EIGHTIES LETTERS AND FAN DIARY
11: JANUARY-MARCH 19847th January 1984 - letter to Avedon Carol
I had an unsettling experience recently. In the office, on Friday 16th December, I was chatting to one of the guys I work with and he was telling me that he and his wife were going to visit Harrods that evening and buy a Christmas present for his young son.
"Harrods is a bit too pricey for me", I said, "but I haven't visited the store in years, so I think I might pop in tomorrow and have a browse. If nothing else, Oxford Street at this time of year is one of the best places I know for getting into the spirit of Christmas."
I travel into town every Saturday and I'm almost always up there between noon and 2pm, but on this occasion I couldn't be due to an appointment I had at the opticians a little later. It was on this Saturday that an IRA car-bomb exploded outside Harrods at 1.21pm, killing and maiming a number of people. If I hadn't had to keep that appointment I would have been in or around Harrods at the time of the blast and while I probably wouldn't have been hurt anyway (there were hundreds of people in the store at the time, after all) it's a sobering thought to consider that if I hadn't sat on my specs while writing my last letter to you there might well have been another name on the list of casualties. The truly sad thing, however, is that while a chill might have run down my spine when I first realised this, I soon lapsed back into the usual blase' approach most people have to these things, hardly giving a second glance when I passed Charing Cross Underground station a few days later and found it and the surrounding roads cordoned off by police dealing with a "surprise package".
I spent Christmas with my folks back in Wales and, as usual, had a pretty good time. My kid sister, now 16, is growing up fast and I didn't see as much of her this time as I usually do since she was out with her current boyfriend. Being a policeman my brother keeps some unusual hours, even over Christmas, but I saw a fair bit of him and his wife and I managed, much to my surprise, to refrain from making cracks about his rapidly accelerating hair-loss (he's five years younger than me and has lost almost as much as our father, who's in his fifties.)
Spending New Year in Newcastle was a lot of fun, and Kev & Sue Williams put on a great party with lots of good music and some great chili (not at all unlike my own - it's a shame you can't eat red meat or I'd make some for you next time you're over). All in all the whole Christmas/New Year's period has been like an extended convention and I'm only now starting to feel totally together again and not as completely physically and spiritually knackered as I did.
A date for Labour Day? Oh yes, most definitely...always assuming I win TAFF, of course. I gather from this that you've now decided to make it to L.A., and if West isn't there in my stead that's where I'll be.
10th January 1983 - letter to Brad W. Foster
Thanks for the copy of OUR STORY SO FAR, and yes I'm still interested in doing a page for volume two. When you're ready for me to do one send me xeroxes of the preceding pages and I'll get right on it.
As far as other fanartists go there do happen to be one or two over here who are rather good. Harry Bell (who drew the cover of EPSILON" 12 and the gremlins on 13) would probably be interested and is certainly more than capable (not to mention being my favourite fanartist bar none). Then there's Cath E (who's style is remarkably similar to that of Jim Shull) and Margaret Welbank (winner of this year's Nova Award as best British fanartist and whose style is similar to that of Edward Gorey). You can check out Bell's work on the covers mentioned and I'll send xeroxes of stuff by the others if you're interested (I'm sort of writing this on the run at the moment, as you may have guessed, or I would have taken the time to include them with this missive.) In fact I will follow up with xeroxes of or by various people in a separate letter sometime in the next week.
15th January 1984 - letter to Ted White
Many thanks for the LoC and for EGOSCAN 1, which turned up last week. Oddly enough, I saw a copy of issue 2 before I'd seen issue 1 since Harry Bell had copies of both lying around when I was up in Newcastle over the New Year holiday, and I happened to pick up that issue first (in fact that was the issue Harry received first as well and which had evidently travelled airmail by some fluke - which starts to balance out the occasional airmailed copy of PONG that crawled over via tramp-steamer, I suppose). Anyway 'Ted', you ol' pseudonym you, while only actually possessing one issue at present I enjoyed both, and found the reaction to your review of the 'angel dust', issues of DAREDEVIL in THE COMICS JOURNAL of particular interest due to something that's happening in the UK at the moment.
