F&SF, What’s Going On?

There’s something going on at Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, but what it is isn’t clear.

Back in 2018 I sold my first story to F&SF and woot, after 14 years of submissions, with The Moss Kings I had finally written something that was good enough! What validation, what excitement. What writerly joy!

There some expected back and forth on my submission. I was given editorial commentary and advice, resulting among other things in a change of title. All in all, my story was the better for it and I learned some very useful things too. All proceeded to schedule and Moss Kings was published some eight months later in the 2019 May/June issue. I was delighted.

October 2022 I submitted my sixth story since Moss Kings was accepted, and received the usual automated receipt. But I didn’t get the expected turnaround.

In January I queried, and received no reply.

I queried again in February. Again, no reply.

Then, in late March I received an acceptance offer! I was very surprised, but this was terrific news. I read on:

“I will be in touch regarding next steps for acquisition; however, the story is not likely to be published before 2024. This process can take from six weeks to six months, so if this timeline will not work well for you, please let me know so I can take your work out of the queue.”

Well, OK. I wasn’t exactly happy about the timescales. Nevertheless, this was F&SF, and this would be my second story with them. This time it had only taken five years! A second offer meant a huge amount to me and so I did what I thought was the professional thing, accepted with enthusiasm, swallowed the disappointment and kept my thoughts to myself.

Six weeks passed, and then six months. I gave it another month. A year after my original submission I queried again. By now I had read about similar experiences many other writers had been having with F&SF on Writer Beware and elsewhere. As a result I didn’t have great hopes for a reply and lo, a reply was not forthcoming.

This was incredibly frustrating. What should I do? Start again? Or am I in this submission stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er? This is F&SF after all, a prestige magazine.

Some of the advice I’d had on this matter is that the F&SF’s deservedly high reputation is part of the problem. Too much slack is being cut because of the magazine this is. And I know I am one of those who has been cutting it.

What to do? I honestly don’t know. I am just so disappointed. Keep waiting? Frankly, life is too short.

Just over three years ago I was diagnosed with advanced, early onset, aggressive prostate cancer. I asked the doctor to give it to me straight. She said mean survival rate was five years. I have no reason to believe that diagnosis has changed. The six and a half months of chemo from February to August was sheer hell.

If there’s one thing better than having a story accepted by a top-tier magazine, it’s being able to see that story in print. I would like that very much. Right now I am struggling to believe I will. Hope, as they say, dies last, but I’m losing hope and I’m starting to think this story will never see the light of day while I am here to see it.

F&SF, where are you?

What’s going on?

Life After Chemo

Bodies are amazing. It’s  two months since I popped the last pill following my last chemotherapy session. Since then I’ve slowly been getting better and better. Right now I feel about 80-90% normal.

I write these pieces as much for me as for you. I have a loving family and many dear friends who want to hear how I’m doing, but I also need to order my own thoughts and check my opinions of things. meanwhile, please keep sending those positive waves, I loves you all.

Last month we went to FantasyCon, a weekend convention for fantasy, SF, and horror writers, publishers, and fans. It was great. It was also a bit overwhelming. It has been a long time since I was in a room with hundreds of people. So many people! Man, that did me good.

While I was there I was asked if chemo was still as tough as it had been in the past. A difficult question to answer beacuse I wasn’t there and I can only speak for myself. All I can say is that I was supposed to have ten treatment cycles but my consultant stopped it after nine because the side-effects were becoming dangerous. For me, that’s a definite ‘yes’. Chemo was brutal.

It’s hard now to list all those side-effects in my mind, but here goes:

Hair loss? It’s a given, no big deal.

My finger and toe nails fell off. Blood pressure would sometimes crash and I would faint or feel horribly sick, or even pass out. I lost feeling in my fingertips and toes (peripheral neuropathy). I was so fatigued I could not think or move. (FYI fatigue is not tiredness, sleep does not help.) One day I puked until I could puke no more, and then I puked again. Loss of taste! Partial hearing loss! (Hopefully temporary.) Visual migraines! Fungal infections! One of my eyes filled up with blood!

Oh yes, no fingerprints! If only I wasn’t so fagged out I could have done some perfect crimes. Maybe next time.

