Through the Backwards Telescope – Doctor Who Fandom in the 80s.


Tom Baker – always the one and only

The gathering was in a  suburban house in the New South Wales town of Penrith (now referred to as a ‘Sydney Suburb’). People from all walks of life, and all ages, met once a month to discuss their favourite show, share their thoughts and have a bring-a-plate barbecue. The club convener produced a `fanzine’ filled with stories the fans made up about their favorite characters, not just Doctor Who, but Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and many more.

I had never seen anything like this before. The fanzines were produced on cranky old Roneo copiers, with the submissions painstakingly typed on carbon sheets before being cranked through the copier, producing as many sheets as you needed for a run of say, fifty copies. I was enchanted. It took me back to my own childhood attempts at producing my own magazines and newspapers. I hadn’t realized that it was actually possible, that this Roneo thing could make it happen.

I soon started writing the odd Dr Who story for this fanzine, and before long my range had expanded to Star Trek and Blake’s Seven. Our circle of friends widened to include people from all these fandoms, and I reveled in the feedback from the readers. Be assured, fandom is no shy violet when it comes to offering criticism. I learned to take the hits on the chin, and treasure the kind comments.

It was the era of Peter Davidson, the Fifth Doctor, but Tom Baker was still THE Doctor and would remain so for many years. My kids loved both and my son made quite an impression at the school fancy dress parade in his Davidson outfit, complete with fresh celery – at least he did among those who were Doctor Who fans. Companions came and went – for me, there was only Leela. All the others seemed sort of colourless, although I did quite like Tegan. She was Australian, after all (although at that time, no one in Australia had ever heard of that name – a few years later there were thousands of them!)

Any kind of memorabilia was in high demand – I remember one poor soul desperately trying to protect his precious original script from an avid fan who practically offered his house, and his car thrown in, to pay for it. Mostly we made our own stuff. After finding out that I had made my son’s costume, I was inundated with offers, including pleas to sell the costume.

Unfortunately, as the result of too much moving about in the intervening decades, I don’t have any copies of the stories I wrote back then, but one of my favourites of mine was a meeting between Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Servalan (from Blake’s 7) who turned out to be related across time (because I fancied I saw a resemblance).

It didn’t take me long to get a cranky old Roneo of my own, and I managed to produce one edition before it gave up the ghost. But that didn’t matter. The computer was becoming an ever more useful tool as the 80s wore on. I discovered graphics programs like Newsroom that would have made my mouth water back when I was first creating my own periodicals. Soon I was laying out a fanzine on our brand new Commodore 64. It was called Lodestar, I think it had a run of two issues, and the first was practically unreadable because I was playing with fancy fonts.

Today, computers can do things that machines like the Vic 20 and the C64 could only hint at, but what I could do back then seemed magical enough. After I had designed and laid out my fanzine, I pressed the print button and watched it come to life.

Time moved on and so did I – and so did fandom. It went online and fanzines became ezines. I haven’t written a fan story in years, but a while back I discovered an old floppie disk with some of my unfinished stories on it. These days I prefer to save my writing for blogs and ebooks. But you know what – it was the best fun ever.


Living the Interwebs Life – Baking Bread in a Rice Cooker

I couldn’t live without a rice cooker. The idea of simply not having one is out of the question – the fact is that a rice cooker cooks rice better than I do, and it’s less wasteful and messy. Besides, rice cookers are so useful, you can cook pasta and warm up tinned soup. I hate microwaves – they are the world’s worst for attracting cockroaches and the food tastes vile – so this is a great alternative for heating things up.


Even my crappy $14 rice cooker will make bread


But the best thing they do – apart from the ring thing – is baking bread. I love using it to bake bread because it means you can bake in the hottest weather and not melt into a puddle while it’s cooking. You don’t need a fancy expensive one either – I get mine from a chain store for $14.

You can use any bread recipe, from a simple damper (two cups self raising flour, salt and ice cold soda water to mix) or with yeast. The one above is a simple recipe from the back of a dried yeast packet.

You need two cups of plain flour, one tsp sugar and one of salt and a 7g packet of dried yeast. Mix the dry ingredients together, rub in a tablespoon of soft butter and make a well in the centre and crack in an egg. Add two tablespoons warm water and mix with the eggs, drawing in the flour and gradually adding a little warm water at a time until you have collected a kneadable dough. Dont follow a recipe exactly when it comes to the water, as different flours absorb water at different rates, and make sure the water is tepid blood heat and not really hot.

Kneading is easy, just stretch and pull and roll the dough until you see the sinews of gluten appearing. I try not to add more flour, but pour a little olive oil in my palm and knead that in, to give it more flavour. But a yeast bread can be as simple as two or three cups of flour, 7g of dried yeast and salt and sugar. I restrict myself to two cups of flour because my rice cooker bowl is rather small.

Spray cooking spray on the inside of the rice cooker bowl and put the dough in. In hot weather it will rise quickly to twice its bulk, and in cooler weather you can turn the cooker to the ‘warm’ setting for ten minutes.

When it is risen, turn the cooker to the ‘cook’ setting. On my cheap cooker I have to keep putting it back to the cook setting when it switches to warm. On a good rice cooker you can set the time to suit yourself. To brown the top of my bread I turn it over and give it some extra cooking time.

That probably sounds a bit complicated, but really it is very easy, mostly I set the rice cooker and forget it and come back to find the bread cooked. It lasts a day or two, but often less as it is very delicious. I have found the nicest way to eat it is slathered with cold butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.