Cutler in Docklands Horror
Abi Frost

It is a truth universally acknowledged that fanzines are sometimes a bit late. Nonetheless, for a pair of editors to go from producing an ish in less than a fortnight from conception to delivery, and then to produce nothing at all for nine pregnant months has to be something of a record. Could it be that all the time Lennon was directing us with psychic rays?

I do not know. But I think we should be told.

(Well, you've got to tell them something....)

My story (RJK can think of her own -- I'm sick of covering up for her), and I'm sticking to it like superglue in a betting shop keyhole, goes like this:

Shortly after the last copies of NeRB 4 to make it out into the world made it out thereinto, I was subjected to physical torture by Sir Horace Cutler. Let me tell you a story about Sir Horace Cutler. (This is swiped from the Grauniad Dairy, aksherly, but as you lot can't make it past page 6 of the Star, I should be safe.) Quite near where I now live is a feat of Victorian engineering called the Rotherhithe Tunnel. The GLC owns it; Sir HC used to own the GLC (now passed via the democratic process to a well-known sf reader). Anyway, in a filthy Tory plot to win votes, the GLC decided to modernise it. The editor of Tunnel Gazette (or something), the paper for tunnel fanciers, was of course keen to devote at the very least a picture spread to this event, and wrote to the GLC for pictures. Using the fannish jargon of his field he requested pictures which 'clearly show the recent improvements in the old bore'. The GLC obliged with a few nice 10x8s of Sir Horace....

Hilarious eh? But I can't fool you, I know, into believing that this is really a hard hitting denunciation of the GLC's Press Office. What the old bore did to me was offer me a nice unfurnished flat of my own.

There was, needless to say, he being a Tory and a bureaucrat to boot, a catch. I had to queue for it. I started queueing at a bit before midnight with Roz for company (and gosh, did our conversation annoy the other queuers) and reached the front about two in the afternoon, There were 350 hard-to-let flats on offer, and I was something like no 345. (Naturally enough, the thousand or so others behind me were not informed as to their chances until 8 the next morning) This was January, and two nights before it had been snowing. But Roz went home and got cushions duvets and setup and we survived quite well.

The queue was really strange. At the very head were a mixture of obvious professional queuers (their folding beds plastered with 'We have seen the lions of Debenhams' stickers) and total loonies. There was a strong smell of dope up that end, but nobody offered me any; in a queuer's queue you don't count if your position is into three figures. Further down were ghastly couples who would take one look at the neighbours when their offer came up and have a heart attack (stop them voting Tory next time); vast bunches of punks determined to take over whole estates and turn them into anarchist Utopiae; Black Youth with huge portable cassette players (where do they get then from? I've never seen one in the shops.)

At nine or so Roz went about her numerous charge among the lilies bright (or whatever passes for them in Hackney) and shortly afterwards GLC persons came and told us to start walking. (Can't a girl on the street have a lie-in these days then?) Of course, we had to walk rather slowly, as the queue could only move on at the rate the people in front were interviewed.

If you don't think that counts as torture then you are wrong. By eleven I was only kept upright by the bodies of the people around me. By noon I had ceased to believe in any reality beyond the gradual shuffle forward. By halfpast one I could no longer remember why I was there and whether I had thought it was worth it.

The worst came when we got to the front, and nearly had the whole effort rendered useless. During the night numbered tickets had been given out (not by the GLC, who couldn't care less, but by a queuer with experience in community work). However, no doubt prompted by fear of lynching, the GLCpersons were using the numbers. Every so often, a group would be let into the concentration camp that serves for a housing office, and interviewed in number order. Those of us at the sharp end suddenly realised that people behind us had snuck in without our noticing. We made a rush past the heavy at the gate, and heard within the Nissen hut irritated voices calling our numbers for what was obviously the nth time. The hut was full of pushers-in who were not being called.

