Between Scene 19 and Scene 20 the curtain is lowered to indicate the passage of time. Years pass; fannish empires rise and fall; the Albacon II2, Sixth Fandom, Convention Profits and Paul Turner debates hold their brief sway and are forgotten. But now, signs and portents are in the air. Greg Pickersgill is seen on Holborn at 5 pm of a One Tun evening, walking the other way. Richard Bergeron has discovered the 'ensmalled fanzine', Joseph Nicholas is working on the ensmalled sentence, Malcolm Edwards convalesces from his invention of the enbigged fanzine which is always 36 pages too long. Something is stirring in British fandom, something ancient and very terrible, dimly remembered only by gaffers in convention bars who swap their wheezy reminiscences of the bad old days. From its grave the age-old horror rises, no longer a mere phantasm of the dark but a tangible, form revealed in leprous morning light, a ghastly revenant whose existence can no longer be denied. It is Peter Weston. Meanwhile, at 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU, UK, Dave Langford produces his twentieth issue of the long-forgotten TWLL-DDU and nobody takes a blind bit of notice. Except possibly Rob Hansen (cover), Atom (inside cover) and the sempiternal Litho Boss (if black spots form before your eyes, do not adjust your TD cover; there is a fault in John Harvey). This issue dated 1 April 1983, and not available to anyone – but you are the lucky exception. Ways to become a lucky exception do not necessarily include subscribing to the wonderful newszine ANSIBLE (sixteen issues published since TD-19, rush me £2.00 at once to subscribe), but a donation of 50p or £1 to TAFF can help....
Another typical Saturday in the new Langford home. Awakening with the usual glad moans and stumbling on autopilot to make tea with one hand while sifting rejection slips with the other, I find myself peering at the front door. Why am I peering at the front door? The bell must have rung; still dazzled by this shrewd reasoning I open it wide, remember the vile state of my old dressing-gown, and close it again, but not before a man in overalls has cheerily said "Scaffold" and I've replied "Um." Hideous clangs and crashes begin to sound in the garden, as though people are re-enacting a battle with naked steel, or a Novacon committee meeting. "Scaffold," I mumble, nodding wisely to myself. as I pour boiling water with casual accuracy into a teapot as yet strangely devoid of tea-leaves. Outside, someone is dropping brass bands from helicopters. Hot water overflows to fill the tea-tray as I fuzzily wonder what sounds like brass bands being dropped from helicopters.
Something connects, and not merely the overflowing water with my foot. Without perceptible transition I'm upstairs shaking the inert light of my life and shrieking, "HAZEL, HAZEL, THE ROOF'S COME!" She grunts, burrows into the bedclothes, irrefutably points out that it's far too early in the morning and anyway they would have phoned first. As I fling back the curtains, huge iron poles sway terrifyingly just outside, and can this be the moment to explain that the bedroom clock is three hours slow because I turned off the power last night to wire up our twenty-ninth, thirtieth and thirty-first new sockets? The scaffolding poles are waving and clashing monstrously in mid-air; Hazel stares transfixed, and vanishes under the blankets with screams of "Take them away, take them away." I have to shroud the windows, bar the doors and dangle cups of tea temptingly out of reach before Hazel can be coaxed inch by inch from bed to face the horror now engulfing us.
Because 7000 books have spent nine months (all the time since we moved here) in dusty cardboard boxes on the second floor, we feel it's time to erect shelves in the Grand Library, or what mundanes might call. the front bedroom. Because this room has more damp patches than the Cabinet; we first need to redecorate a bit, or three bits, or even the lot. Because the dreaded damp comes from above, it seems like folly to redecorate without first titivating the roof and chimney-stacks. This chain of logic leads inexorably on to the arrival of three tons of scaffolding one bright morning, to a mad search for my hearing aid in order to open communications with the strange race of scaffoldmen, and thus to the little tube thing between the aid's electronics and my ear getting broken in the general frenzy.
