"We're asking fans to write about what they do on their day off," said mighty Irwin Hirsh, secure in his possession of an infallible editorial Formula. H'mm.
In those John D.MacDonald thrillers, Travis McGee has the luxurious habit of taking advance instalments of his retirement whenever time allows. In theory I have the same approach to my day (or quarter-day, or whatever it is) off: relaxation comes in little fragments, scattered through the grey toil of the week like those rare edible bits found in a convention breakfast. While admittedly the Langford life-style isn't as exotic as McGee's, it does give me the advantage of not needing to spend this precious free time recovering from debilitating encounters with sub-machine guns or assassins armed with meat-cleavers....
Monday. Here I am reading a book, as respite from a long day of reading books. Reviews and publishers' reports (I am apparently the Gollancz expert on everything hero editor Malcolm Edwards can't stomach reading) mean endless skiffy epics of mega-genocide across the galaxies, where the fabric of time and space disintegrates in chapter six and that of style and syntax on page two. Or, alternatively, fantasy trilogies whose middle volume comprises a 3500-mile trek across harrowingly familiar landscapes to within sight of the mountain-ringed stronghold where the Black Lord in the East (wielder of Dark Powers, uncountable Troglodyte Hordes and remorseless Capital Letters) is gloating beneath his onion domes and refusing to continue the disarmament talks. Instead, now it's well into the evening, I can relax with an early Michael Innes detective story, a lightweight mathematical work, a straight modern novel... or even some SF/fantasy which, oh joy, I don't have to review! Maybe wine tasters feel like this after a day of austere judgements on spat-out mouthfuls, and fancy a long uncritical swallow of honest plonk.
Tuesday. Here I am redecorating the house, or to be more precise, tearing it apart. Endless hours of glowing green screens and tatty grey typescript have left me wanting to sublimate it all, to wrench down rotted shelving like a macho man and strip old wallpaper with the merciless cool of Rambo. "Take that!" I cry as weevil-infested timbers (representing for the moment the bony structure of the publishing executive most recently responsible for remaindering me) fail to resist my crowbar. Sometimes I can keep up this crazed killer enthusiasm for whole minutes.
Wednesday. In the garden the story's much the same as indoors. Rank grass is attacked with a sickle plus a rotating electric lash thing which would have brought moans of envy from von Sacher-Masoch. Gigantic weeds are wrested from the ground, disgusting insects tossed over the wall for our neighbours' edification. After these delicate attentions the back garden always manages to look less kempt than before, and to camouflage this I kindle vast bonfires of dead leaves (available all the year round thanks to hordes of holly trees: evergreen also means ever-shedding, a permanent case of arboreal dandruff), cardboard boxes in which review copies have arrived, and freebie computer newspapers which appear faster than they can be wrenched from their polythene envelopes, let alone read.... Of course the proper thing to do with a garden is dig it, but here we meet the final stubborn residue of Hazel's one-time archaeological leanings. Our garden is not to be dug. Rather is it to be turned over a spoonful at a time, the grains of soil brushed delicately away with dental probe and toothbrush, to reveal an inexhaustible historical bounty of clay pipe shards, portions of earthenware beer-bottles, sheep scapulae, small indestructible plastic toy parts, powdered glassware, previous owners' lost marbles, and further fragments of the Great Megalithic Victorian Kitchen Sink which is slowly being assembled next to our back door, a process not unlike the reconstruction of Abu Simbel.
Thursday. Here I am chatting with Hazel about nothing in particular. It's surprising in retrospect to consider what a vast conversational stock of nothing in particular we've worked our way through in 13 years. External events are mere raw material, as I remember thinking last time we drove into North Wales:
H: "There was a llama in that field...."
D: "I wanted to ask you about the car park notice in Welshpool."
H: "Either that or a sheep with a very long neck."
D: "The Welsh bit of the notice had a couple of words I couldn't find in the English text. They were underlined and bright red, which the rest of the Welsh wasn't, and I couldn't believe it, it really did say BUM PUNT."
H: "...Fool. It means five pounds. I never even thought of it your low-minded way. Look, another saint."
D: "How can you tell? Looks like a sheep to me. There was a rare breeds farm back there, it could have been a rare breed. The llama."
H: "No, the sign, nearly all these Llansomething villages come from obscure Welsh saints. Llangadfan, St Cadfan with a soft-mutated C. I wish there was a book of them."
D: "Maybe Jan Morris is working on it.... My favourite saint was the gorgeous lady who kept getting propositioned by someone you couldn't say no to, the Pope maybe, and her saintliness showed itself with a miraculously off-putting growth of beard."
H: "You didn't shave very well this morning, is that an excuse? (That was a heron that just flew over.) She could be the patron saint of transsexuals."
D: "Why not? Everyone else has got one. I expect Jan Morris is working on it."
H: "I could make a collection of all the different sorts of milk bottles we buy on our travels."
D: "I forgot the camera again.... Bit difficult to put milk bottles in an album. Could you compress them for easy storage? Or you could just keep Polaroid snaps of your milk bottle collection while the originals stay in a bank vault."
H: "Fool. Sea water too. The sea has a special different smell everywhere. I could collect water samples... keep them in the milk bottles. I could sniff them and Harlech or Barmouth or Milford-on-Sea would sort of come back to me."
D: "Snorting it's safer than injecting it."
Friday. Here I am having lunch with Chris Priest. This is supposed to be business, as in how we're definitely going out of business, but cheerfulness will keep breaking in. He tells me the latest appalling things about his little Harlan Ellison rumpus. "I got a letter from XXXX saying YYYY about Harlan, but the bugger won't let me publish it!" I tell him the latest appalling things about L.Ron Hubbard's merry men. "At the Worldcon XXXX told me that YYYY of Author Services had rung some big wheel at SFWA to ask how much a Grand Master Award for L.Ron would cost... but the bugger won't let me quote him." We decide that using the Ansible Information Ltd computer-manual equipment to produce embarrassing fanzines about Harlan and L.Ron is lots more fun than actually turning a profit. It is impossible to figure out how the world's most inept salesman (me) should be in league with the world's most inept accountant (Chris) to flog software to the masses. We agree that such speculation is unimportant since we're bound to go out of business in a month or so. We've been agreeing this since the middle of 1985.
Saturday. Enough of this savage toil. Here I am watching the television. It is an old Monty Python rerun, and quite enough TV for the average week, thanks very much. (Hazel masochistically sits in on the nine o'clock news so she can tell me about the latest achievements of our glorious government, such as dismantling another portion of the National Health Service.) I usually keep quiet about this modest media requirement, since there's a widespread theory that it can only be accounted for by cultural snobbery of the most overweening and pretentious variety. It isn't permissible simply not to like TV (or theatre, or movies); this has to be a loathsome pose. We hearing-impaired snobs are just too snooty and aesthetically upmarket to Make An Effort and follow a fugitive soundtrack. This has been an exposure of the dark side of Langford.
Sunday. Here I am in the pub. It's late, and the beer has lost its virtue, and my old mate Martin Hoare is telling me in excruciating detail how he would have organized Conspiracy '87 and made it ever so much more better, with parenthetical comments on the overweening superiority of Seacon '84, the boringness of Interzone (evident to his ideological unsoundness detector without the need actually to read it) and the despicability of all Leeds fans and conventions. I find myself impelled to speak of cheerier subjects like graphics adaptors and RS-232 interfacing. Is my fannish pose failing? The urge is to get back to the little green and amber screens which fill my days, and settle down to serious creativity along the lines of a new Ansible or a fanzine article for Irwin Hirsh....