As you will see from the enclosed cutting (from TIME OUT, Dec 29 - Jan 4 issue, a London listings magazine) it looks as if Her Majesty's Government is cracking down on 'drugs-related literature', and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see where this could lead. When one considers such books as Philip K.Dick's A SCANNER DARKLY and THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH it's obvious that such a development a can quite clearly have a direct effect on SF readers and for that reason, if for no other, a debate on the subject has been hurriedly added to the agenda for MEXICON. In fact if you consider the case of SAVOY BOOKS and the prosecution they faced under the Obscene Publications Act for, among others Samuel R.Delany's THE TIDES OF LUST - which ended with SAVOY going to the wall and publisher Dave Britton to prison (for the full story see Michael Moorcock's THE RETREAT FROM LIBERTY, published by Zomba Books) - then it already has. With the political shift to the right in this country in recent years there was always the possibility of the liberal gains made from the mid-60s on being eroded, but it still comes as something of a shock to realise that books you've read and possess and which have been freely available in bookshops across the land since their publication some fifteen years or more ago may soon be proscribed. Yet it's happening, and it's happening now. 1984, it appears, begins here.
17th January 1984 - letter to Ted White
I don't know. You stop writing a letter so that you can travel across town to the Friends In Space meeting and the next thing you know it's two days later. No, I didn't drink enough to make me lose 48 hrs but I was sufficiently tired when I got in from work last night - we moved office and I spent all day moving around large pieces of furniture and mounds of paper that doing anything more physically or intellectually strenuous than vegetating in front of the idiot-box was impossible.
Yes, we have had Spring-like weather over here for the last month or so (early-Spring, anyway) but this has been punctured fairly frequently by some of the worst gales we've experienced in years. If the Met Office is correct, however, all this may soon change and within 48 hrs the North American snow-clouds will reach here. If so, this will be one of your less-than-welcome exports.
Anyway, I hope that the appearance of EGOSCAN, min BLUE MOON, and TRAP DOOR herald the start of some sort of resurgence in your corner of US fandom, since most of the zines coming over in the past year or so have been fairly dull. Truth to tell I really miss that '81-'82 period when there seemed to be so much more going on. That may have been an illusion, of course, one fostered in part by the frequent arrival of issues of PONG, but if so it's an illusion I wouldn't mind living again.
17th January 1984 - letter to Patrick Nielsen Hayden
The postcard in Spanish that I received from your abode the other day was from Teresa, no? Since D.West is the only person I know who speaks any Spanish - he lived in Spain for about six years or so, I believe - I'll get him to translate it for me, probably at the Eastercon if he's there. No doubt I'll have to agree to a game of dominoes in return for this service, but there you go.
With regard to artwork, I'd be happy to do something for you particularly as it will also force me to actually get back to doing some drawing. I doubt if I drew more than half-a-dozen pieces last year, so I certainly need to overcome my regrettable slothfulness in this regard. I won't, however, draw random fillos, which I've long regarded as an abomination. Indeed, I still find it incomprehensible that anyone is prepared to all their work to be reduced to generic filler, to have it become visual muzak for those poor souls apparently incapable of reading whole pages of text unless they are broken up by pretty pictures. While I may not make as big a deal about being "An Artist" as someone like Taral, I do ask that any work I do for others serve some legitimate purpose and I'm afraid I don't regard fillos as having any legitimate purpose at all. This aside, however, illustrating specific articles is just fine by me, as is doing topical humour stuff or strips.
With regard to the former, I proposed the idea of topical cartoons after the fashion of the large format political cartoons found in most newspapers to Langford for ANSIBLE, but he couldn't spare the space these require. Even so, there's a problem with these in that, unlike with national politicians, the majority of the readership of a fanzine probably wouldn't recognise any of those being caricatured, and I probably wouldn't have any photographs of a lot of people likely to be making 'the news' in any case. Still, none of these problems are insurmountable and the idea is very appealing.
11th February 1984 - letter to Avedon Carol
The weather may be fairly mild over here at the moment but a consequence of pleasant temperatures at this time of year seems to be high winds and a hell of a lot of rain. In the past few weeks we've lived through some of the fiercest winds I can recall, and I've been woken in the middle of the night more than once by the sheer cacophony caused by rattling windows, toppling fences, and metal bins being thrown around the yard downstairs. I've been more than a little surprised to see my roof still there come morning. Y'know, I think I'd trade a few degrees of temperature for less rain and lower wind-speeds. If nothing else I can use the sleep.
