Cloud Chamber 30
September 1984

Pointless Eruditions! Mealy-Mouthed Evasions! Musical Philistinism! Domestic Squalor! Literary Dogmatism! Drivelling Anecdotes! Burgeoning Semicolons! It can only be the 121st fanzine from Dave Langford, 94 London Road, Reading, Berks, RG1 5AU. Distributed through FRANK'S APA and (after a decent interval) to a select several persions who have bribed and corrupted me (not difficult). Late September 1984....

VENUS IN FURS: In CC29 you were promised a second Hazel's Decorating Lesson. Here, then, is how to add that unique personal touch to your room. Take one aged antelope-skin rug (Hazel's is a family heirloom or something) and – since it sheds hairs furiously onto the socks of passers-by – decide that for the greater good it should be hung on the wall. Ask some lowly artisan to hang it on the wall (a resident freelance author will do nicely); but just before he gets to work, be sure to paint the skirting-board of the relevant wall. Later, your surrealist furry skirting-board will be the envy of friends and neighbours.

RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY: As a wishy-washy atheist (the 'wishy-washy' signifying that it's a position I find intellectually and emotionally satisfying,without any great fiery spasms of proselytization or Utter Belief) I tend to get uncomfortable when people WAVE their religion at me, and especially when they try to use the tools of reason to push their faith (which is by definition not a matter of reason). I still haven't got round to a response to that depressing born-again fanzine which arrived from Wales last month, the one whose Reasons You Got This list had a tick in the box labelled 'The Lord Jesus loves you'... Arguing about actual facts is more fun: only a few weeks back Hazel was having a great time with a door-to-door God salesperson whose denomination never became very clear, but who chiefly wanted us to know that (a) everything in the Bible was true, and (b) the Catholic Church was very, very evil. (Having recently heard the Pope opine that even the one mingy little family-planning means allowed to Catholics is only, after all, OK in certain restricted circumstances, I can rather sympathize with the second point.) Of course Hazel was eager to discuss the problems of ancient Aramaic source texts; after our unfortunate visitor had been getting further and further out of her depth for about an hour, trying in vain to stem the tide of Hazel's erudition by explaining that the whole of modern history was predicted in the Book of Daniel, I wandered to the front door myself and said something (I forget what) about the Apocrypha. Said the lady who had apparently memorized the entire Bible: "What's the Apocrypha?" Tum-ti-tum.

I went to a funeral not long ago. (My favourite great-aunt, an ex-headmistress who ruled the family with a rod of iron until a sudden collapse in her very late eighties.) There have been mutterings in FRANK'S about the respective virtues of the old, sonorous, mysterious liturgy and the new, snappy, comprehensible one: I was more or less ready for either, but got something of a surprise just the same. The order of service, as prescribed by the Church in Wales, was laid out not as a religious rite but as a... a... Fighting Fantasy Gamebook, I tell you. Everybody would mutter a few lines. The vicar would say "Now turn to page 26, paragraph 2." And after a moment: "Will you now turn to page 14..." And a few moments after that: well, you get the idea. Such sense of shared ritual as remained was deftly levelled to that of a Bingo game.

Afterwards, at my parents' place, there was a sort of wake: the family, slightly tiddly, was united at last in saying how awful the service had been, and likewise the interminable drive to the crematorium, and likewise the nerve-fraying moment when everyone expected the coffin to roll away – but instead, impelled by loud, clanking machinery, a grubby curtain squeaked and rattled round the catafalque to shield the actual departure from our gaze. It took several agonized minutes.

Me for ground zero of the first nuclear strike on Berkshire, I think.

ART SECTION: I nearly took a photograph last week. It was an amazing sight, a low lorry with bales of hay piled absurdly high on the back, bulging out several feet on either side of the actual vehicle: the whole thing was parked just outside our house, giving us a chance to contemplate it and realize that with the present state of Reading's roads, there was no way in which that load could escape the town without being scraped off or going backwards along a one-way street (such as the one we live on). Presumably the policeman haranguing the driver was of much the same opinion, as hinted by the impassive way he waved his arms in the air. It was only the lack of film in my camera which has spared you a picture captioned 'Hay-Wain by Constable'.

