There is a series they run in the Observer colour supplement, wherein supposedly famous people (of whom I recognize about one-third) are photographed in their own little private dens, and rabbit on about their reasons for choosing such-and-such a decor. Most of these rooms seem appallingly posh and uninhabitable; many appear to have been expensively redecorated about five minutes before the arrival of the Observer cameraman; none has what I'd consider a reasonable population of books.
A little while ago, we slapped some more paint over the bubonic plague (I'll come to that in a minute). Hazel cracked some joke about making my workroom nice for the Observer people and instantly I was away on a tide of fantasy wherein I was famous – looking back on my career as civil servant and writer, I reckon my best chance is to become a famous terrorist – and around came the photographer and interviewer ...
• Hello, Mr Langford. Can I ask you –
No, no! Please don't stand in the middle of the floor, it creaks when you do that and all the furniture tilts away from the walls.
• Is this better?
So long as you don't kick the junction box there – that causes a big blue flash and the electric fire stops working.
• Suppose I –
Good grief, no! The top shelf of that lot's a bit shaky, one false < move and you'll have aldiss to auden clouting you around the head mind those boxes of fanzines now – oh bloody hell. look, i can't help it, i have to keep the duplicator somewhere. i expect it'll sponge out, eventually.
• Possibly. Well, Mr Langford, you do have a lot of books here have you read them all?
Every cretin who comes in here asks me that.
I said, most of them. Except the Badger Books; there are limits.
• That's incredible – there must be hundreds. Why do you keep them if you've read them?
• On what principles did you choose the decor?
Well, um, I believe in two strong contrasting themes in interior decoration. The first theme is exemplified by the three desks, those four bookcases, the comfy chair, the wooden chair, the duplicator table, the other table, the unidentifiable thing which I believe is called a music stand and which is only good for storing rejection slips, the pointless cupboard under the table, the curtains, the carpet, the wastebasket, the little filing cabinet and the huge ugly box in the window-bay which Hazel's father palmed off onto us and which is thus known as "her father's coffin", somewhat to her disgust. These things exemplify the first theme of my decor.
• Which is?
None of them cost me anything. The second and as it were contrapuntal theme is one of things picked up on the cheap, i.e. the typewriters, the typing chair, the duplicator, the desk lamps, the other five bookcases, the large filing cabinet and all that white paint hiding the bubonic plague on the walls.
• Perhaps you could tell me about the bubonic plague.
Gladly. The previous owners of the house used to sleep in this room, and to help lull and soothe them they'd papered the walls in tasteful fluorescent orange, patterned with rather dainty little rosettes in luminous pink. It was like living inside a disco light-show: sometimes I'd peer through the window into full sunlight and think it was a bit dim out there. So we covered the walls in the very best white paint we could buy at £1-50 a gallon, and when it dried the orange was gone but the pink peeped through – little rings of roses like the celebrated symptoms of the plague. You can still see them three coats of paint later, if you look hard – subliminal pink. There's only one really bad patch left now....
• Where's that?
You see that Dali poster?
• Why don't you tell our readers more about the fascinating little knick-knacks you have about the room, like this most unusual light bulb – ow!
No, it isn't a light bulb – clever of you to spot that. You see, there's that light bracket that's supposed to be over the bed only there isn't any bed in here, and I don't use it, and it looks so naked without a bulb, so naturally I keep Gregory there. You've seen one before, surely – puffer fish I think they're called, all inflated and spiny.
• Yes. I'll get a tetanus injection on the way home, I think. Now what about this evil looking thing – it looks like a model of a mummified human head, ho ho ...
Who said anything about a model? That's Cecil, former property of some Oxford medical student.
• Do you think I could just open the window a moment ...? That's better. Is it all right if I lean on this table for a while?
Um, well, let me tell you a little anecdote of my recent life. There's a school next door, and the other day I was burning some rubbish in the garden and left the fire going all morning, and next time I looked out I saw millions of schoolkids climbing up our tall garden fence, tearing bits of the fence and our nearby trees and throwing them into the fire. Being an SF fan, I conceived a cunning plot: while the kids were at their lessons, doubtless learning about the demolition industry and defoliation techniques, I crept out and anointed the top of the fence with a thin layer of Roneo duplicator ink. Very black, very sticky. You can imagine the resulting scenes.
• Are you leading up to anything with this story?
Er, yes. That's the duplicator table you're leaning against, and the ink tends to leak out of the drum and sort of spread, and –
• Aaaaaaagh! My trousers!
Never mind that. Let me tell you about the peculiarly brilliant book I've just completed, the greatest advance in literature since the invention of the semicolon, a work of art to make Jorge Luis Borges look like R.L. Fanthorpe (or possibly vice-versa – you never can tell), a mighty masterwork which –
• You must be joking. I'm getting out of here – aaaaaaaaargh!
How any grown man can contrive to trip over a mere few pieces of paper –
• It was eighteen inches high. I think I've sprained my ankle.
Not a millimetre more than fifteen inches. I ought to know how high my own unanswered-letters pile is. Look, here's a copy of Hubbard's Dianetics, and Kingsmill's Anthology of Invective and Abuse. One or other of them should make you feel better.
• I'm definitely going. One thing though, that's been bothering me. Why are there three jars of revolting brown gunge sitting on the filing cabinet? Don't tell me if you don't think I'm strong enough to know.
Just home-made apple-chutney. We reckoned that if mighty auctioneer Rog Peyton could sell a Langford-grown apple for 85p [as indeed he had], this highly-impurified end-product should command huge prices at the Yorcon auction. In aid of TAFF, of course.
• Just tell me what TAFF is ... please?
Bloody hell, I've already written pages about it for this very programme book. I can't think of anything else witty and dynamic to say ... nothing at all, not a syllable, not a pun, not a semicolon. I'm blocked! Help! I've got the dread writers' block! Call the ambulance –
Perhaps, on the whole, it would be better to remain an obscure fan after all. Or if I should rocket to fame as a celebrated terrorist, then when the Observer team comes round I'll pretend not to be in.