In a recent letter, John D. Berry wrote that he was depending on me to supply the connection to fandom for this issue of Wing Window. John's actual choice of words was something about 'topical fannish tie-ins,' whatever the hell they are. His message was clear: he wanted me to provide the fannish touchstone for the issue. Me! When something like this takes place, it just confirms my belief that these are damned strange times in which we live.
Instead of an account of my personal relationship with Santa Claus or my theory about the invention of the enema, I'm supposed to write something that relates to fandom. This has not been Mr. Berry's wisest exercise of editorial judgment. What do I know about fandom these days?
Oh sure, I did go to the worldcon in Baltimore last year, but that hardly makes me an active fan again. I mean at the convention I went to a program item on the care and feeding of neofans because a couple of my friends were on the panel, and that alone should disqualify me. At one point it was asked if there were any neofans in the audience or whether the only ones present were on the panel. Scattered hands were raised in the small crowd. Then it was asked if there were any BNFs present, and the bulk of the audience raised their arms (or legs as the case may be). Taking the matter to the other extreme, someone asked if there were any gafiates out there. Several people turned to look at me, so I proudly held my hand up in the air.
Just because I was voted Most Gafiated Fan at the worldcon, however, that doesn't mean there aren't people in the world who are more out of touch than even I am. Take Peter Roberts in Britain, for instance. He started slipping away back when I still regarded my mimeograph as a useful machine instead of an oversize paperweight. The first sign of his impending gafiation came in EGG #11, where he ran the first two parts of his account of his 1977 TAFF trip (dangerous things, those TAFF reports). Not coincidentally that was the last EGG he published, and that was done in May 1979. Next Peter began distributing chapters of his TAFF report to various fanzines so that he'd have a ready excuse whenever anyone asked why he wasn't doing any fanac: 'It's not my fault. Go ask Fan X why he (or she) hasn't published the next section of my TAFF report. Bloody hell.' Only a fan sinking into serious gafiation would use that old ruse of printing chunks of his TAFF report in other people's fanzines. Shortly thereafter Peter began bad-mouthing Her Majesty's Postal Service for failing to safely deliver his next TAFF chapter to his next fanzine editor -- but that didn't fool anyone outside of his immediate family and the BSFA. After that, things deteriorated rapidly until today he spends more money on photography equipment than on stencils and postage. Why Peter's so far gone that he wrote to me asking what was going on in fandom these days.
First Peter Roberts and now John Berry -- something is going on here. Now I'm used to Jeff Schalles asking, 'What's new in fandom, Terry?' because he knows I'll offer to buy him a drink to shut him up. As for Peter and John, well, I just don't know. Maybe it's a side effect of all those drugs they used to, ah, read about.
In any case, if John thinks he can coerce me into mentioning fandom in my column, then he doesn't know me very well. Even gafiates have ethical standards.
An Excerpt from Chapter Nine of the Terry Hughes TAFF Report
(coming soon to a mailbox near you)
I can't look at a roll of toilet paper without thinking of Harry Bell. This is not a common reaction, I grant you. The name Harry Bell makes most people think of one of the most talented cartoonists in fandom. Some will think of him as the editor of such fanzines as The Grimling Bosch, Tocsin/Kamikaze, and, more recently, Out of the Blue. There are also those who'll think of him as a witty and entertaining drinking companion, and others will regard him as the driving force behind the Silicons. A few may recall him as a good-looking guy who does embarrassing things after drinking two or three bottles of Bell's Scotch Whisky on an empty stomach. The general consensus would probably be that he's one of the leading pillars of British fandom (that's leading, not leaning). I regard him as all these things and more, but that doesn't alter the fact that Harry Bell and toilet paper are forever linked in my mind. That's because Harry Bell was the first (and so far only) person to tell me about the Toilet Paper Sex Test.
According to Harry, toilet paper placed on the spool so that it unrolls from the top indicates masculinity while paper positioned to unroll from the bottom indicates femininity. Harry said he got this insight from no less a source than a newspaper feature.
At this point in my TAFF report you would be looking at detailed schematic drawings of the two possible positions for toilet paper rolls in the standard household dispenser. (I will admit that this amounts to an exceedingly limited Kama Sutra.) Unfortunately Wing Window's publisher is too cheap to give his columnists any luxuries such as illustrations for their contributions or retirement plans for their old age. So instead you will have to use your imagination to visualize Position #l and Position #2. (Those of you having difficulty with this due to weakened imaginations caused by prolonged viewing of television can obtain diagrams by mailing stamped, self-addressed envelopes to Harry Bell.)
My mother warned me about the British and their toilet paper. When I was pre-paring to leave on my 1979 TAFF trip to Britain, I got a long-distance telephone call from her. She wanted me to know that British toilet paper was thin waxy stuff -- an altogether inferior product. She seemed to think that their toilet paper might be what causes them to talk the strange way they do. Her warnings were based on experiences from the early 1950s, but sometime before 1979 the British must have cracked the secret of American high-tech toilet paper, because by the time I got over there theirs was on a par with ours. She didn't warn me that the British would carry things so far as to use toilet paper as a test for masculinity.
Harry explained this theory to me when I was visiting him in Gateshead. He told me about it because I had put some toilet paper in the wrong way my first morning at his place. Prior to his recrimination I had never given any thought to which way I put the roll in the dispenser; my sole concern had been that the toilet paper would be there when I needed it. I guess Harry was afraid that the Toilet Paper Police would check out his bathroom and draw the wrong conclusions. I already had enough to worry about in a bathroom without adding toilet paper positioning to the list. It is more than a little disconcerting to think that guests may draw conclusions about my sexuality from the way I hang toilet paper.
In any case I have my doubts about the validity of Barry's Toilet Paper Sex Test. I mean mimeographs all feed their paper through from the bottom. Does this mean that fanzine fans are all a bunch of wimps? Wait a minute; that's a bad example. (Besides, you don't need the Toilet Paper Test to reach that conclusion.) What about calculators? The vast majority of the hard-copy calculators are designed to feed their tape from the bottom. Does this mean that accountants are less than totally macho?
Okay, okay. Maybe Harry is on to something.
Of course there is a way to eliminate this fear of judgment based on toilet paper positioning. It was developed years ago by Jim Turner in Columbia, Missouri. (This was way before the Toilet Paper Sex Test was devised, but then Turner always was a fan of vision.) He dispensed with toilet paper altogether and instead used the pages from an old telephone directory.
I wonder how Harry Bell's theory would classify that?