Cloud Chamber 83
April 1998

After Corflu in Leeds, the rest of March was rather too full of excitement. So indeed was the night before Corflu, when I was running off CC82 (the one with 81 in the masthead ... sigh) and the photocopier broke down. I tried all the usual fannish expedients like swearing a lot, thumping the mechanism from various likely-seeming angles, getting toner powder all over myself, and even rechristening the copier 'Mark Plummer', all to no avail. It feels vaguely immoral to run off most of an issue on the groaning laser printer.... Post-Corflu events started getting tangled and out of order like scenes in Hexwood, but included the following –

• Heroic repair of photocopier with little fiddly spare part hand-made from bits of plastic spot-welded with a soldering iron. Sense of vast triumph and medium-sized blisters.

• Small (very small, but what the hell) Premium Bond win.

• News from Newport: my father isn't coming home. His co-ordination has now lapsed too far and he isn't expected to walk again; nor can he cope with home life, stairs, toilets, etc.

• Determined writing-ahead prior to US trip in April: PCW Today column, Odyssey column, Interzone column, two columns for SFX, Tempest story for Mike Ashley's Shakespearean Whodunnits 2 (the publishers – or rather, the Past Times people who want to market both volumes as a boxed set – shifted the deadline forward to Easter, making this now top priority), Minicon speech based on famous Live Thog's Masterclass presentation, final touches to 11,100 words of 'Who's Who In Fantasy' author entries for the new Pringle coffee-table Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, VAT return....

• Paul Barnett Panic when his publishers told him a disk he'd sent them was infected with 'Jack the Ripper' virus; hasty web search for software to check and clean his computers.

• Breakthrough on Grolier SF Encyclopedia CD-ROM viewer: have cracked the format of the 20+Mb data file containing the CD's 2,130 graphics images, now all displayable in glorious colour. At any size you like, too – am determined to do better in all ways than Grolier's fixed-size Window of Procrustes.

• One inexplicable day of raging, mind-numbing toothache.

• Mysterious communication forwarded by my mother: Scottish Equitable claiming they have money for Dad, but can't trace him or his bank (the letter came via the DSS Forwarding Service). Loud cry of 'Bloody hell!' as I remember a short-lived annuity from SE that I found in the bank statements while preparing tax accounts. This was paid from 1989 to February 1993. If it's the same annuity after all this time, SE would be sitting on around £8,500 of payments. Frosty letter of enquiry.

• Visits from Geri Sullivan, famous multiple FAAn award winner, and Ulrika O'Brien, famous TAFF winner (who gets the traditional Places Langford Once Blew Up In Oxford tour).

• The Christening from Hell (29 March), my mother having decided that brother Jon's son must be doused at the very grotty Newport church of St Martin-in-the-Gaer, whose first christening ceremony was Jon's own. 'Next one's a pagan,' he groaned as maternal enthusiasm expanded this thing into a party for 70-odd people....

• Weary explanation from SFX that it's not the editors' fault that my VAT invoices aren't being paid. They authorize them all, honest, and send them to Accounts, and randomly they then fall into a black hole. Still four 1997 invoices outstanding, and five out of seven (so far) in 1998.

• News from Jon that (there being things our mother won't talk about) he's phoned St Woolos Hospital in Newport to learn that the staff want Dad to be moved from the current 'assessment ward' to residential care ... something Mum refuses to discuss with scumbag doctors, which is perhaps unsurprising after the dose of medical tact recorded last issue.

• Large doses of Amstrad PCW software support. The Chris Priest Insight is that people who wanted our indexing program for mundane purposes like indexing bought it long ago – so we now get only the dregs who helpfully write to say: 'I purchased AnsibleIndex in order to use it as a thesaurus / Pascal compiler / VAT accounts package / teapot. Please reply by return of post with full details of how to do this or a full refund.' But here I misrepresent the typical problem customer by making him (it's almost always a him) seem far too literate and reasonable.

• Scottish Equitable confirm without apology or apparent sense of wrongdoing that they are currently hanging on to £8,552.04 of my dad's money because 'the bank account number we held for your father was in fact wrong by one digit.' H'mm! I can prove that that account number didn't suddenly change by one digit in March 1993 when the payments stopped. Pleasurable hour drafting letter which does not quite say in so many words, 'You cocked up – why aren't you offering generous interest or compensation to avoid this being publicized all over Private Eye or Radio 4's Face the Facts?'

• Weary explanation from Simo at SFX that it's not the editors' fault that my complimentary copies dried up again in January. 'You too, huh! It was only in January '97 that we actually found out who was in charge of our mailing list. Before that, you may recall, your copies were all hand-labelled by Joe Muggins here. • Future views mailing lists as purely for advertising purposes, and policy dictates that anybody who hasn't bought an advert in the past twelve months be removed from the list, even if they're a regular freelancer, an important industry contact, or the deputy editor's mum. • Future bureaucracy dictates that no-one on the magazine has yet been able to find out who is responsible for removing names. Hopefully, everyone who got knocked off in Jan will be back on by the May issue, but you can all then expect to disappear off the list again in May 1999.' Meanwhile, since the sister magazine Cult TV hasn't been around long enough for me to fail to buy twelve ads, I get freebies of this though not of the mag I write for.

• Some people respond fast: David Pringle with a hefty first cheque for what Paul Barnett and I tend to call the Umtilote Fatnasty, Mike Ashley with – whoopee! – cheering enthusiasm for the Tempest thriller 'As Strange a Maze as E'er Men Trod', which I'd been worrying might have a few too many plot twists for a mere 4,000 words. But Mike points out that in a fit of Carollian portmanteauism, hesitating between grim and glum, I've described Trinculo as looking grum. A needed word?

• Another discovery in the SFE CD-ROM: Nicholas Yermakov (who had changed his name by deed poll) was to become a mere cross-reference to his new identity Simon Hawke. Grolier have managed to lose both headwords.... Can I bodge the software to insert whole 'new' entries? (As it turns out, yes.)

• Last-minute panic now getting intense as flight day looms, as I remember to order some dollars and book rail tickets to Gatwick, as Ansible 129 proves bloody difficult to finish, and as a Newport social worker badgers me for financial information about my father's assets, prior to his move to residential care. It wouldn't be so bad if the chap didn't always spell it 'finantial'.

Mailing 62 was much enjoyed, but time has just run out!