ALL TAFF PLUNGED INTO WAR: [toxic material cut – Ed.]

CHEAP THRILLS! I had a fun letter the other day: "Dear David Langford, Find enclosed £2.00 Ansible subscription money." The fun part was that the letter contained a single 10p piece, plus a large number of very artistic impressions of one or several 10p pieces, symmetrically disposed about the letter and envelope (these little embossings on letter and envelope did not actually correspond, coff coff). Other amusing points were the way the envelope didn't bulge as two quid's worth of 10p pieces would have made it; the insufficient postage for so much cash; and the tasteful little 10p-piece-sized slit provided by way of artistic verisimilitude. Q. How to convey to someone tactfully that they have been rumbled? A. I've forgotten, not having kept a carbon, but the person in question (whose enterprise could lead to fannish fame one day; who knows?) is now a paid-up Ansible subscriber. By postal order.

FROM THE RUMANIAN: "These opposite poles do not create imponderable dark transparent veils with condensed iridescent glomerules gleaming mirifically in the realm of darkness inviting dreaming and philosophical contemplation." (Passed on by Dorothy Davies, who invited me to guess what on earth this was a translated description of. I didn't. Now it's your turn.)

ALL THAT FALL: Some hidden hand switched off the summer quite abruptly, on Tuesday 4 September, and immediately the rain and the pears began to fall. There is an immense pear-tree at the bottom of the garden, which produces hundredweight on hundredweight of little hard green inedible pears containing either maggots or festering holes where even the maggots have moved out to a better neighbourhood. There is a slightly smaller tree near the house, shedding similarly endless largesse of slightly (but not enough) larger pears of a squashy yellow consistency: these hit the ground, decay within about five minutes, and become a permanent open party for pissed wasps and even (despite the good example they're supposed to set) bees, improving the shining hour so industriously that presently they lie pissed upon their little backs and buzz like the Novacon lounge. Last year I belatedly took action, shifting the less disgusting pears into the freezer and later converting them to wine. (Old Langford's Pear Hints: everyone tells you not to bung fruit in the freezer because it goes all mushy and disgusting – ice crystals rupture the cell walls as they form – but I've never found a winemaking guide which points out that this treatment is just what's needed to maximize the juice yield when you press the thawed vileness. (More of this in upcoming issues of Mad Scientist's Digest and – filthyprodom strikes again – Knave.) This year we employed Remorseless Efficiency; 3 1/2 gallons of putative plonk are already blooping away in the polypin left over from our party; the freezer is overflowing; the pears are falling thick and fast (they came at last, and more and more and more): and in a wild mood of ultimate decadence I hope today to take delivery of a cheap, second (or pear) freezer to sit in the cellar next to our second (or booze) fridge. Good grief.

Next issue I will tell you more about the further trees which overhang our garden on three sides: two apple, two plum, and another bloody pear-tree which produces immense green cannonballs resistant to tooth and knife alike. We will draw a veil over the three hyperfecund gooseberry bushes and the rampant raspberry forest. I merely note that an inherited garden can sometimes get a bit much.

FUN THINGS TO DO WITH WOODLICE: (i) Admire the fond, gregarious instinct with which they crawl lovingly up the wall behind your typing desk. (ii) Appreciate their interesting texture, barefoot in the hall as you go for the morning post. (iii) Laugh at their tiny, fun-loving young as they spill To hordes from the pear you've just bitten into. (What is that sensation in your throat accompanying the bit you swallowed? Don't ask.) (iv) Reverently fish their little corpses from the carefully filtered and sterilized pear-juice you have pressed. (v) Amuse yourself by removing 177 of the little chaps from the cellar walls in a single, merry quarter-hour. (vi) Lift any stone or leaf in the garden, and hastily jump back. (vii) Wonder if the hens (newly installed next door) would appreciate a varied diet.