I put on 22 lb/10 Kg. Most of this was water retention (edema) in my legs. My knees looked like giant, soft dumplings, my calves were wider than my thighs. At its peak it rose into my chest and breathing started to get difficult. Walking was more than hard, every step hurt, I could just about pull myself up one flight of stairs. Because it affected my mobility so drastically, because it lasted so long, because it hurt, because it had such a big effect on my mental health, of all the side-effects this was the worst.

Somehow I managed to keep writing. Ten minutes here, twenty there. Not every day, not even every week. Some days just thinking about writing was all I could do, and on those days it was a small triumph to achieve that, and that was how I saw it.

Bodies are amazing. Take the pressure off and they bounce back.  My hair is growing back – I have eyebrows and eyelashes again. Finger and toenails are slowly recovering. The neuropathy is fading, the edema is mostly gone. I can put on my own socks.

Regaining your sense of taste is amazing. Everything smells so wonderful, everything tastes so good.

I had lost a huge amount of fitness and strength in those six and a half months of chemo, and my long-term medication causes muscle-wastage anyway. Once I was through it I was determined to get as strong and fit as I could, as soon as possible. Mostly, this was just for me, to prove to myself I could in fact recover to live my life, walk without pain, garden, open jars. I also need to be in good shape for whatever the next treatment might be. I’m heading towards the place where treatments can become more experimental, more radical. They won’t be offered if you’re physically incapable of, as my doctor says, tolerating the insult.

I’m swimming, rowing, using weights, and starting to jog. My first exercise sessions were very short but I proved something. My first time on the rowing machine lasted 5 minutes and I was so exhausted it took almost as long to get up. Now, at 20 minutes plus, I’m holding myself back from doing more as I follow my incremental plan. Six weeks ago I did my first Parkrun, 5K in 67 minutes of pure hard slog. My fifth run took just over 50 minutes. So far it’s been a PB every single time. Yes, I’m slow, slow, slow, but never as slow as the week before. It’s incredibly motivating.

The garden is coming back under control because I can now (mostly) help as I used to. This year in the house and garden, in everything, Gaie shouldered everything from housework to shopping, washing, cooking, planting and weeding. It was impossible for her to do everything, but she worked incredibly hard to make my time easier.  I’m so sorry she had to go through this, I’m so glad she was there.

Late summer, I planted late crops of purple beans, pak choi, lettuce and herbs. They are all flourishing. To see that makes me happy, that I could simply do it makes me happier still.

I have to unlearn a lot of things chemo taught me – that what I could do last month, or last week, was no longer possible. I’m running up against this all the time, it feels like it’s everywhere, every aspect of my life. Each time I push myself and discover that I can now do that thing I’d given up on it’s a small victory, a step to recovery, and somewhere inside me something heals.

I’m writing this in the garden, in mid-October. The sky is blue, the air fresh, and the sun is beautifully warm on the back of my neck. It feels like the year is having one final burst of high summer and I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same for me.

Yet for the first time in three years I’m not dreading the winter and the bad news it has brought in the past. If this winter is going to be the same, so be it. I accept.

Also, I have a plan. It’s quite cunning, it’s based on science and it might even work. If it does, I’ll let you know.

I can’t help but feel optimistic.

Just a little.

Cancer and Edema

There comes a time, a day, a morning when you wake up and you feel well. You might have been recovering from flu, or covid, or something else, body or soul. For me it has been edema, and today was the day.

I woke up this morning and the sky was blue, the air felt clean and fresh, and my mind for the first time in days felt clear. In that moment I realised just what a tough few days I’d been through and now they were behind me.

Marv, © Sin City, 2005

© Sin City, 2005

Of all the side-effects of chemo, edema, or water retention, has been the hardest for me by a long shot. Being sick until you can be sick no more and then being sick again, and sick, and sick was exhausting and horrible but only for one day. Losing my finger and toe nails was emotionally deeply distressing, practically difficult, and painful, but I dealt with it. Fungal infections, fatigue, hot flushes, neutropenia, peripheral neuropathy? Fuck you, cancer, that the best you got?

