From NULL-F #41 (1965) ed. Ted White.|
We left the expressway at the first opportunity in Queens, and began elbowing our way through local streets, our driver betraying a masterful contempt for the rights of the drivers of surrounding cars. It may be an occupational obsession; airport bus drivers in London and Dublin seemed similarly contemptuous of the little bug-like vehicles which shared the rightofway.
Immediately upon arriving at Kennedy Airport, I checked onto the Pan American Boeing 707. Kennedy is one of the largest and most advanced airports in the country, and, for all I know, the world. I've bean out to pick up or drop off many people at this airport since the historic day in 1959 when I was part of the party which welcomed John Berry to New York City and the New World, and I've never tired of the place, Unlike most airports, there is not a single terminal, but rather a vast succession of terminals arranged around a loop. The Pan Am terminal is a separate building, out from which movable, enclosed catwalks snake to closely parked planes. One walks through the vast and open lobby, to the boarding check-through, through a door, down a short corridor, and finds oneself in the plane. I liked it. My remaining ambition is to try the Mobile Lounges at D.C.'s Dulles International, where a house-like lounge is fitted with wheels and motorized to transport the passengers from the tarminal out onto the field to the waiting plane.
It was rushhour in the air as well as an the ground. I found my seat, and found I not only had the window, but my entire set of three seats entirely to myself. I settled in, and waited, a copy of NEWSWEEK in my lap.
We were about half an hour delayed in takeoff, the planes lined up in lengthy processions taxiing down the long runways. I have no idea how many were ahead of us as we inched along, but when we executed the turn and prepared to take off, I counted seven jets waiting behind us, more joining the line every minute.
I'd never flown in a jet before, and I was keenly anticipating the experience. I've flown in commercial prop-driven planes, and my mother has taken me up in small four-seater Cessna's, but this was to be my first experience with a jet.
It was thrilling. I felt a science-fictional sense of awe and wonder as the engines began thundering and we scooted down the strip. Reference to the CLIPPER magazine Pan Am gives away on each flight informed me that those jets achieve a speed of 180 mph on takeoff; land at 150 mph. The acceleration is swift and smooth, and I could imagine myself in a rocket taking off for the moon a hundred years from now quite easily.
We climbed up and up, our climb steeply angled as we cut through successive layers of atmosphere, until we were between six and seven miles high. The sky grew a deep blue, and shaded into purple. Behind us, the sun cut cleanly across an apparently solid cloud bank We were flying north and east, up along the coast, over Boston, and, later, Nova Scotia. As I watched, I viewed a spectacular sunset, the sky shading from the deepest blues, through transparent greens, into shy rose oranges and fiery yellows. It was a gorgeous spectrum, and as I drank it in I consciously catalogued its qualities to myself so that I would not forget.
Dinner was served, and I found myself with a fantastic hodgepodge of minute chunks of food. There was a salad, from which I picked bits of hardboiled egg and tomato; a dish in which there were ripe and green olives, carrot sticks, and celery hearts; a roll and crackers; butter and Danish cheese; a weird desert of heavy whipped cream and candied fruit; and a main dish with potato dumplings and something which might've been chicken and might've been turkey, wrapped in its own skin and baked with stuffing tucked into one side. I ate it all with relish, suddenly very hungry.
By now the sun was set, and I could see nothing but an occasional glow on the leading edge of the wing, which I sat over, near the engines. I read for a while, first NEWSWEEK and than the latest APA L mailing, and then began to doze.
I was just comfortably asleep when a voice announced over the pa that it was a bit rough and we should fasten our seat belts. I glanced at my watch, It was 10:00 or so, NYC time; we'd not be landing until around 1:00 a.m., or early morning, London time. I went back to sleep.
While we had still an hour to go, I was again awakened by a cheery stewardess with a glass of orange juice. Since I was accepting everything they offered, on the theory that I'd paid for it, I accepted it, and lost my last opportunity for sleep.
The sun began to rise, but there was a heavy cloud cover, and I saw little until we were relatively close to London. What surprised me, however, was how much of the countryside was still totally rural. I'd built up this image of a crowded island, teeming with people and urban areas, manufacturing districts, and all, and the quilt-like patterns of green fields was a bit of a shock, the more so since they persisted relativaly close to the airport and London.
We touched down on a rather empty and disused-looking strip, and taxied up near a terminal building, Than the pilot°s voice came over the pa. "It is fifty degrees..." he said. It was about seven o'clock. I was wearing a light summer suit, although I had a wool suit in my luggage. My hair was short almost to the point of baldness. I shivered in anticipation.