Not yet having mastered sign language from Avedon Carol's postal lessons, I thrust Hazel through the back door into occupied territory while refusing to show myself. (My naked ear, I explain, is sensitive to cold if nothing else.) Presently she reports that the loudly clanging and banging ones are Annoyed to learn that their tottering edifice has to reach all the way to our roof. Apparently, being scaffoldmen and by no means roofmen, they'd vaguely hoped to get away with a mighty framework towering perhaps four feet high.
I cower in the office, modestly hiding under the desk whenever the scaffolders peer through the window to make notes on the value of typewriters and other expensive things for the use of their more burglarious colleagues, and tap out the customary abusive letters to all the publishers who are remaindering me in breach of contract. ("We're getting old and jaded," remarked octogenarian Rob Holdstock at a recent Pieria gathering. "Time was when we'd be all starry-eyed if one of us had even sold a short story. Now we sit huddled together at Pieria 36, talking about our remainders. Oh god –" So saying, he took out the portable grave he always carries, and placed one foot in it.)
By early afternoon the scaffolding is up, already radiating that generic Scaffold Look of having been there for ages and of being a fixture through many grey years to come. I descend cautiously, to find Hazel being all dynamic again, turning out a grubby shed which came with the house, as did all the things you find in old sheds only worse. There's nothing quite so fascinatingly vile as the prehistoric suit we found stuffed under the eaves on the top floor (its pong and its perforations we could take, but also in situ was the newest generation of white wriggly things responsible for both), but Hazel is still daunted by the complications of earthworms which writhe like spaghetti from under everything, by yellow slugs not as big as rats, and by a horde of woodlice which according to her numerical estimate would run short of standing room on Zanzibar.
While I exercise my chauvinist privilege of overrunning this lot with fire and the sword, Hazel assembles a wondrous treasure-trove of goodies from this same shed. Ninety-seven buttons, many old razor blades, numberless jamjars, a stainless steel pedal bin (does not work), a metal thing which looks like a Polaris nosecap and which I nervously ignore as I'm no longer supposed to know about these things, a kinky rubber device for simulating woodgrain in paint or on Joe Nicholas, a home-made pottery lamp resembling both a lopsided UFO and an immense cowpat, a deckchair which is to deckchairs what Fanzine Fanatique in its heyday was to fanzines (I burn it hastily), and a further exciting selection of paints, door bolts, cup hooks, coat hooks and sacred horticultural objects which only require strong masculine hands to apply them, clean them, put them up, repair them, dig them in, and so on....
Tactfully and typically I retreat, nearly banging my head on the scaffold, with murmurs of "It's about time I started work on another fanzine." Hazel's practised sarcasms fall on deafer ears than usual, the Hearing Engine still being bust, as I stumble like a long-deprived junkie to the typewriter and set down the events of another typical Saturday in the new Langford home.
OR: BITS FROM THE PRE-TAFF REPORT
We Vaguely Remember Hearing From:
[I have omitted the letter column.]
Through Time and Space With the Chevalier de Méré
One day not long ago I wandered into a games shop and saw these round dice. What a jolly good surreal joke, I thought as I stood there chortling out loud: in the same class as the spiked flatiron, the fur teacup, or Darrell Schweitzer's lengthy articles proving J.G. Ballard is not worth writing lengthy articles about.
It's a mistake to chortle in shops like that, since the assistants – who've already been following your every move with narrowed eyes, at least if you're me – start converging and pointedly asking what games you want to buy. Is this overt suspicion because people keep escaping with two-foot-square game boxes secreted under their fingernails, or because the assistants are obscurely compensating for guilt at charging £7.50 and up for immense boxes containing a few bits of cardboard? As nonchalantly as I could, I rebuffed them and went on an embarrassed browse while thinking about that round dice.
The thing's only a joke but you could make it work, I realized. You could make it hollow and have six little pits inside, and a marble or something in there too, so it would always come to rest wobbling with a number uniquely uppermost. What a clever sod I am, I thought. I could patent that ... manufacture them ... fame, power ... buy out TSR ... rule the world. At this euphoric point my circuit of the shop brought me back to the tray of round dice, and condescendingly I picked one up, and it rattled because there was a marble or something rolling in and out of little pits inside. Out of sheer pique I bought the thing and left, subsequently reasoning my way to the conclusion that round dice would be so hard to balance properly – or so easy to load – that they'd never catch on and that no sensible person would buy one.