As it turns out, no, it wasn’t. Edema was King.

Not everyone in my situation will get edema and there are many other reasons to have it too. What made it so tough? The loss of mobility.

You’d think putting on a bit of weight, always a risk with chemo, would not have such a profound effect, and it’s not fat, just water. With my type of edema it first accumulates in your lower legs and feet. The swelling becomes obvious, and if you press your finger against your skin, the dimple stays for minutes.

All that water pressing against your muscles means they have to work harder, and your legs weigh more. And as it spreads up through your body, breathing gets harder.

The solution (hah) was to take diuretics. For me, Furosemide, 20mg a day. A low dose and it helped a bit, but then my body did what bodies do, it accustomised to the drug and my weight went up again.

Walking was getting harder and harder, I was making myself do it, but every step needed concentration and effort, shallow gradients were a severe challenge. I couldn’t exercise, I had no spare breath. That country mile stroll into town would leave me exhausted. Even bending down low enough to dress was becoming hard. I was really worried I was on the edge of completely losing mobility. I didn’t see how I could do this, how I could continue with another two cycles of chemo.

We agreed to raise the dose to 40mg and it began to help, but all drugs have side effects and this one was a corker.

When you’re on diuretics you need to drink a lot. It feels counter-intuitive, but as you lose fluid your blood volume drops, and when your blood volume drops so does blood pressure. When it gets too low, and 81/49 was a low point for me, you feel nauseous, weak, and dizzy. Cold sweats drench you. If you stand up, you will pass out. All I could do was keep my head down and wait it out. Caffeine, salt, small meals all help, but not in the moment. Thirty minutes later I started to feel better.

The thing is, I was pissing like a cart horse. The drugs were working, but I was utterly exhausted.

The doctors suggested changing to 2 x 20mg doses instead of 1 x 40mg. I was worried that my body would not respond to the 20mg doses as before, but this was twice a day and it turned out to be a sweet spot. Blood pressure is lower, but not too low (112/72 today). My normal is around 130/70 and anything 100+ lets me function.

I was also drinking even more water, and a sachet of Dioralyte, a salts and rehydration powder, every day. Reader, I lost 17lb / 8Kg in six days.

I have ankles again, shins. I can walk without thinking about every step. I can breathe. Nevertheless, I’ve lost a huge amount of fitness. Short walks no longer take a step by step effort, but they are tiring. I have a lot of work to do to recover stamina and strength and I need to do this carefully.

It’s hard to overemphasise how good it feels to walk without thinking about every step.

Edema is something I never thought about until I had it, I never thought it was a big deal and how wrong I was. Being ill is shite, but its sobering and going through this has changed my attitude towards all those old men and women suffering with swollen legs.

Hospital is sobering too. I see the woman in her wheelchair, pale as a ghost and thinner than I thought it possible to be. But her eyes were bright and she looked at me and all I could do was bear witness.

Later, I got talking to a man in his late thirties and asked him how it was going. He told me about his son, fourteen months old with leukaemia and I didn’t know what to say.

People are so strong.

I’m going for a walk.

Oh, yeah. Fuck cancer.


Go With the Flow

I love Queens of the Stone Age. Their music is straightforward but intricate, always promising to take you somewhere good, then taking you somewhere better, an alternative journey to a familiar place, so when you arrive you see things a little differently. We’re travelling down the side-roads that wind across and parallel the highway. Sunlight flashes through the trees.

Music has always inspired my writing, the vibe, the lyrics, the pure emotion: humour, love, anger, joy, and melancholy. I’ve come to realise that last is one of the defining emotions of great rock. Perhaps that is why it will be forever young.

The great thing about lyrics is they leave a lot of space for your own imagination. I once wrote a story in part inspired by a Hindi song called Mausam, by Nitin Sawhney. It’s a gorgeous piece of music and I determinedly refused to translate the lyrics until well after I’d finished writing because I didn’t want to risk the emotional landscape it had created in my mind and heart. When I dd, I discovered I wasn’t far off the mark. Music really is a language.

So – go with the flow. I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

The Thing I really hate about cancer…

One of the Three Things…

Among the Many Things I hate about cancer is that built inside it, right at the core, the boss-level challenge, is something that is the opposite of optimism.