We had to walk across the strip and past several parked planes to the terminal. The facilities seemed very primitive in contrast to Kennedy, although I noted signs of construction, and it appeared modernization was underway. We climbed a flight of stairs, claimed our luggage, went through a brief customs inspection, and I was at last setting foot to English soil.
I found the bus to the London BOAC terminal, and boarded it. Fare was five shillings, and it was my first chance to use British currency. At Terry Carr's advice, I'd picked un a $10.00 "tip pack" in Manhattan, which had three pound notes, and some coins. I found two half-crowns added up to five shillings, and I was over my first hurdle.
The English are fresh air fiends, and the bus driver was very much one. It might be only fifty degrees outside, and his passengers might all be from sub-tropical New York, but he was not to be dissuaded. He opened his driver's window, and the sunroof was opened up at the front so as to channel a direct blast of frigid air into the vehicle. I believe that it was at this point that I first began my flirtation with the cold which was to plague me intermittently for the duration of my trip.
The bus was very underpowered, and later I was told that it had never been intended to exceed 30 mph. This is understandable, since there are apparently few opportunities for any vehicle to exceed this speed in or near London.
By some stroke of luck, a "motorway", or expressway, M4, has been built between London and its airport, however, and this gave our driver the chance to demonstrate first-hand his rudeness to other drivers at speed.
Despite my total disenchantment with the bus and its driver, I enjoyed the chance to see the countryside, to soak in all the new impressions, tawdry and beautiful alike. I was immediately impressed by the beauty of the design of the overpasses and other structures on the expressway, which have a far more modern and attractive appearance than any in this country. I was also bemused by this first example of left-handed driving, I never fully adjusted to the concept, and the thought of having to cope with it as a driver is one I don't care to entertain. Just muddling through as a pedestrian was quite enough.
At the BOAC terminal I called the Mount Royal Hotel, at which I had no reservation, and reserved a room, which I was told would be ready that afternoon. I asked how I might get there from the terminal, since I wanted to try out the Underground map I'd received with my third progress report, and was advised to take a taxi. I did, but actually there was an easy and direct route by Underground, had I but known.
English taxis are all of a particular design, and made, I believe, by Austin. The older variety lacks a left front door, while the newer ones (introduced only a few years ago) have doors and look a little bigger. Luggage is placed in front, to the left of the driver. There is no left front seat. Elastic straps retain luggage on the older, doorless models. There is seating space for four in the rear: a bench seat for two, and two pull-down jump seats facing backwards from the back of the partitioned front seat.
In Belfast, by contrast, the same vehicle is used, but there is a left front seat, and a left door, even on the older models, and five passengers can be accommodated.
Paying the cab driver required my first delving into Higher Math, as I tried to compute 10% of a non-decimal form of currency. I ended up giving him a shilling.
The Mount Royal has an efficient system. My luggage was snapped up As it hit the sidewalk, and I was given a plastic card with a number on it.
I had only to turn it in when I had the room and wanted the luggage. This was fine in theory, but I wanted a heavier jacket, and had to forego the pleasure for the time being.
The hotel occupied an entire block near Marble Arch, at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. Its entrance is not on the main street, Oxford St., but rather on the back side, where there is less traffic to interfere with the taxis, which, due to their very sharp turning radius, execute U-turns almost anywhere and everywhere. The entrance is inconspicuous for such an expensive hotel (I'm told it was previously an apartment building of some sort), and one immediately takes an escalator to the second floor lobby.
There I registered, and was told there would be no room available until eleven or twelve. It was then eight-thirty. Plastic luggage check my pocket, I left again, heading for the Underground Station. Ihad no specific goals in mind; I simply .ranted to kill time. I was tired and chilled, although the day was warming already, and might become a balmy 65 by early afternoon. But I am a subway fan, and I thirsted to ride my first foreign subway. I descended into the Marble Arch station.
In the NYC subways, one purchases a 15cent token, or several such tokens, at a change booth, puts a token in the slot, and pushes through the turnstile. One is now in the subway system, and may take any train available as far as he chooses, making as many free transfers at intersecting lines as he chooses, The fare is 15cents to anywhere (with the exception of one double-fare penninsula, aptly called Far Rockaway).
