Scraps from the Table
Abi Frost

Get paid for? Humph. The two jobs I had lined up for the Christmas holidays both fell through. This -- the loss of just under £360's worth of work -- is something of a major disaster for me, so don't expect coherence. I am taking time off from doing endless cash-flows, which all seem to end in bankruptcy, to do this. I did manage to get a couple of things to do for money, but those would have arrived in any case; all they meant was that after paying my course fees, I'm just solvent, instead of having a healthy surplus for next term. So I spend long hours with my new (Christmas present) pocket calculator, as if it could suddenly magic money out of nowhere.

Can any computer freak among you explain how you use the memory on a calculator? I can't seem to make it do anything worthy of the name.

Novacon happened; Christmas and New Year happened; I signed on the dole for the holidays but they haven't sent me a giro yet. It's curious how hard it is, for somebody in my position, to get hold of information about such things: whether one is entitled to the dole, to social security, both or neither. Official pamphlets etc, where they refer to students at all, assume we're all 18-year-olds who have never paid any contributions and are receiving grants; faced with somebody who's been working for ten years and has no grant, the system collapses. Asking friends resulted in three, totally contradictory, and all apparently highly authoritative sets of answers. The various Welfare State systems have, obviously, become the subject matter of a 20th-century myth.

More like a 20th-century epic are my struggles with the GLC Rent Rebate department. Don't ever make the mistake that I did, and tell them you are planning to live on a combination of savings and freelance earnings totalling so much a week. What this means is that they count both in-payments and withdrawals from my bank account (I have to keep sending them my bank statements whenever they whimper for more information) as income; so even what little savings I have left I daren't spend, because it only needs one large bill to come in and they say I'm earning too much that week. They have given me a rebate -- the huge sum of 62p a week, which was then reduced to 40p under the new regulations. Judging by what other people I know get, it should be more like £10. By my calculations they owe me about £170 already.


This is all, no doubt, rather boring for you, but it's almost all I ever think about these days. The whole thing is a carefully calculated trap, in my view. Once you get sucked into it, all your brain power is absorbed by trying to work out what the hell is going on, and balancing one part of the system against the others; so you have no capacity left for art, revolution, or playing dominoes. Determined frivolity is the only counter-measure.

One thing that some people certainly regarded as frivolous was my use of the LCP's composing room to set and print the cover (assuming Linda wants to use it) of this issue. Using even a proofing press to print 30 copies of something is certainly a sort of mis-use of technology. However, it couldn't have been done any other way, and I did enjoy doing it, although towards the end it became rather a nightmare.

It was entirely set by hand, using a composing stick. If I were doing it again I would set the small line's on a Linotype -- but when I started I hadn't used the Linotype yet. Even setting the main names was something of a problem. Small, book-size types are cast in the college, on the Monotype casters, so there is an infinite supply of them. The large display faces, however, are founder's type, bought in from specialist firms that cast them. It takes almost as long to distribute the type (put it all back in the cases) as it does to set it all, for a job of any size, so wicked people sometimes throw the display types into the bins for recycling along with the Monotype. Add to this the fact that type sometimes breaks (see the serif on the W in 'Edwards'), and that spending cuts, and the fact that there are no full time courses in hand composition any more, prevent them being replaced, and you have the situation I was in more than once or twice -- having set a name, then having to put all the type back and start again because I was one letter short. This is why Pam Wells gets Fry's Ornamented; she was the only person whose name could be spelt in it.

Once all the names were set, I had to set the small lines, and then fit the whole thing together with leads of various thicknesses and metal spacing, material called 'furniture'. In theory, once you've done this, and locked the whole thing into a chase (a metal frame) you should be able to lift it all up without anything dropping out. Needless to say, I couldn't. The number of different sizes and so forth used required much more accurate use of the spacing material that I, mere apprentice, could manage. But we were able to slide it all on to a tray and then on to a press; tho run was so short that the type being a bit loose didn't really matter.

(When I say we, I mean me, of course, and my course tutor, Alan; sometimes helped by the composing room technicians, Ken and Paul. Although they won't be reading this, they deserve thanks.)

You have to do something like this to realise, first the incredible skill that went into letterpress printing (the 'old technology'), in what seems like minor details, such as the spacing of individual letters in headlines; secondly, how liberating the 'new technology' -- filmsetting -- is. A job, such as a book, that would have required moving about several hundredweight of metal now involves a few ounces of film. On the other hand, a lot of the cheaper typesetting now used in textbooks and cheap informational material often looks terrible. The old jobbing printers were hardly the greatest designers the world has ever known, but they never produced anything so ugly as some of the printed matter one sees today, originated 'in-house' by people with no visual sensitivity whatsoever.

When we get into material originated on typewriters (such as fanzines) the situation is worse. My particular loathing is for word-processor typefaces; they are rarely legible, never mind beautiful. (You can design beautiful typefaces for typewriters; IBM's Courier family is an example.) Yet the people who use them seem to regard them as 'better' than conventional typewriter faces simply because one can justify the margins on them. Yes, but at what cost?

It is perfectly possible to make an attractive-looking page on a conventional" typewriter; Pat Charnock is somebody in this apa who manages it all the time.


Usual tedious problem with mailing comments. The piece that interested me most last time was [Deleted]'s; much more the sort of thing I'd like to see. This doesn't mean I agree with her comments about Italian martyrological paintings in general, though.