I hate that it is so hard to forget. Partly that is the treatment which, right now, is all-encompassing. The pills, the routines, the schedules and appointments, the aches in body and soul. But what I really hate most…

…I’m going to take a moment here because I realise I’m using the H-word a lot here and want to say that yes, it a strong word, one of the very strongest, here it is justified. I don’t like coffee, I don’t hate it. I don’t like dogs. I fear them but I don’t hate them. And there are lots of things I really don’t like about cancer, but I don’t hate them. With this one thing my Hate is justified. The Hate is strong in this one.

… what I hate most is that having lived most of my life in anticipation of tomorrow this disease works hard to take that away from me. Slowly, slowly, one thing at a time, yesterday becomes a better place.

I used to be able to write every day.

I used to be able to use a broom for more than 10 minutes.

I used to be able to run up that hill I now struggle to walk. (And every time I do I’m wondering if I will have to stop halfway. But no way. Not yet, not today.)

I used to be able to…

If the optimism of tomorrow is being denied me, I still have the moment, that eternal and endless beautiful place called ‘Now’. The sun shines, shining always above the clouds, through the clouds, down on me. I sit in the garden and feel the warmth and see the life that heat and light bring. And when it rains I know my tree ferns are happy and that makes me happy too. ‘Now’ might not last for very long, but it also lasts forever.

And yet having these things pared away reveals life’s essentials. That has been an important gift.

People tell me I’m brave. Maybe, but if so, it’s an everyday kind of brave that thousands and millions of people have. I’m fortunate my passion for writing lets me express myself, but in all honesty so can everyone I’ve met since I’ve been under treatment, and every single one of them is worth listening to. Cancer is a philosophical, contemplative disease.

All I want to do here is let people know what it’s like for me in the hope it might help you, so you’ll be a little better informed about what it’s like if you, or you and yours have the misfortune to go through this. I’ll say it again: get tested, people[1]. You don’t want to come over here, there’s nothing to recommend it. Don’t be scared.

Go with the Flow. Yes, I will. The current is strong, but I’m a good swimmer and I can keep my head above the water. I just need to keep telling myself I’m not circling the plug hole.

Even if I am, it’s a way off yet. There are places you can see, and sometimes after a good hard look you can decide not to go there. Once, for me, it was the bottom of a bottle. This one, I’m not so sure. There’s no bottle I can put down. I still hope by some miracle, and it would have to be just that, that those currents may change.

And we Gullens are an obstinate breed. We just keep going, even when we’ve run out of road.

So not yet. Not today.

Fuck cancer.


[1] Cis, trans, intersex, if you were born with a prostate you have the risk. Get tested.

The Blackhart Blades – Inspiration Forgotten, Advice Remembered

It was a lovely as ever to receive my author copies of The Blackhart Blades from Newcon Press.

For some reason this set me thinking about the original inspiration for this story and I realised I had absolutely no memory of that first spark. (Editing this post a couple of days after writing I still don’t – it’s gone.) In some ways that’s not too surprising, I’m five months into a seven month chemotherapy treatment. my blood is inefficient at carrying oxygen, my head is full of sawdust.[i]

But I can still remember the inspiration for pretty much everything else I’ve written, and I wrote Blades before chemo started, so why not this one? Honestly, I don’t know, and it puzzles me. Are these chemicals leaching memory from my brain, has this gone along with all the violin lessons?

Actually, I never had violin lessons – or did I? Doubt surges in my mind, oh, the paranoia! No, seriously, there were never violin lessons. Move along.

Yet I can remember why I wanted to write the story I’m working on now clear as day (whale fall), just as I can for the The Naismith and the Wild Boy, recently published in the latest issue of Parsec magazine.

I’d gone to the Royal Festival Hall in London to hear a story-teller narrate tales from the Kalevala, the Finnish book of folklore, myth, and legend. I hadn’t expected too much but I was captivated by the power of the performance. One of the stories was Ilmarinen’s Bride of Gold, and the emotional intensity, and emotional wisdom of the story moved me greatly.  Could I capture those things in my own science-fictional version? While I was pleased with my effort, I think it’s for others to answer that particular question.