The London system is very different. There one buys a ticket at the point of origin. The ticket carries the name of the point of origin, and the price (4d to over a shilling) paid. One surrenders the ticket at one's destination, and if the fare shown on the ticket is less than it costs to travel from the indicated point of origin, the ticket-taker will demand the remainder of the fare in cash. This sounds complicated, but isn't, actually. Every station (among those I was in) has several ticket selling boothes, and in addition machines which sell tickets for 4d, 6d, 9d, and l/-, with the names of stations each denomination is good for printed on the machine. If you need a larger ticket, or can't find your station listed on a machine, you simply name your destination to the ticket seller. In addition to this type of ticket, there are all-day tickets, and various other longer-term tickets which entitle one to unlimited rides for a specific time period.
The most obvious result of all this nonsense is the vast proliferation of London Transport employees in each station. The average station in central London seemed to have from five to fifteen regular employees. By contrast, the NYC subway rarely has more than one or two.
I bought a 6d ticket, which was good for stations about five stops away, and took a long escalator down about four or five flights. Most of the London Underground is comprised of deep tubes, out through the blue clay which serves as the underpinning for most of London. There are some exceptions, including the District Line, the first Underground line, and one originally constructed for steam engines, but I'll get to that later.
I was on the Central Line, which cuts straight through London on an east-west axis. I took the train three stops east to the Tottenham Court Road station, where I transfered to the Northern Line, which I took south one stop to Leicester Square, where again I transfered, this time to the Piccadilly Line, which I took west one stop to Piccadilly Circus. The tube trains were all alike on each of these lines, except for paint jobs. The older cars were red, while some seemed to have been repainted a few years ago to a dull metallic silver. The cars are small, and fit snugly into their tubes, without much more than a foot clearance at top or sides. The sides of the cars curve smoothly into the roof, and the doors are cut into the roof as well, since these are not tall cars. Inside, the seats are arranged for sitting and are not convenient for rush-hour standees, who are bunched near the doors, making it hard far others to get on or off. The seats are very comfortable, with plush upholstery, and wood is used on many of the interior fittings. There are maps in profusion in each car: over the windows, stretched out into a straight line, is a map of that line. Over it, among the advertisements and car- cards, is a map of Central London's lines. Complete maps are in each station. The maps are color coded for each line, and easy to read.
My ticket was good for Tottenham Ct. Rd., Leicester Square, or Piccadilly Circus; naturally I chose the most distant station and the most circuitous route easily available.
As Boyd Raburn patiently explained to me later, "circus" comes from the Latin, "round", and Piccadilly Circus is a sort of traffic circle which has now become simply a vast intersection, I wandered its side streets for over an hour, noting among other things that HELP, the new Beatles movie, was playing nearby, I jotted down the showtimes.
It was still a bit chilly, and I still had several hours to kill, so I returned to the Underground. By now I had wised up. I had figured ' how to dupe the London Transport Board. When I reentered the station, I bought another 6d ticket, This would be good for any fare back to Marble Arch, But the route I would take would be less than direct.
I decided to continue west on the blue (on the maps) Piccadilly Line until it dipped south to join the District and Circle Lines.
At Gloucester Rd I took a lift up to the street, somehow avoided giving the lift operator my ticket, and reentered the District/Circle Lines station.
As I mentioned, the District is the oldest of London's lines. It was constructed for steam engines, and rather than burrowing deeply into London's clay, it follows an open cut with occasional overpasses for streets and some buildings. Stations are sometimes open-air, sometimes glassed over. The cars are taller and more angular, as well as being longer. They share with the tube cars, however; a four-rail system, with a "3rd" rail, unshielded, an the outside, as here, and a fourth rail in the center. The object is to provide a more positive ground.
I chose the Circle Line, which describes a complete loop around central London and intersects all of the branching radial lines. I rode it west, then north, east, then south; and finally was heading west again when I transferred to the Bakerloo line heading north to my old, now familiar, Central line. for Marble Arch. It was an enjoyable exploration, although woefully incomplete, and the best I was to manage during my stay in London. I would've enjoyed it more if the motorman's cab didn't block all foreword view, and if I hadn't been so tired. I was exhausted; I'd been up for over twenty-four hours with only an hour or two of naps on the plane. My body requires nine hours a night, and it was protesting.
Back at the hotel, my room was still not ready. I sat down and picked up a Paris edition of the Herald-Trib and started reading it. I'd gotten most of the way through it when two familiar faces appeared nearby. It was Fred Pohl and Harry Harrison, With them, and I was ashamed for not recognizing him, was Ted Carnell. Ted and Fred were off for lunch, but Harry and I talked for a bit. He suggested I accompany him to the local hairdressers while he got a haircut, and after that we retired briefly to a pub, where F&SF treated him to half a pint; and I learned the mistake in ordaring a drink like a whiskey sour, Not even Harry could tell what had been put into it. I drank most of it before giving it up as a bad job.