MISC: This is all drafted straight onto stencil because time is, as usual, short... Did I tell you that LA-Con censored the slide of myself I sent on request for the Hugo ceremony? (I was fully clothed, dammit. Having a nosebleed, but fully clothed. Picture credit: Dave Wood)... Worry of the week: mysterious letter from O. Dalgliesh in a Joy Hibbert fanzine, mentioning – merely mentioning – my "talent for being offensive." Who, me?... Clarification re TAFFbit earlier: TAFF can look after itself, but


Blue Suede Middleton (The New Regime) – There is a bit still there in the RULES & REGULATIONS which notes that 'reprints after apa distribution are permissible, but Frank DOES NOT APPROVE.' Ahem. As a freedom-loving fan I reaffirm my right to print lots of extra copies of the externally comprehensible bits of CC, and to distribute same wheresoever I see fit, exactly as I've done throughout the first year. (It's a matter of fannish dues; something to trade in directions which cause me pangs of guilt for non-activity.) May I ask what form Fran/Frank's disapproval will take?

Ken Brown – you want to know about blurbs? God, it's like finding someone who takes a keen collector's interest In used matchsticks, or those little dried-up blobs one's idle fingers find under con-hall chairs during boring programme items. Most blurbs are written for nothing, by the publisher's editor, who is so bloody familiar with the book after months of copyediting, proofing and whatnot that he/she is no longer capable of noticing that the blurb gives away vital pict points. ("Hey," I said to Mary Gentle, "did you or did you not intend this point, revealed so deftly in Malcolm Edwards's blurb; to remain up your sleeve for a hundred-odd pages?" "Oh," she said. 'I hadn't noticed... but... Edwards, you rat, come here – '") If you are very lucky you can write your own, which I did for Leaky Establishment and tried to do for a certain SF novel, only for Arrow to bounce it as uncommercial. If you are a Biggish Name Author; what I believe happens is that from time to time a book arrives for you to comment on, with a covering letter suggesting that you choose one superlative from column A and two from column 8, and a hand-scrawled PS saying "by the way, we're still debating whether to spend $20,000 or $2.37 on publicity for your new book;" The ball is then in your court.

John Barfoot – Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen, which means approximately "I was doing fine until I ran into John Barfoot."

Rob Hansen – Wrong guess. When I said I'd acquired Vidal's Collected Essays at Seacon, I did actually mean that. Collected Essays (1952-72) is the austere title of the British hardback issued in paperback as On Our Own Now; I didn't need to go all the way to Brighton for the much easier-to-find collections which followed...

Roz Kaveney – For some reason I'm rather embarrassed to admit that I never bothered to try and work out the identities of Darroll's veiled conversationalists. Your further exposition on the subject leaves me in a complete fog which leads me to suspect that either I am very thick, or that your clotted mess of punctuation-without-subsequent-spaces really does have the power to cloud men's minds. Not only does my brain hurt, but now, for the first time, I begin to feel actively curious...

Darroll Pardoe – Another bloody list of records! Since I listed mine once and for all in a forgotten Tappen, I am extremely tempted to pervert this form of space-filling to my own vile ends and start listing my books. Alphabetically. At one line per title I reckon this would see me through the next 67 mailings of FRANK, by which time we'd doubtless have acquired some more. Now the damn things are mostly on shelves there are interesting games to play, silly juxtapositions and so on: the most self-revealing is perhaps one I just invented, in which you start at a random book and proceed in strict alphabetical order until you reach one you're a bit ashamed to admit you own. Like Nick Lowe's game of clench-search, this never takes as long as you expect... (Unless you prune your embarrassments, Pardoe-fashion.)

Alan Dorey – Happily our local salesfolk tend to phone in advance and beg for permission to come (of course they never say why they want to visit, merely explaining that it Will Be To Your Advantage Sir/Madam, It's Something Too New And Wonderful To Explain Over The Phone: if you say yes, your defences are eroded before they've even got near the house). We can usually choke them off at this stage, though not with the carefree ease of Katie Hoare and the "you want to save us money? Why, what a quaint working-class idea" voice she employs on such occasions (and on rather too many others). Am toying with the gambit: "As a professional consultant my time is valuable and I must ask you to agree to recompense me at say £25 per hour plus VAT for time spent with,you..." Haven't had the chance to try it.

Dave Bridges – thanks for your & Cath's invitation. I doubt it somehow. Our party was OK but small, and subsequent conversation suggests that both I and Pam Wells (sorry, Pam) were uneasily convinced that the real crowd must be at the other party: nobody seems to know where the real crowd actually was... Everyone Else – Ta. Sorry.