Where do any ideas come from, all the words and the stories? From the only place possible – that space behind your eyes and between your ears. We all knows minds need feeding, and if you don’t they may hibernate. So read, live, explore, and be curious. About things, I mean, though by all means be a curious item if that’s who you are. It will inform your writing, but in a different way.

While I can’t remember the inspiration for this story, I can look at it and see things in it that often inform my writing, some of the things I try to keep in my mind while I am creating a written-word story. One thing that makes Blades different from most of my writing is that it includes a fair bit of poetry, very bad poetry (and one good piece, but I didn’t write that bit).  Which brings me to that old saw, “Write what you know”.

It’s bollocks, isn’t it?

You write what comes out of that great fermentation of all that you have read, lived, learned, seen, heard, and done in your life. As for the rest, well, you just make it up. Because I’ve never been to another world, made magic, seen a dragon, lived at the bottom of a sunless sea, met an alien, cloned my husband, or any of a thousand other things.  “Write what you know” is poor advice. I have an imagination, and I know how to use it.

On the other hand “Don’t write what you don’t know” seems to me to be a sound suggestion in the right circumstances. While I recognize, love, and admire good poetry, I don’t have any confidence I know how to write it. With this story I didn’t even think about trying. If my poesy was inherently mundane, nondescript and exceedingly average, then I would own those qualities big-time and make it bad. Epically bad. In an Epic way.

To my surprise that terrible poetry became a real creative asset, a great hook for the character who wrote it. I found it informed me of their personality (craven), their opinion of themselves (high), their behaviour towards others (condescending and deceitful), and much more. Overall my decision to willfully write bad poetry was a good and useful thing.

It was also a lot of fun to write. And humiliatingly easy.

I don’t think I’ll do it again.


According to the publisher, The Blackhart Blades is a tale of swashbuckling adventure and duplicity, told with wry humour. According to one Goodreads reviewer, it is “a gem of a sword and sorcery adventure … with beautifully drawn characters and neat plot twists

It is also a fantasy of found family, dangerous magic, good food, war, heroism, betrayal… and, of course, terrible poetry.

The Blackhart Blades is available to pre-order from Newcon Press in paperback and signed hardback, and from Amazon as an e-book.

[i] Fuck cancer.

Cancer, and the Power of Positive Thinking

Trigger warning: This article contains the use of the F-word. Not so copiously as to be considered an ingredient, more of a condiment. Because why the fuck not?

Here we go:

Catching up yesterday with Phil, an old friend of mine, he said ‘I remain convinced that a positive mental attitude helps defeat the bastard stuff…’

I think he’s right, and it made me wonder exactly why.  I don’t believe I can cure myself of cancer with the power of positive thinking and nothing more. A positive mindset is not that. As the old joke about the man praying to his god for a lottery win ends, with his god saying ‘Meet me half-way, buy a ticket.’, it’s about giving yourself the best chance, and doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, More importantly, it is still doing it when it is a physical and mental struggle to do so.

I have a three-week chemo cycle. I’ve just started cycle six of ten, so fourteen weeks out of thirty to go.  Well, thirty-one weeks, because this cycle was delayed for a week for reasons of being beaten up by chemo and secondary infections. I hated that week, I hated that delay. So far that week has been one of the mentally hardest weeks of this whole process, of my entire life and I wish I understood exactly why. Nevertheless, like all things, this too has passed. It has moved through me now and is gone.

What happens after my 30 weeks of chemo? I don’t know. Right now I don’t want to know. Some days these thirty weeks seem endless. One thing at a time. Roll on September.

Right now, two days after the chemo day at hospital, a ten and a half hour session, I’m at the peak of my drug regime. It eases off after a week, but right now it is like this.

Drug 1 – Twice a day, exactly twelve hours apart. No food or drink for two hours before or one hour after. (This is for the stage 3 drug trial I’m on.)

Drug 2 – Once a day, an hour before food.

Drug 3 – Twice a day, with food.