If I were more sensible I mightn't end up in these situations. I mightn't get squinted at for chortling over local newspaper placards which seem irresistibly funny but only to me. SHOP BAN ON UNRULY CATHOLIC SCHOLARS, I read the other day: chanting lewd litanies, were they, or promiscuously crossing themselves before counting their change? While it's taken me six years to learn that DISASTER FOR ROYALS does not mean that a DC-10 has fallen on Buckingham Palace but that the local [Reading] football team has performed as usual. On a grimmer note were the renovations to public toilets on the junction near here: what relics did they find in the U-bend to provoke the graffito splashed on adjacent buildings: THERE ARE HUMAN BONES BURIED UNDER THE JUNCTION? (And why am I the only person I ever catch staring at this?)
Could be that ten years of fandom have done things to my brain, so it rolls and rattles between little pits inside the skull. (Most mornings it certainly feels that way.) I worry about things. Like this:
Hazel can't light a certain gas – fire in our possession, but I can. She had a running joke about its being the alcohol on the breath that did it, and of course this was only a joke, until ... There was this gasman in my office, see, connecting up the gas-fire we'd brought from the other house. He pointed to the cable trailing from one side and said, "Electric ignition. Bet that doesn't work on this antique, not since Natural Gas."
"Oh yes it does," I averred. "It lights if I turn the knob and sort of blow at the same time."
He looked at me sidelong for a moment, as though I'd mentioned that among my hobbies was impaling gasmen and drinking their blood. "Yes," he said in a certain tone of voice. 'Some people can do that."
Then he silently went away, leaving me with a brand-new worry.
If I were even slightly more sensible and less prone to worry I might perhaps not have spent parts of this morning crouching in pouring rain atop twenty- five feet of scaffold, clearing portions of our former chimneys from the gutter in order to slow the torrential overflow which fell with unerring accuracy on the flat roof over the downstairs bay window whose watertight seal had been cleverly cracked by a misplaced scaffold pole, permitting all the rainfall on a roof approximately the size of the Amazon basin to irrigate our new carpet.
... And surely, with only the merest extra quantum of common sense, I wouldn't be typing what according to the files and records is my hundredth fanzine. Whimper. Nothing exceeds like excess. Twenty Twll-Ddus, six Drilkjises, nineteen Cloud Chambers, thirteen TAFF/GUFF flyers, thirty-two Ansibles, ten miscellaneous and why on earth do I still feel no urge to stop? Ah, but when the moon is full there comes the change, as Langford collapses behind the sofa, comes up all hairy and fanged, and driven by frightful compulsions begins to type yet another segment of TAFF report. (30,000 words of the bloody thing I've done now, amid much else, only for Joy Hibbert to tick me off for only doing Ansible, and request that I pull my finger out. Poot.) With alarm I look ahead to becoming a long-runner like The Mousetrap: by the 250th performance I'll be an inescapable part of the fannish scene, my fanzines traditional British landmarks which nobody reads. Only occasional foreigners will come to peer curiously, while rude people like D.West threaten to spoil their fun – like undertipped cab-drivers outside the Mousetrap's theatre – by revealing the punchline of one of my jokes, or of both.
As I started typing this, the poxy round dice fell off the edge of my desk and cracked. That's my life.
"It really is amusing watching the Americans try to fathom West." (Mike Dickinson)
Straight on to Stencil
Asimov's Literary Secrets Revealed
Martin Hoare, whose shadow never grows less, passes on an advert wherein Isaac Himself plugs the cheap'n'nasty TRS-80 word processor. It is a fearful sight, the Asimovian smile looking more than ever as if locked into place with the aid of the wires and clips and sutures described in The American Way of Death. But if you can ignore the rictus long enough to study the text, you learn that with the wondrous prosthetic aid of the Machine our hero can "assign frequently-used words and phrases to a user-defined key. So whenever I press that key, the word or phrase is displayed instantly!"