Hey, great to hear that you'll be over here in the spring for MEXICON - I very much look forward to your arrival in the spring, as someone once said. And yeah, I'd love to share a room with you. A full table of room rates was printed in back of the last EPSILON and a double room (presumably with bath) sells for £13.25 per person per night. The only problem with all this is that booking-forms went out last month and committee members were all block-booked into one section to make them easy to locate. The hotel is filling rapidly but I'm sure the booking could still be switched (particularly as I'll be a paying guest, like all concom members) if I let them know quickly enough. So if you're sure you'll be coming over I'll need to know fairly urgently. Of less urgency but something I'd like to know as soon as it's settled, is the actual dates you'll be here because, obviously, I want to arrange some time off work to be with you.
Anyway, since I'm due to leave for Sheffield in half an hour, and really want to get this in the post before then, I'd better finish here.
Saturday 11th February/Sunday 12th February - from fanzine report
For some reason or other whenever I find myself in the Socialist Republic of Sheffield I feel an irresistible urge to whistle the tune from the Hovis ads. It's not that the road leading up to David Bridges' place is cobbled you understand, or even because of the uniformly terrible pubs in the vicinity, but more a reaction to the whole.....ambiance of the place. On this particular occasion I'd travelled up to Sheffield in the company of Kate Davies, Pam Wells, and Lilian Edwards, and a fairly uneventful journey it would have been too if not for the bus trip from the station to Valley Road. Since I didn't have any change it was decided that I would pay the fares with some folding green and the others would pay me back later. Being Londoners we expected these to be in the order of thirty or forty pence and were staggered when told we only had to pay six pence a head. The total fare for all of on came to 24p. Feeling expansive I generously told the others that I'd treat them to the ride and they needn't pay me back. Feeling equally expansive they would have none of this and insisted on re-imbursing me.
Beyond taking this opportunity to once again thank Dave and Cath for throwing the party I don't intend to say much about the weekend or about the soft-toy APA (for soft-brain people) established on the train journey home (which I responded to with my best sneer when I wasn't sunk down in my seat and hoping the others in the carriage didn't think I was with these people) since others in FRANK'S APA will doubtless have such of their own to say on this.
However, while on the subject of David E.Bridges I should mention that at one point during the weekend a group of us came across a shop, just around the corner from Dave's house, which had in its window such delights as Krapalot ("the laxative tea-bag"), Fart Powder ("will make you fart like thunder"), and a bucketful of false noses. This seemed strangely appropriate somehow.
2nd March 1984 - letter to Martin Tudor & Dave Langford
Here are the xeroxes I promised at the One Tun. Part of page 11 in 'The Death of The Permissive Society' appears to have dropped out, something I didn't notice when copying the page, but it's not a section crucial to the matter at hand anyway.
I hope you can make some use of this material since the principles involved are so important and the possible consequences of a successful prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions very far-reaching. This is an issue that "really hits us where we live", as they used to say back in the 60s. Go to it!
enc. Knockabout Comics pamphlet (or rather, a xerox thereof).
3rd March 1984 - sampling of a letter to Richard Bergeron
The current WIZ certainly made for..ah..interesting reading when it turned up this morning. Ordinarily I would have replied to your latest broadside (as I did to your last one) in the pages of EPSILON (for reasons you can doubtless figure out for yourself), but due to my commitment to the forthcoming MEXICON and problems with my duplicator the next issue is unlikely to be out until May at the earliest. So I'm forced to respond to you here. There's certainly a lot to respond to, particularly as so much of this issue seems designed to boost the chances of the TAFF candidate you support by putting the boot into his opponent.
Why, by the way, do you assume the cover (of EPSILON 15) "...depicts militant feminism in kinky, over-kill glory"? So far as I'm concerned it was just a picture of a female revolutionary (women are involved in various revolutionary movements across the world, y'know Dick). This, I think, says rather more about your attitude towards Feminism than it does mine.