Drug 4 – Three times a day. No alcohol. (WTF? I hear you fellow hardened boozers writers say. Yes, people, this is indeed a very hard regime. Fortunately I only take this drug for five days out of fifteen.)

Drug 5 – At bed time.

Drug 6 – Anti-fungal ointment, finger and toe nails, twice a day. because I’ve lost half my fingernails and a few toenails thanks to drug side-effects. Gosh, this can hurt, because the skin under your nails is packed with nerves and the slightest knock is excruciating.

We’ve never seen nails this bad, my doctor said, then fetched three more doctors so they could all have a look. And take pictures.

Drug 7 – Skin ointment, twice a day, to stop the joints on my fingers hardening and splitting and getting infected.

Forty years in IT, I have a spreadsheet.

And not forgetting:

  • the once-a-week pill.
  • the anti-nausea drug I need to take 12, 3, and 1 hour before chemo. (Chemo starts at 3pm, that 3am dose is not my favourite)
  • The four days of injections I give myself from next Monday to boost my neutrophil count – a type of white blood cell – to minimise immune system compromisation.

And then there’s the exercise.

There’s no such thing as cancer. There’s breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and all the others. Each has its own horrors, its specific treatments, and its demands for self-care. For prostate cancer one of the most important self-care regimes is exercise.

Standard prostate cancer treatment is hormone suppression, specifically testosterone. Apart from keeping us men manly, testosterone does useful things for everyone like maintain muscle mass, bone density, and energy levels. Suppress testosterone and all these things fall away relentlessly. Right now I’m nursing a non-healing/slow-healing spontaneous rib fracture.

The answer is exercise, lots of exercise. Weight training, swimming, walking, general cardio. As much as possible, as often as possible. For me this means most weeks I aim for three or four sessions, though I’m trying to swim more because I love it and so for me that exercise is easy. Being a member of the Thrive clinic also helps. This a unique exercise clinic designed for people with prostate cancer. Started and run by physio Emily Curtis, and cancer patient Chris Cottrell, it has helped me enormously.

The thing is, with muscle mass and bone density constantly eroding away, you have to work hard just to stay still. This will never end.

But fatigue is the thing. Some days I can’t get off the couch, some days my legs are made of lead and going up stairs needs a serious haul on the banisters. ‘Come on, you lazy fucker,’ I may be heard to mutter at times like these. Exercise counters the fatigue, but then there’s the fatigue making it so hard to: “Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight. Life is your right.” (Marley)

Half the time I’m amazed I manage to get anything else done in a day. As someone else said, cancer is a full-time job, lazy people need not apply. Neither, in all honesty, should their partners.

Some days I feel I’m not very good at any of this. Some days, some weeks, I fail and I sit there in my failure and think about what to do. This is the point at which Phil’s positive mind set comes in. Get up, stand up, try again, start again. Or not. Some people don’t, they simply can’t. Maybe one day I’ll be one of them. My choice.

So far my choice is that I’m doing my best to be a Weeble[1].

Because when the going gets tough, the tough say, ‘Fucks sake, here we go again.’

Thanks, Phil.

[1] Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.

A Tale from the Kalevala

Issue 7 of ParSec, the SF short story magazine from PS Publishing is now out. It includes my short story, ‘The Naismith and the Wild Boy’.

Some stories from legend are adventures, others are fantastical explanations for natural events and places. Others bring insight into human nature.

Ilmarinen, god, immortal smith, crafter of the dome of the sky, grieves the death of his wife. He is a superlative smith, he can make anything, but is that the path to happiness?

This very human story of loss and sorrow haunted me strongly enough that I felt I needed to write my own take on the tale simply to clear it from my mind. And here it is, my science-fictional variation of ancient legend. My own story, yes, but without the inspiration of Ilmarinen’s own life and lesson it would not exist.

Ian Whates, editor of ParSec, liked ‘Naismith’ enough to take it for the magazine. You can read it here. If you need a little more persuading just look at the contributor list for this issue: Paul Di Filippo, Joanne Harris, Alison Littlewood, Tim Lucas, and more.

This is my second story with ParSec. The first, ‘Down and Out Under the Tannhauser Gate’, was the opening story in issue 1 – what a privilege! I was equally delighted when it was selected for Best of British SF 2021.