Well, anyone will admit that that lot should have done for me till Easter, but in fact just before Easter I was offered a flat. Yorcon was slightly ruined for me by guilt about not being at home packing. There followed about three weeks of frantic hurling of things into boxes, and phoning kind friends with cars and buying them Chinese meals in the little bit of couleur locale on the East India Dock Road.

This, you will quite understand, took care of all my spare time until early June. At which time one of my cats did the high window number from my new 4th floor balcony.

Scholars have disputed whether this was an attempt at flight, the effect of momentarily forgetting where he was, or the negative social results of modern architecture. (He survived, whatever it was.) The fact remains that I was very upset and could not do anything but quiver for a few weeks. Except of course to have a party to celebrate an even more upsetting phenomenon -- my 30th birthday

The main effect of this was that I had to put all the things I had taken out of boxes hastily back into them, to make room for my guests, not all of whom are accustomed to doing their drinking waistdeep in stencils and bits of paper. In this process at least one exquisitely crafted effervescently brilliant bit of writing -- stencilled, yet -- intended for this NeRB disappeared for ever. You should worry.

After the party I had of course to lie back on a silken couch for a bit to recover my strength. In the course of so doing I became aware of the irritating failure of the management to provide anyone to peel my grapes and pinken my gins. The bank balance also was not wholly satisfactory. So I devoted my energies to finding a flatmate.

There is as we know a terrible housing crisis in London. A person with an unfurnished room to let should be in a position to demand enormous rents, large sums of money towards carpeting the sitting room, and the bodily favours of any fanciable men who turn up. In fact, though, the only one of London's billions of homeless that I am acquainted with is Randall (Take me home -- I'm a strange-looking parasite) Flynn, so it became a matter of urgency to quit fantasising and advertise the room before he came round and installed himself. A few weeks later I wrote an ad, and some time after that placed it in the New Statesman, which my media department thought had the right readership profile.

It is in a way gratifying to have one of one's prejudices ('nobody reads the Staggers since that dreadful man took over') so thumpingly confirmed. However, it did not help the NeRB schedule one bit that I had to spend hours cancelling engagements in order to sit by the phone (which rang all of three times). In the end I offered the place to Rod, an architectural student. Rod loved the place; he wanted to live in an area of urban renewal, he wanted to have experience of living in the sort of place he might end up designing ... he loved it even more when I rented a shed from the Council for his motorbike. He couldn't move in at once, though, in spite of having paid a month's rent; first he had earache, then he went on holiday. When he got back he rang to say he'd had a better offer....

Back to the drawing board. On Wednesday I interview a mural painter. I don't want to share with a mural painter. I could have the spare room for a study.... Damn and blast.

(Incidentally, if any of London's homeless read this, the one absolute condition of letting is that the person should swear never to go away at Easter or the first weekend of November. Cats gotta eat....)

There is of course a moral in all this. If you want to see NeRB 6 before you draw your old age pension, there is something you can do ... (apart from loccing, of course)


vote SDP if you must

vote Bill Boaks

vote Independent Ratepayers for Animal Liberation

vote Cornish bloody Nationalist....

but for god's sake don't vote Conservative ... it's all Sir Horace Cutler's fault....

Nostalgia Corner: I was glad to see that Screaming Lord Sutch is still alive and well but even gladder to see that he has a sound attitude to Funny Foreign Money. Interviewed by the Standard about a robbery at the flat he lives in with his French lady, he said; 'They took about 3000 francs belonging to Giselle, and about £36 cash...'

Farewell to the New River. The New River, completed in 1613, brought fresh drinking water down to London from Hertfordshire, passing near my old house in Finsbury Park, and giving this fanzine its name. I shall miss its pumping station in Green Lanes, described by Pevsner as 'an amazing folly ... the degree of variety of motifs and outline is beyond belief. Still, my new view of the Poplar Dock, which occasionally has a ship in it, is some compensation; and I could see Greenwich Palace, if it wasn't for.........

New River Blues 5 (1981)