From Cutty Glyph’s “Underneath Soho” column in the London Yellow, issue dated Saturday, October 3rd, 1959.
Summer’s gone, then, is it? No particular impression lingers. Shadows accumulate as ever in Dean Street. Bonar Colleano is still dead, but I have it on good authority that a rather beautiful young man present most lunchtimes in the Coach and Horses can be prevailed upon to part with a relic of the star’s Jaguar motor car, prised (if we are to believe it) from the wall of the Queensway tunnel along with the earthly remains of the man himself. For a consideration, of course.
We were still negotiating a price when who but the scented geist of Exeter Sploosh (not his real name) inserted himself between breaths of the conversatione and offered to confirm the real-or-not of the red-streaked lumps of chassis by way of a bit of what my old mum (if I had one) used to call a séance. Naturally I dismissed the occult lump with a patented zinger; I mean to say, if I wasn’t on speaking terms with Mr Colleano whilst he toddled about this mortal coil sticking babies into actresses, what chance a convivial chin-wag now that he’s shuffled off it?
But freshen your drink, gentle reader, and prepare yourself for the news that said encounter was only the beginning of my adventures into the unknown last Wednesday afternoon. For no sooner had I taken up my early evening perch in the French Pub than the sound of a stranger ordering a pint brought the place to silence, after which we all craned around for a look at the newcomer.
Once I had kindly explained that the French deals only in halves and graciously allowed him to buy me a couple, we got around to names and his was Alfred Lord Tennyson Plunger. I shall add here that of course he’d heard of me and leave you to decide whether or not I’m lying.
He’d had an experience, he said. It turned out that he’d had several. His clothes were smart, but could not conceal the fact that he had the slightly forlorn air of a military man who had Seen Things.
As the ale did its work, it was all he could do to avoid Spilling The Beans. He clearly longed to unburden himself, but as an old army boot myself, I know only too well what will bend and what won’t. However, the hints were there. We all know that something is in the air. The religious among us have their endtimes to cling to; the loonies have just enough sense to comfort themselves that it’s all in their minds. But what if it isn’t? I received the very distinct impression that Sergeant (yes) Plunger considered himself a footsoldier in a very particular conflict. Has it started already? Are we winning? Whose side are we on? He would not say. Not aloud, at least. But his eyes spoke volumes.
Then he laid a hand on my arm and swore me to secrecy before confiding this next: There’s more than one London, he said. There’s more than one me and there’s more than one you. And there are people who can slip in and out of these Londons as casually as if they were changing buses. He has memories, he went on, of things that cannot be reconciled with the historical record. And as he spoke, even your Cutty (who had better things to do in school than listen to the teacher) was forced to agree that yes, there were no spaceships in the year 1899; that the First World War lasted for four years, not nine; that Napoleon never dug a tunnel and used it to conquer England.
Another nut-case, you’ll conclude. And yes, old Cutty is something of a magnet for the type. We parted as pals. He loaned me a pound and went on his way. It was only when I tried to spend said pound the next morning that I stopped and looked at the picture thereon: Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth.
Yes, gentle reader, he’d fobbed me off with a dud. And not even a very good one. I plead necessity rather than wickedness when I tell you that I folded that note and spent it immediately, not quite relaxing into myself until I’d gone through my change and checked that every coin bore Adolph’s ugly mug. Then I smartened myself up, made sure the pink star was in place on my suit jacket and went out looking for oblivion once more.