Milford SF 2023 Bursaries Announced!

Milford SF Writers are delighted to announce the 2023 bursary results. As a committee member it’s been a real privilege to be part of the bursary selection process, a serious and important process.

This year we had more applicants than ever, and we have invited some of them to re-apply in future years. If you are one of those people and find yourself reading this, please don’t self-reject. We really do want you to apply again.

My thanks also to the great generosity of the individuals and groups who have made the bursaries possible.

If you would like to support the bursaries, and also get your hands on some excellent SFF stories – including a never before published one from Neil Gaiman – then all you need to do is buy a copy of Eclectic Dreams.

This is Milford’s first anthology and we’re very proud of it. All profits going towards the bursary fund.

I 10 Q

A Mysterious Box Found in the Attic

Among all the ephemera from four generations of the my extended family that seems to have ended up in my attic have been some truly interesting, personal, and moving objects. Memories have been recalled, and feelings too. Sometimes I’ve sat and looked and remembered, and wondered too.

I have also found:

– Some ancient and rather crumbly 200ADs.

– Lots of LARP kit, much of it decent. Apart from a costume and item or two we couldn’t bear to part with, this is all now re-homed with a good friend who is still avidly gaming.

– Four suites of mail (or coats of fence, as we used to say). Three are now re-homed. I kept the bronze one.

– Large quantities of small black and white photos of people called Mr Hoskin; Aunt Evelyn; Dorothy in the garden; Malcolm & Joan; Daphne Sumner; Len & Maurice & Stuart Roland & Muriel & Brenda & Cicely & Beryl at the Tower of London; Thelma; Blanche, and more.

Rebecca(L), Judy (T), Amanda(R) Tessa

I have no idea who these people are.

However,  I did find this wonderful picture. What a bunch of scamps! They don’t half look like trouble.

I don’t know who they are either.

And then…



… there was this box. Locked, wooden, about 50 x 30 x 20 cm. I knew this was something dad must have made. It had much of his careful, meticulous style, with a light seasoning of bodge.  (Note the lock fitted upside down.)

I’ve only successfully managed to pick a lock once in my life. Several minutes fiddling with bent hairpins proved this was not going to be the second time. Instead, I took out all the screws securing the front face.

And then I opened it.

What on earth?

A grey machine, and two windy things. At the front, a metal plate in two parts that hinge, lifts, and fold. The left side has a spring-bar.

Behind it all, you’ll see a Bakelite wiring box. I haven’t opened that yet.

That shallow red cardboard case on the right held a couple of clues: a cine film spool, and some instructions for the intricate gray plate mechanism – it’s a film splicing device.

This, I realised, is dad’s Standard 8 editing suite.

Then I noticed the grey machine in the center had a liftable lid. Underneath is a small viewing screen.

With a reel on each hand crank, you can view the film frame by frame, back and forth. When you’ve reached the right spot, cut and splice. Neat.

What do do with it? I’ve many hundreds of feet of old cine film, if not a few thousand. Like this device it’s all 50-70 years old, all filmed on dad’s clockwork camera. If I’m going to do anything with that, it needs cleaning and digitising.

I could try watching it, because in another box I found his cine projector.

Considering the age of the wiring of this editing box, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to plug it in and flip the switch. (Yet.)


Mystery Tech from the Attic

This little instrument (about 7cm long) was an interesting attic find. It took me a while to work out what it is actually for.

Look through the lens beside the numbered wheel and you see a double-image of whatever you are looking at. Rotate the wheel and the images move apart or together.  Move them together, until they overlap and the number on the wheel by the marker shows the distance to the object in feet.

It is an old-school photographic range-finder.

The inside is complex, with a tiny, angled half-silvered (semi-opaque) mirror, springs, and brass fittings. I didn’t dare fully disassemble it even though it needed a good clean.

A nice little piece of precision retro-tech.


I also found this neat little angle-finding brass folding ruler. There’s clearly been a bit of tool abuse at some point – that blank edge looks like it’s been used as a screwdriver.

Again, it took me a while, then I noticed something unusual about this ruler. Can you spot it?