This may explain a lot. Imagine some of the more commonly used keys. Number one would yield: "Had it not been for master psychohistorian Hari Seldon's Plan, thirty thousand years of anarchy would have had to elapse before the publication of the sequel." Number two, for autobiographies: "... I said at once, and everyone laughed at how neatly I'd turned the tables on Harlan/that importunate fan/the President of the USA/God." And number three, for press releases to Locus: "I believe, and I think I can say this without fear of contradiction, that no book – let alone a serious work of SF – has previously been on the New York Times bestseller list...."
Famous Dave For TAFF
The famous, fabulous and unfathomable D. 'Dave' West wishes as usual to refute everything: specifically, ill-founded rumours in the gutter press (DT, Izzard, Ansible) that he might even consider with half a braincell the possibility of standing for TAFF. He makes feeble evasions about not liking travelling and being alarmed by the nauseous properties of funny foreign food and funny American beer – but here at TD headquarters it's an open secret that D is filled with deathly fear of meeting US fans, an encounter which might harm his ability to make vast unflattering generalizations about them.
Instead, he points out the existence of DWFF, the D. West Fan Fund. "I am not a candidate but the prize, the purpose of the Fund being to allow some worthy foreign person the chance of a pilgrimage to Bingley. Unlike TAFF, there are no tiresome voting regulations – anyone can vote as many times as they like for anyone at all (including themselves) provided they make a contribution to the Fund of not less than 50p per vote. The DWFF Administrator (and Hon. Sec. of the Famous Dave Appreciation Society – membership only 50p) is Jimmy Robertson (c/o O'Brien, 27 Green St, Glasgow, G40 2HN), to whom all correspondence, votes and money should be sent as soon as possible. NB – voters should also send at least one recent photograph of their preferred candidate, in order to help me decide whether or not to be prepared to leave town." (D. West)
It all sounds suitably devious and corrupt, but not as much so as Marc Ortlieb's MAFF (Mid-Atlantic Fan Fund, intended to leave the lucky Australian winner somewhere halfway). Because I am nice, and kindly, and generous, and because I had this Australian banknote which even the drunkest Reading bar staff couldn't be persuaded to accept, I rushed a MAFF vote to Mr Ortlieb, voting of course for Mr Ortlieb, who as the founder of the feast deserves some egoboo. The loathsome response: "It's a good thing I took my glasses off before I read your vote, otherwise I might have registered a vote for me to win the fund, and might be in the terrible position of having to contemplate presenting myself with the bogus air-ticket and concrete slipper, and I'd hate to have to do that. Sydney fan Vera Lonergan already figures that I'm doing all sorts of devious things to aggrandize myself, and it wouldn't do for me to win the fund I myself am running.... Your money I've sent to John Foyster as a donation to GUFF." (M.Ortlieb) Bloody hell, say I.
You Will, Oscar, You Will
This conversation keeps happening and I wish it wouldn't. I'm in some place where intoxicating liquors are sold, or alternatively in the One Tun, and someone pokes me from behind, saying "Mumble mumble."
I turn. "What?"
"Oh ho ho ho," says the someone, going into this mega-comedy routine. "Heard that all right, didn't you, ho ho, that's Langford for you, only deaf when it's his round, never misses the offer of a pint even when you whisper, chortle chortle, you heard me all right and turned round quick as a flash didn't you, giggle giggle, only deaf when it suits you, what's yours then?"
Actually this particular shaft of keen wit began to pall on me in about 1970, and is totally unjustified since I've definitely bought at least two rounds since. It's almost enough to make me refuse a pint. But not quite.
Clash of the Titans
The scene was the Harveys' party. Naked machismo was in evidence as two stalwart fans engaged in savage physical combat, locked immobile on the floor in that most brutal of contests – mixed arm-wrestling. Both mighty-thewed contestants had been described as 'pretty', though by different commentators: Joe Nicholas (Rider of the Purple Prose) versus Jan Huxley (who'd probably be the tallest person in British fandom if it weren't for her brutal, sexist oppression by Chris Hughes). Prone on the Harveys' much-abused hall carpet, they writhed and sweated and groaned while battalions of eager spectators alternately ignored them or tripped over them en route to the drinks. The seconds, the minutes, the hours went by. The hand that had mastered the two-page subordinate clause and the transfinite parenthesis seemed equal in puissance to the hand which once had held the puppet-strings of the entire Unicon membership. Years went by, decades went by; and at last something snapped. A hidden hand intervened, tempted by an expanse of naked flesh between Joe's shirt and trousers; half a pint of beer spontaneously flew to meet this section of his quivering back. A loud cry, a flurry of confused motion, and Jan had – as it were – won. This victory is disputed by Joseph.
