortunately couldn't get to the convention; she is small and quiet, with interest in everything, a perfect complement to Eric's stocky frame and extroversion. I wished mightily that my stay in England could stretch another week to let me get to know the Cheltenham fans and especially the Joneses better, but it was not to be. I must say they crowded more into one day than anyone else had managed (save the Liverpudlians, who had managed to include night-clubbing with their day of fannish carousal).
After a generous supper, we went to the meeting of the CSFC, who had at that time the continuous use of basement facilities ideally suited to their needs. They boasted a bar (formed by opening the top of a Dutch door to a small closet), a projection booth (apertures near the ceiling in the rear wall) and a library so jammed with bookshelves that stout librarian Peter Mabey could hardly make his way through it. When we arrived the room wasn't full, but by meeting time it was tightly crowded.
Bill and Roberta Grey were there, and Audrey Eversfield, and Peter Mabey, whom I had met at Harrogate; and John Humphries and Bob Richardson, and many others who'd been unable to make it so far. Humph is one of the quieter young fans, I thought -- till somebody mentioned that he'd been through military service some years back; it seems he isn't eighteen (and he looks less than that) but in his middle-late twenties.
They disposed of trifling urgent business quickly, while I found myself in a game of Brag with some newcomers to the club. Luck was holding up pretty well from a week earlier, when all of a sudden it seemed lightning struck. At the moment I was dealt a prial of threes (the highest hand you can hold), the meeting dissolved into an initiation ceremony of the Order of St. Fantony, and I was commanded to appear before the tribunal for examination prior to knighthood.
I fumed and I writhed, but Bob Richardson was holding the biggest damned sword I ever saw and glowering furiously at me; I sadly threw down my cards, picked up the entire pot without a word from my dumb-struck opponents, and was suddenly on my knees before Grand Master Eric Jones, with that gigantic sword, blade down, resting on my neck.
It was a startling turn of events; while I knew of the Knights of St. Fantony, I knew of them perhaps as you and you do -- they are a whacky lot with a penchant for armor and parties in Cheltenham, Liverpool, and London, and they have an initiation drink which will blow the top off your head unless you happen to be Rory Faulkner. In 1961 I participated in an imitation St. Fantony ceremony at LASFS, with Rory in charge as the only member of the Order present, at which we created Rick Sneary a Squire, to be Armourer's Mate to Bob Richardson. But I never expected to see a real ceremony -- less, to be in it.
But there I was, and under pain of death by the sword I was made to swear my allegiance to trufandom, and to drink the water from the Well of St. Fantony.
Yes, it blew the top of my head off; and when the room steadied I was bade rise, and named Sir Ronald. Lady Margaret took my elbow to guide me to a seat.
Later, Eric showed movies of the Harrogate convention, and I showed my slides once again. This time the pictures of Joni Cornell drew appropriate wolf-whistles, but they almost (not quite, John Berry) drew less attention than the scenes from the aforementioned LASFS St. Fantony ceremony. They made certain we in California take the Order as seriously as they do, and were very pleased with the costuming by Bjo -- especially Lady Rory's gown.
It was that evening and only then that I met Bob Richardson, the Knight Armourer. I'd intended to meet him again in London in '65 -- his collapse and death were bad news indeed.
Next day a friend of Eric's from the Cheltenham tape-recording club came by about nine and interviewed the two of us for the B.B.C. Eric hoped that the uniqueness of science-fiction combined with my fan-sponsored visit would be sufficient to rouse local interest in the club and bring in new members; it's sadly that I here note the loss of their clubrooms less than a year later due to continued inattendance and flagging funds; the CSFC became too small to maintain their basement quarters with the wall full of signatures (which I signed directly beneath have & Ruth Kyle), and to worsen the situation Peter Mabey it necessary to go to London, and Audrey Eversfield to Paris.
Early that afternoon - Thursday, that was - I boarded the train to return to London.
(...extracted from A SQUIRREL'S TALE, link below)