We were discussing the currency and how to compute tips when an eldely
man to my left chimed in. His accent was not British, and I asked
where he was from, '"Tarranna," was his reply.
Back at the hotel again, it was twelve-thirty and my room was ready. I bid goodbye to Harry, said I'd see him at Brunner's party that night, went up to my room, 773, and sacked out. I slept till eight that evening.
After dressing and shaving, I made my first use of the local telephone service. I called John Brunner. I'd received a note from John a month earlier, inviting me to the party at his place that evening if I was in town. Now I wanted directions.
English phone service is famed in song and story for its wretchedness, but what bothered me was the antiquated phones in the hotel rooms. The modern pay phones were not bad, but the handsets on the room phones were cleverly designed to magnify hollow echoes in such a way that every connection sounded terrible.
"What Underground connection do I take to your place, John?" I asked.
It is a sad commentary on my still befuddled condition that I did not tumble to that destination until I got there. The Finchlcy Road tube station indeed! I could've taken the Central Line a couple stops east to the Oxford Circus station, transferred to the Bakerloo Line, and taken it north directly to the same station!
But I didn't, and perhaps it's just as well. Because this was to be my only venture with an omnibus, one of London's famed double-decker busses.
They look large, but are not, really. Each deck seats no more than -- and maybe less than -- half of the people carried in a modern U.S, bus. The driver sits in a separate and isolated front compartment, and entrance and exit is at the back, where a conductor takes your fare and issues you a flimsey ticket, which is apparently only a receipt. I saved mine; it was for one shilling. I didn't ascend to the second deck, less because I distrusted the sharply spiralling staircase than because I was uncertain of my destination and wanted to be where the conductor, a West Indian by his accent, could alert me.
Five hundred yards doesn't seem like much to me, and for some reason I couldn't find Frognal. If John had said "up two blocks and on your right" I'd have bean in better shape. As it was, I collared every pedestrian without luck, and finally stumbled onto Frognal by accident. It crosses Finchley Road, but on the other side it is called something else.
The Brunners have a handsome flat into which they'd only moved this year. John told us he'd done most of the redecorating himself, and that most of the furniture in his office-den - desk, chairs, files, carpet - were leased. It was cheaper than purchasing them.
The party seemed to be made up of two disparate groups: the science
fiction people, a large preponderance of whom were American, and friends
and acquaintances of John's from the mundane world and publishing industry.
There was very little cross-communication. At one point I overheard a
woman asking a young man, "Are you one of those science fiction
The first people I saw that I knew, aside from John himself, ware the Silverbergs, who were chatting with Don Wollheim. I joined them, and after a spell the Pohls and Betty Ballantine came in. I chatted with Betty for fifteen or twenty minutes; this was the first time I'd met her.
John joined us far a spell, and introduced us to a tall, cadaverous- looking man who was a Scientologist, and we discussed the pros and cons of hypnotism, which Scientology is rather strongly opposed to. My own feelings are by no means that strong, but I've had reservations about hypnotism. John on the other hand was rather enthusiastic about it. But too quickly more guests had arrived and he was back to his duties as host.
Then a new party arrived, and it was Arthur and Olive Thomson, Boyd Raeburn and the Carrs. I joined them in the kitchon for drinks. I'd helped exhaust the cider and was now trying a mild wine. I was all too aware that my metabolism was not yet in harmony with the time or place, and I'd best go slow and easy.
Don Wollheim was in the kitchen too, and he, Terry and I were confronted by a woman with flaming red hair.
"You're Americans, aren't you?" she asked.
The conversation turned to the Carrs' trip with Boyd through France,
Food, canapes, were served in the front room. The table upon which
they wore laid out was in the darkest corner of the underilluminatad
room, and Carol Carr came up to me after a moment and said, "It's terrible;
I'm so embarrassed."
Boyd and I got into a conversation about rock and roll. He.d been on a buying binge, and had over forty records he'd bought in France. He told me about any number of fabulous people whose names I'd never heard before and don't remember now.
"You're becoming a moldy fig, Boyd," I told him. "You haven't cared
much far jazz for the last six, seven years."
The party broke up around midnight, there being a midnight curfew on all public transportation. Arthur gave me a lift back to the hotel with Boyd, and I went back to bed and to sleep again, my first day in England over.