I think where she goes wrong is in the sub-Berger assumption that the viewer (is that the right word?) is 'meant' to identify with the torturers of the saints. But in Christian mythology the torturers are not merely the baddies, but the losers. I think that contemplation of the intense sufferings of the saints was meant to bring people into a frame of mind where they felt an intense emotional bond with the saints and god (atheistic habit brought on that lower case g, and I don't feel like changing it); mirroring in its intensity the intensity of their pain. (You have, like me, to be something of a masochist to understand this.)

[Deleted] describes the unpleasantness of walking through endless rooms full of depictions of torture. She forgets that the painting weren't commissioned to be put in the Brera, though. Nearly all would have been bought for churches, or for guild buildings like the Sculla de San Rocco in Venice. Guilds often chose as a patron saint someone whose martyrdom involved something seen as relevant to the trade of the guild; this is one of the reasons why saints are often shown carrying the instruments of their martyrdom. I'm having some difficulty thinking of an example; I believe St Lawrence (gridiron) may have been the patron of cooks.

One thing that would have been helpful in this piece is more specific reference to individual artists and paintings; although, obviously, I can't rush off to Milan to check the references, I can look things up in books. It's rather worrying so glibly disagreeing with somebody when you haven't seen the subject of the article,


Even more tedious apa business. I'm very strongly against extending the time between mailings, I think if two months becomes the norm (the Christmas break was fair enough) then all the impetus will go out of such discussion as we manage to got going. [Deleted]'s article was an excellent example of something which is worth discussing; when I first read it, I drafted much longer notes, but after a long break the fire's gone out. (This has probably saved you all a very boring few minutes, but you know what I mean.) I really do think that the argument 'six weeks isn't long enough to read, and comment on one mailing, and then to write a contribution for the next' is soft in the extreme; it takes me about an hour to read a mailing, and I'm by no means a speed reader. As to the time it takes to write comments and other stuff; honestly, if you can't get something together in six weeks then I don't see how an extra two would help. Two pages is all that's required, after all.

The argument that the present interval puts too much strain on the Administrator is more valid. Linda puts in an awful lot of work on behalf of us all. I don't know, for example, how much time she spends photocopying for those who don't have access to machines. The very fact that she has consistently produced more material than anyone else rather gives the lie to those who say they can't write two pages in six weeks, doesn't it? She manages much more and does all the admin as well.

We could get over the problem by helping more. While I suspect that mass collating sessions at Linda's house would be as much trouble for her as doing it herself, perhaps somebody could take over the collating once in a while? The other way we could all help is by getting out out material earlier (do I hear a snort from the West?).

The other problem is recruitment. I think that we shouldn't at this stage restrict entry, other than the obvious 'women in British fandom' restriction that exists already. However, getting in touch with potential members is more work for the Administrator, Perhaps someone else could take over this task altogether, as it's quite separate from the mailings?

Get on with it, you idle ratbags.


No little pink blobs this time; not by public demand, but because the schedule doesn't allow time to apply them. I still have lots left, so be warned.

Does anyone know the mystic secret of hand-cut artwork? All my experiments in this direction have been more or less failures. I know the basic theory of line work -- sharp point and hard surface; but various attempts with an etching needle and a bit of glass haven't come off. For tones one needs textured boards of some kind -- are these still available, and if so, where? I tried using a soft pencil and sandpaper for two headings last time; one was better than the other, but since they were intended mainly as guidelines for crayons the results were acceptable. But they would not have been for letters that were to stand alone, or for illustrations.

It does seem to me sad that techniques like these get lost. Sure, you can use electrostencils, but hand cut artwork was a medium in its own right, imposing certain constraints on the artist which a good artist can exploit creatively. It's all related to my gripe about word-processors used as typewriters above. Each medium has its own advantages and restrictions, and it's not merely silly but counter-productive to keep 'trading up' and trying to ape characteristics of the one 'above' in the hierarchy.

Appropriateness is all. For much the same reason I've never gone along with the prejudice against litho'd fanzines; the small offset press is the reprographic method of today, and there is no reason not to use it. However, very few litho'd zines (I'd better add, in Britain) are produced with any design sense. The expense, long runs, and layout methods involved in lithography seem to me to demand much higher visual standards. The two exceptions I can think of are Crystal Ship (whose text I have little time for, but it always looks superb) and Drilkjis (whose text and appearance are both first-class).

One of the problems is the use of illustrations at A4 scale (not size) on A5 pages, often with reduced type; this results in a crammed appearance, and in a disturbing lack of proportion. Another is either the lack of, or the inept use of, white space: margins, space round pictures, at the ends of articles, and so forth. All these difficulties can be overcome by just looking before you print.


A very sombre offering this time; for reasons which some of you may know, I'm in a sombre mood. In six weeks (note that, six weeks) I shall be my usual cheery/obnoxious self again.

So see you in six weeks. SIX WEEKS, alright?

This cloud of gloom and drivel comes to you from Abigail Frost, 69 Robin Hood Gardens, Cotton Street, E14. Polluted by Rob Hansen, who puts up with a lot; cover polluted by Alan, Ken, and Paul of LCP to whom repeated thanks.

If my gamble on Maureen Potter/Porter's name was a loser, apologies. Typesizes and order of billing on the cover do not reflect my personal estimation of apa members. To get my personal estimation of you, send £5 minimum to the address above; your status will depend on how much you send.

The Women's Periodical 4 (January 1983)
Cover for this mailing by Abigail