The Marching Meritocrats
Left, right, left, right! Here we come, rank on endless rank, in perfect step, the illimitable armies of Fannish Meritocracy! A vast and monolithic horde, each irrevocably committed to our quasi-fascist idealogy [sic], united in thought and word and deed as we advance against the foe. Pickersgill and Nicholas and White march arm in arm with West and Bergeron and Langford and Hansen and Kettle and a thousand more, all singing songs of praise to the twin deities Willis and Ballard. Indivisible, we press forward to annihilate any vile wretch who dares to watch a skiffy film or TV programme, or to commit a grammatical error in a fanzine, or to have liked comics or even the better Heinlein books. All must perish! Death and destruction!
– Are you feeling all right, Dave? What on earth brought this on?
Oh, I've been reading John D. Owen's fannish allegory in Crystal Ship 7. Isn't it great? Doesn't it give you a feeling of power? Not until John opened my eyes did I realize that fandom was like this. Burn the crudzines! Kill the Trekkies! Spit on a neofan today! We speak with one voice, Nicholas and West and White and I!
– You silly twisted boy. You weren't too keen on Ted's meritocracy theory; and you read a Philip E. High book the other day, not to mention buying two of Fanthorpe's. Even the fashion for rude fanzine reviews has been over for years.
Gad, sir, how dare you dispute the great John D.Owen's portrayal of a super-elitist fandom whose mighty power is swift to crush and silence any heretic or dissenter such as John ... excuse me. My brain hurts; I'm going away to lie down for a bit. Left, right, left, right –
Last year we had a plague of marrows, planted by 94 London Road's previous owner. (Ian Watson reported that Moreton Pinkney was even more plagued: "the entry to our post office is blocked with a mound of them and a sign, PLEASE TAKE ONE.") So Hazel got out her favourite international cookbooks, the sort that give you tasty recipes for fried witchetty grubs (sausages may be substituted): the low point came with Marrow la Chad, a real Chad recipe which involved marrows and peanut butter and things. It tasted of peanut butter, only worse. Looking at it, I realized that we'd achieved a detailed genetic reconstruction of the Crottled Greep. Maybe Ian's suggestion in the letter column is the best, after all.
["Surely the best thing to do with marrows is remove the contents totally, stuff with fine minced spiced viands, cook, then chuck the outside away too before serving?" – I.W.]
At Christmas, Katie Hoare insisted on making her famous traditional mulled wine. Bottles were opened and splashed with abandon into a giant glass bowl; curious decoctions of sugar and spice were added; it was all triffically Dickensian. Then came the traditional mulling ceremony, as Katie confidently hefted the brimming bowl and stuck it in the microwave oven....
After New Year's, I was trying to make breakfast for certain hungover remnants, and Judith Hanna decided that now was the time to exhibit her skills and make some Australian Rarebit. Under her capable hand, pounds of cheese and pints of milk were reduced in seconds to a thin slime which coagulated to a plasticine-like lump swimming in repellent yellow liquor. We poured the fluid into an unwanted tree-stump outside, and ate the rest on toast. The breakfast party (also including Messrs Nicholas and Akien) survived, eventually. The tree-stump, however, perished shortly afterwards.
At the Jacksons' party mere days ago, Katie had another encounter with drink, opening a beer-bottle which went off like a Molotov cocktail. She stood aghast, dripping from head to foot and looking like the Creature from the Vat in some Hammer film set in a brewery ... but rescue was at hand! Medical reflexes going off like fire-alarms, bold Dr Jackson snatched up a box of tissues and sped towards Katie on an errand of mercy! In his haste he stumbled; no, he was going to help drain Katie's shoes; no, actually he was earnestly mopping the three drops of beer which had reached the new carpet. Katie managed to find a towel eventually.