After quoting various favourable comments I've made about D.West's writing you say: "Alright, Rob, who are you going to vote for?", and I note that you also finish your zine with similarly favourable comments about D. by Dan Steffan, who's gone on record as supporting me. This is bizarre. Clearly you see some sort of contradiction here but I can't for the life of me see why. Am I supposed to stop saying anything positive about D.'s work now that I'm in competition with him for TAFF? If so, fuck that. I've always been a great admirer of West's writing and would be the first to admit that he's a better writer than I am, but it doesn't necessarily follow from this that I would vote for him if I weren't standing against him. I mean, unless American fans communicate with each other at conventions, and in other social situations, by writing witty articles and letters to each other I'd choose the candidate I thought would function best in those social gatherings and would be a good ambassador for British fandom. I realise this, may well be incomprehensible to someone such as yourself who conducts all his fanac on paper and who "...bemusedly reflects back fandom's image as it reaches him from the beguiling perspectives of Puerto Rico", but then that's your problem. Not that it can matter such to you, since you're never going to meet D. or me anyway, but what do you imagine we're like as people? Are we fast-talking, slow-talking, witty, inarticulate, polite, rude, or what? Are either of us likely to be scintillating raconteurs? As I say, none of these things can possibly matter to you but I'd like to see you make the attempt at describing us, if only for the great amusement it should provoke on this side of the Atlantic.
Hell, there's so much in this issue targeted against me that this letter could easily assume the proportions of WIZ itself, so I think I'll just tackle you on one more thing and then call it a day. I'm tempted to pick up on that bit on the back page about me stealing D.'s ideas, but I think I'll look instead at something in the last but one paragraph on the first page because while the rest of the issue is for the most part fair, or at least acceptable, comment this comes closest to being openly malicious:
'Rob turns to my comments and finds "an indication that at least one American sees the whole affair somewhat differently" which is a bit insular coming from British fandom's most famous internationalist. But it fits in with his chauvinistic pitch to the Welsh in his TAFF platform ...this has as much to do with the merits of the candidates as my being an American does to the relevance of my opinions.'
In other cards, the TAFF candidate is xenophobic.
I was much amused by your claim that my use of that ancient gag about TAFF and the Welsh (the River Taff runs through the Welsh capitol and Welshmen are sometimes called 'Taffy') was a "chauvinistic pitch to the Welsh". If I had to rely on the small number of Welsh people involved in fanzine fandom I'd really be in trouble. If you want to boost your boy's chances you're gonna have to try much harder.
The TAFF ballot with my "chauvinistic pitch to the Welsh" can be viewed here.
4th March 1984 - letter to D West
I'm afraid I may well have to "face the prospect of twenty years of Ashley jeers if you fail to publish this oh-so-rare communication before the election is over...", because due to my MEXICON commitments (and some problems with my duper) it's very unlikely the next EPSILON will be out before MEXICON itself. There's a gap between the time I have to have the programme book ready for the printer and the convention itself when, theoretically, there will be time to put an issue together.
Yeah, politics certainly are fun, and I wasn't too happy about that piece in MICROWAVE either. I saw Terry Hill at the March One Tun and told him that I thought his editorial was ill-advised. (Ever the baby-kisser during election time, I tempered my words). Linda Pickersgill was rather more fulsome in her response and informed me that she was "outraged" by the editorial and would be ripping that page out and sending it back to Hill. Since Linda is one of my supporters I had to calm her down and assure her that I had nothing to do with it. I suspect that Hill's editorial may well harm me more than it does you.
Still, while I may have Terry Hill on my side you've got Richard Bergeron on yours. For which you have my deepest sympathies.
I'll almost certainly be using your letter in the next EPSILON, by the way, and I'm only sorry that it may not see print for quite a while.
6th March 1984 - letter to Avedon Carol
I had originally intended to compose this letter to you this past weekend, but on Saturday morning the latest WIZ arrived and I was stung into a response. I assume you're on the WIZ mailing list so I've enclosed a copy of that letter since I think you might find it interesting. I dislike replying to personal attacks of this sort by letter rather than in EPSILON since it gives the person receiving it and printing it in his loccol a tactical advantage, but there you go.
After writing my last letter to you I remembered that, far from having a single room at MEXICON, I was sharing with Harry Bell so the very day your letter arrived I got on the phone and put the problem to him.
"After all", I said, "while your flesh may well be pink and chewy Ms. Carol has charms you can't hope to compete with."
