Per Ardua ad Fanac
In the distant days of 1958, keeping one's duplicator in Perfect Mechanical Order was vital to the Big Name Fan. John Berry, one of the BNF-est, describes some of the tribulations of that task in this piece from Polarity, edited by F. M. and Elinor Busby.
I’m given to understand that my first lecture in this factual series, The Gentle Art of Slip-Sheeting, proved of considerable interest to one well-known fan (who then gafiated), and to a practising psychiatrist who has since confessed that upon reading my learned thesis he saw a loophole in Freud’s theories and decided to spend the rest of his born natural trying to find a category for the author.
Before continuing with my lecture, I must consolidate the slip-sheeting angle by bringing you up to date with my latest discovery in that particular field. Well, when I say my discovery, I am perchance slanting the egoboo from that well-known fan, Vince Clarke, who had the occasion to visit my house “Mon Debris” recently. As he was mentioned in the slip-sheeting article, I felt it only right to show him that his preliminary work hadn’t been in vain. He read the article, and then put POLARITY down. . . rather slowly, I thought. He looked at me over his beard, and his eyes for a brief moment held and retained a look of complete incredulity.
Then he staggered back.
“My deah fellah,” he drawled in his educated London accent, “pardon me for being so blunt, but the answer to your problem, on which you spent some considerable space which Busby could have utilised to much better advantage, can be summed up in three words.”
“Oh?” I said, anxious to learn, but at the same time desirous of maintaining my status as an intellectual, “and what are the three words?”
“USE ABSORBENT PAPER,” he screamed.
I led him to the sitting room, and Joy nodded knowingly, and dropped two tablets into a glass of water and forced him to drink it. I left them there, Joy maternally patting his head, and Vince crooning strangely to himself.
He came back into my den later, however, and what he demonstrated to me is the basis of this second lecture:
HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR DUPLICATOR IN P.M.O.
I untied the string and pulled the rusted metal cover off my Gestetner. Vince looked at it searchingly, his eyebrows raised like a portcullis.
“It does look pretty good, “ he vouchsafed.
I looked modestly at the knothole-decorated floor boards.
“Do you mind if I examine it?” he said, and I nodded, pleased that this BNF had condescended to show an interest in me and mine.
He reached a hand into the inner recess of the machine, virgin territory as far as I was concerned, and tenderly pressed here and there, like a prenatal specialist.
“Everything is in order,” he observed in rather a surprised tone, and tried to pull his hand out. Sweat broke out on his temples, and his face, what I could see of it above the thatch, turned red, then blue.
“Hand stuck?” I suggested.
His reply, a single word, showed he had read and thoroughly digested MANA 2.
Wishing to assist this great and kindly fan, I gave the crank a sharp forward movement.
Vince executed a superb double flip and finished up on his ands and knees begging for mercy.
“The other way, if you please, “ he grated between sobs.
Joy rushed in and applied a tourniquet, and Vince was obviously in the throes of severe mental strain. It seemed to me, and I’m only guessing, that he didn’t know whether to aim a savage blow with his other hand at the Gestetner or at me. Sanity prevailed, however, and he aimed the fist at me.
I calmed him down, told him he was doing a good job, and, to boost his ego somewhat, asked his advice about the roller feed. I explained that sometimes a bunch of papers was pulled through, instead of a single sheet.
His eyes gleamed momentarily, and with a supreme mental effort he regained his composure.
Saying something like “the snaffle flange actuating the dinkum pin which controls the feed roller has become attached” he very professionally pressed down a lever and withdrew the roller. He surveyed his inky hand. . . inky arm. . . inky shirt. . . inky, matted beard.
“Duplicating ink shouldn’t be on this roller,” he thundered.
“Ah,” I said sagely, backing towards the door. “I often wondered about that.” The roller missed me, however, and Joy rushed in again and murmured encouragingly to Vince. “It’s his house,” I heard her say, “and we’re guests, you must remember.”
Vince failed to see the logic of this, as was demonstrated by his savage leap in my direction.
“Upstairs, first on the right,” I hinted, trying to pass the incident off as best I could.
“Humour him,” Joy hissed to me, and I caught on immediately.
“I deeply appreciate your valuable assistance, Vincent,” I observed from behind the solid oak hall stand, “and I am certain that my Gestetner is now in P.M.O. But might I suggest one final examination? The numbering system doesn’t function, and I have to count every sheet, and when I get past 60 or 70 I usually. . . .”
Vince, under the influence of a hastily applied sedative, was almost his normal self again, except for the twitch on the left side of his face.
He looked down at the numbering device and actually smiled. He produced a screwdriver, and worked away like a Swiss Watchmaker. Soon, the table was covered with springs and dials with numbers on them. Vince began to hum, and finally burst into song, the lyrics of which suggested he’d learned it at the Globe.
Seven hours passed, and he called me in again.
“Work the crank,” he said.
“Really?” I breathed.
“Work the crank and watch the numbers move,” he said proudly.
I gripped the crank and eased it . . . it moved slowly . . . I eased again . . . gently . . . slowly . . . it moved too slowly . . . I exerted my maximum strength and so s-l-o-w-l-y . . . BANG.
I stood there, with the detached crank in my hand, and watched fascinated as little dials with numbers on them whizzed round the room like miniature flying saucers.
Joy, in the ready position, rammed a benzedrine inhaler up Vince’s nostrils and twisted.
“Hot coffee,” she ordered. “Quickly.”
* * * *
Later, Vince was philosophical about the whole thing. He sportingly agreed to accept one of the little dials and promised to wear it on his lapel. I wear one too; it’s nice to think I belong to a select group of fen who have reached the ultimate in frustration and still remain sane.
And the final solution is my own. My very own discovery - an infallible numbering device. . . Joey, my budgerigar. His effective counting as the sheets slip through one by one is spoiled only by the frequent repetition of the Mana word. I must hide him away the next time Vince comes to “Mon Debris”.