My Part In The Great Cover-Up
I got a letter about Chris Morgan's and my book of 'definitive mistakes and misguided predictions', from one Gordon W. C-----, MA, FRAI, FRGS, FRAS, HM Diplomatic Service Ret'd. Thus:
"I was extremely disappointed to find no mention, in your 1982 edition of Facts Fallacies, of the recent statement, made on BBC2 TELEVISION, at 10.15 pm on Wednesday, March 10, 1982, by Admiral of the Fleet The Lord Hill-Norton, GCB, recently First Sea Lord, Chief of the Defence Staff, and Chairman of the Military Committee of NATO, that UFOs exist and that there is an official cover-up on the subject. Despite the positions which Lord Hill-Norton has held . (and very recently too) it is clear to me that he is an ignoramus in comparison with authorities of your Stature, and it is my earnest hope that when a suitable opportunity offers you will show him up ..."
Hindsight reveals a certain attempt at Biting Sarcasm here, something I possibly failed to notice when in the flurry of the house-move I sent a nice reply, promising to show up the Admiral in volume 2 if any, and adding that 'UFO' had become an overly loaded term (I was quite prepared to believe in lots of UASs or Unidentified Aerial Sightings – or reported sightings)....
"Dear Mr Langford: With reference to your letter of 8 July, I find your description of Lord Hill-Norton's very carefully considered statement ('a little gaffe') most enlightening. It either shows crass ignorance on your part or – and this is far more. likely – that you have your job to do in seeing that the truth is not told. I expect to publish something about your reaction to the Admiral's statement in due course ."
He had me there.
Dear Mr C----- [I wrote], Thanks very much for your letter.... Of course your comment on my own corrupt nature is all too perceptive. The international MOD-CIA-Illuminati conspiracy has little better to do with its money than disburse vast sums to obscure authors like myself in order to maintain the cover – up. I hope you will not reveal to the world than I am in receipt of several hundred thousand pounds annually from such sources, in exchange for which I write under a host of pseudonyms to obfuscate the Truth.
I look forward with delight to your planned publication of comments about me in internationally influential journals, and trust you'll be careful to mention Facts & Fallacies as often as possible. May I in turn publish something about your reaction to my letter ...?
Crassly yours: David Langford.
I hoped for a really wonderful correspondence during which I could make ever so many further revelations about my vile employers and the faceless Man of Mystery who leads them from under the cover of his codename 'Bergeron'.... But for some reason I've heard no more from Mr C-----, not even a denunciatory clipping about me from the Loony Ex-Diplomats' UFO Intelligencer or similar shaper of world opinion. Shame.
TAFF Report: Ninth and Last Instalment
So there I was in 1982, enjoying Silicon 6 at several removes through that translucent humming cloud engendered by fizzy beer, all TAFF responsibility having rolled off my back like a duck and on to Kevin Smith's, when who should accost me but John Foyster and Joe Nicholas and Judith Hanna.
"We have this problem," they unctuously said. I quailed.
"What we need is a good prominent fan to stand for GUFF on account of we haven't been able to find any yet," they ominously continued. I winced.
"Er, Dave ...?" they irresistibly concluded.
Mere aggregations of capitals, asterisks, multiple underlining and fifteen typefaces could not do justice to what Hazel said.
Keith Freeman brought paper and ink. Words are from The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, mostly. Hazel provided moral support, the Harveys bits of old duplicator and our shed the rubber stamp.
[Mailing label area on back page]
from THE SEARCH FOR LOST CITIES by James Wellard:
"So if you arrive by car in Reading, you will undoubtedly get lost, for you must keep whizzing round the maze, without ever quite knowing where you are or where you are going. You must find a way to escape before you become disheartened ... Your best hope is to find that rarest of species in Reading, a pedestrian. With luck, this survivor of an antique age may be able to answer your question: How do I get to Calleva Atrebatum alias Silchester? The answer ..." Forget it. Ask for –
TWLL-DDU 20 from Dave Langford
94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, England RG1 5AU