He conceded this with good grace and revealed that he was perfectly happy with the way things had worked out since he now wanted to share a room with (redacted) anyway. Since he was seeing her at the weekly meeting of the Gannets the next evening Harry was able to arrange all this with Sue Williams and after the meeting he phoned me (getting me out of bed since it was a quarter after midnight and I'd retired early) to let me know. So we're now sharing a room.
Two days after this it was One Tun night and I got quite a few surprises in that hot and sticky press of - for the most part - unattractive bodies. A disturbing number of people asked after you and I almost fell over when Martin Tudor, who was using the urinal next to mine at the time, leaned over and said: "I hear you're sharing a room with Avedon at MEXICON." Jesus Christ! How someone from Birmingham learned this I can't imagine but since Harry would have been talking to Sue with the other Gannets present, and would have mentioned it to (redacted) when phoning her about their own arrangements, it's easy to see the means by which it began spreading down the unnervingly efficient fannish grapevine. Still, this example of the grapevine at work pales into insignificance next to the case of Linda Pickersgill. Less than 48 hours after deciding to stay in the UK and marry Greg she received a phone call from a drunken Rich Coad in San Francisco demanding to know if it was true. I still would've liked to keep this secret, though, since I like to maintain at least some degree of privacy.
With regard to this visit of yours, given that MEXICON starts on a Friday, and you're probably going to need a day or so to recover from the flight and acclimatise yourself, the most sensible thing for you to do is fly in on the Wednesday. Gatwick is, as you guessed, out in the boondocks but there's a frequent train service to Victoria (where you can pick up the tube, of course) so it's not too bad, and anyway I intend to be there to meet you (probably won't be the only one either). Since you're the one with experience in these matters you'll know what you need to do next but I assume you need to sleep when you first get in so you might think it best to stay with the Langfords first rather than me.
I'm a bit uncertain about my holiday situation a the moment but I'll try to fit in with your and Lucy's plans. Thing is, see, knowing that I'd need a lot of holidays this year if you can over and I won TAFF I've deliberately held some of last year's holiday entitlement in reserve, and so long as I take them by mid-June at the latest I should be OK. I figure it'll come to about eight days and obviously I'd like to take them when you're in London. Actually, I kinda like the idea of showing you and Lucy the delights of this city, and that can take a few days, You can do most of the obvious touristy bits in a day and then spend another doing the (to my mind) more interesting bits. Camden Lock, for instance, is a fascinating place to mooch around in of a Saturday afternoon I don't know what your itinerary is (will you, for example, be staying a day or two in Newcastle after the con, given that you'll be up there anyway?) but I assume you'll want to stay with me while in London, and Lucy's welcome to as well if she wants to. I have a fold-out bed and bedding which I set up in the lounge for visitors.
20th March 1984 - letter to Avedon Carol
Ah the pleasure of living in the British capital! Although it's only March we're already knee-deep in American tourists, who're always recognisable, whether they speak or not, by their healthy complexions, perfect teeth, and sensible shoes. Looks like we can expect a bumper crop this summer. Then there are the celebrities, two of which I've chanced across in the past week. The first was media-person Jimmy Saville OBE (who you've doubtless never heard of) being filmed against the majestic backdrop of the Houses of Parliament while jogging over Westminster Bridge, and the other was Princess Diana (who you surely have heard of) who was leaving the building opposite the one I work in at the time and was surrounded by a crowd of ecstatic office workers. Funny how small she is close up, and how thin.
You seem to have read more into parts of my last letter than was there. I'm fully aware that it's widely known that something happened between us last Easter and am not particularly perturbed by this. No, what prompted me to make that comment last time about liking to maintain "...at least some degree of privacy..." was the sheer speed with which the specific news that we're sharing a room at MEXICON got around. I mean, I knew it would get out but I expected it to do so gradually and it was the fact that everyone and his granny seemed to know about it within 48 hrs of me making the arrangements that I was put out about.
Speaking of rooms we have, I am assured, got a room with a double bed. Greg was trying to con me into believing we had two single beds and also suggested that we ought to give Colin Greenland, one of our speakers, crash space one night.
"He could sleep on the floor between you", he said. I politely declined.
As I think I mentioned last time, knowing how many days I'd need off this year (on the assumption I win TAFF) I deliberately held back last year so I'd have a few days to carry over into this one. In actual fact I managed eight and since I had to nominate them now I out in for Thursday 24th May through Tuesday 5th June. As you're still not entirely sure just when you'll be flying in I figure I'll take a day off from this year's entitlement to meet you at Gatwick when you know. Unless of course you decide to come the weekend previous in which case it probably would be easier to meet up with me in London on the Wednesday, as you suggest.
Speaking of the Langfords, you say they'll be going up to Newcastle early to stay with Akien. Myself, I'm thinking of travelling up fairly early on the Friday evening in order to be there when the con officially opens early that afternoon. In Leroy's 'Nerds of November', in the last EPSILON, you'll have seen a reference to 'Persil tickets', a truly wonderful innovation which allows two people to travel for the cost of one. If we travel up together we'll be able to make use of one and, since a return ticket is in excess of £30, make a large saving. I don't know what Lucy's plans are, whether you'll be staying together or splitting up, but it should be easy to get another Persil ticket and someone like, maybe, John Jarrold to share the fare-split. Hmmn. Lots of organising to be done her so as soon as you know what you'll be doing let me know.
26th March 1984 - letter to Ted White
It always happens. Since everybody hereabouts got their copy of EGOSCAN 3 almost a month ago now it seemed reasonable to assume that my copy had vanished into some sort of postal black hole and to ask you for another. Two days before the replacement (along with issue 4) arrived the original copy turned up, a bit knocked-about but intact. Ho hum. Even by sea-mail standards a transit time in excess of two months is, well, excessive. I wonder if the fault by with the US Mail Service or our own dearly beloved GPO? I suspect the latter.
I much appreciate the kind words on my TAFF candidacy in issues 3 & 4, though I think the one Briton the term "well-rounded fan" best applies to is Harry Bell (who would doubtless hit me were he to read this). While on the subject of TAFF I've enclosed a copy of my LoC on WIZ 9 which, given some of what you said, you may find interesting. It was written the day I received WIZ and I now wish I hadn't written it at all since it's only going to generate another long piece. In these situations the best response is to ignore such things and let others answer for you, and I'm really annoyed that I allowed myself to be goaded into an instant reply. Must show more strength of character and be more cool next time, I suppose.
I was around John Jarrold's yesterday, running off the third MEXICON PR. Ordinarily I'd've done this on my own machine but I'm having problems with it at the moment, so the PR ended up being run off in the cupboard Jarrold laughingly refers to as his bedroom. Although it's a fair haul to West Wickham from East Ham on public transport I didn't each mind since I got the chance to sink a few jars with John at his local and also acquired a copy of the CORFLU Programme Book, one of about a half-dozen or so that Lucy sent over. Given that I'm currently involved in the first of what we hope will be a series of MEXICONs (and am using this letter as an excuse to take a such needed rest from all the research I'm having to do for the 'Short History of British Fandom' article for the Programme Book - which I'm also editing) it was interesting to get a glimpse of what will be the first in a series of CORFLUs. Lucy seems to think that MEXICON is going to be a sort of British CORFLU, but from the CORFLU programme there appears to be little similarity between them. MEXICON is actually aiming to be what Eastercons were back like before the influx of mediafans, or rather an idealised version thereof. We have no special guests of honour but (as the enclosed xerox of the unretouched masters for PR3 shows), and as our emphasis on Hoban and Gray indicates, we're trying to focus on the more literary end of the SF field rather than on the best-sellers the largely uncritical mass of congoers these days seem to consider science fiction at its best. Be interesting to see how it pans out.
Finally, keep an eye out for a copy of SOME DAYS YOU EAT THE BEAR..., a fanzine by Anne Warren, one of the crop of new fanwriters to have come up through THE WOMEN'S PERIODICAL, and the best to be published over here in quite a while. I'm not sure how many copies will be sent Stateside, but some will. What makes it so good is an article by Anne called BEING DIFFERENT which begins...
"This piece contains the following assertions: elitism is central to the core of fandom; SHALLOW END will never produce a true fan; SF is symptomatic of fandom and is not at its root; duplicated fanzines are intrinsically more acceptable than lithoed ones; D.West is a symbol; fans have no small-talk; conventions are like toilets."
It then proceeds to tie all these into a very entertaining, and convincing, article. Great stuff!