DEAD ENDS

Suddenly, there is a creaking, a heavy clunk and a sound as if old gears are grinding. The door in the wall behind me is slowly opening and a thin column of light is cast on the wet cobblestones. The column widens into a golden parabola. Perfectly framed within it is the shadow of a tall man. 
Out of the light, a voice speaks:

"Well well my dears. What have we here then? Three against one? Now that's not very sporting is it?"

The voice is cultivated, mocking - almost arch. I look up. The dog is snarling, lips pulled back against scarlet gums. It crouches flat to the floor, bristles on end. My assailants have backed away to the edge of the light and I can see my own fear and hatred now mirrored on their faces.

The voice above me tuts a question:
"And aren't we a bit far from home boys?"

The dog's snarls gain in pitch. There is a sudden movement - a hand stabbing outwards in a whip-crack gesture and the dog yelps and is catapulted backwards. It drags itself up whining and limping and in a moment is gone. The men shift defensively, half crouched and peer nervously upwards toward the figure.

Losing patience, the voice suddenly snaps and hisses: 
"Get away!"

It is a threat, not a warning and suddenly there is even more terror in the air. Both men stagger as if rocked by some force.  One covers his eyes.  They recover, turn and flee after the dog into the night. 

We are alone.

I look up to see a pale aquiline face staring out into the darkness with an expression of fury which of a sudden is replaced by one of curiosity - and then solicitousness. The figure looks down and stoops to offer an arm. I take it and pull myself up. I can faintly smell good tobacco, a beautiful and strange cologne and something other, something undefinable. We look at each other in the light. He smiles.

"Well! You look like you need a drink "

Relief floods me. His gaze flits to the stain spreading across my trousers.
"Er.. and perhaps a change of clothes?"

Fear is replaced with embarrassment. Awkwardly, I try to tug my arm away from his but he holds it easily with a steely grip which is not to be resisted. I stand.
"Do come in won't you?"

The invitation is pitched like an order.  He steps back into the doorway. Hesitating, I look behind me - back into the darkness beyond the alley almost as if I am looking back into my life before this moment. I pause a little longer and then I turn again. My rescuer's silhouette is shrinking into the golden light. 

Very carefully, I step through the door and the world is changed for ever.

AT THE HOUSE OF THE CLERKENWELL KID

Inside the house, the golden light surrounding us gradually dims. We are standing in a short passageway which leads to one room and then to another. We walk on through doorways into a hall with panels and paintings and a large and very strange chandelier. We stop, a bell is rung and in a moment a middle aged man in black jacket appears.
"Rudge, my young friend here seems to have got into a spot of bother. Have we such a thing as a spare pair of trousers?"

The man in the black jacket looks me quizzically with one eyebrow raised, grins and says
"Of course sir. I'll bring a pair"

My companion looks to me and points towards another door.
"Maybe you can pop in there old sport and Rudge will sort it all out for you in an instant"

The room he indicates is a cloakroom with heavy Edwardian sanitaryware and a large red leather chair. I run hot water in the sink, get out of my clothes and proceed to clean myself up. After a few minutes, there is a soft tap on the door. It opens slightly and a black clothed arm appears holding shorts and a pair of black evening trousers.
"Ahem."

It is Rudge. I take the proffered clothes.
"Er, Thanks"

The arm withdraws
"Drinks are served in the red drawing room when you are ready. First door on the right."

I pull the trousers on and step back into my own socks and shoes. In the mirror, my face is bleach white with dark and dilated pupils. I look in a state of shock and indeed I am - not just from my flight and pursuit or from the averted terror of expected violence, but from the circumstances of my rescue and my presence in this strange house. There is something very peculiar here and I feel a sensation which is like fear but is not fear - a state of acute heightened awareness combined with a dizzy disorientation.

In the red drawing room I find my host standing with his back to a large fireplace. The room is beautiful - filled with books and old maps, a piano, taxidermy, curiosities. In the corner stands a large decorated globe in an oak stand. The deep blue of its seas sparkle against the deep red curtains behind. On a table are what look like antique navigational devices - an astrolabe, a sextant and a pair of compasses.
"Feeling better old sport?"

He is a smiling youngish man in a dark cut lounge suit. He is impeccable in dress, hair and stance. He is tall and has the poised look of a dancer. I nod. 
"Yes - thank you"

"Well you have been having some adventures haven't you! Must have given you quite a turn?"

"Yes - thank you again for helping"

"Not at all old sport - pleased to be of service. I won't tolerate that sort round my neighbourhood"

"You know them?"

He pauses
"Well, you could say we are, er, aquainted"

"We should report them to the police"

He smiles and waves a hand airily
"Well I suppose we could do - although I don't think that would help much do you? You know the police these days - awfully busy with financial scandals and terrorists and the like. But let's hear all about it - what on earth were you doing with a couple of brutes like that on your tail?"

I shiver.
"I have absolutely no idea. They followed me from the pub - from the Jerusalem. I didn't realise what was going on until I came up into the square and and they made a move on me. I ran into the back streets and got cornered in your alley"

He is listening intently but I have the strangest impression it is not only to my words. He says quietly:
"How strange you should find yourself there of all places"

"Well, I just ran randomly - I know the streets round here but I've never noticed that turning before. It was bloody good luck."

He seems oddly unsatisfied with this but offers me a drink. I take the whisky in a heavy cut glass tumbler and sip.
"And you've never seen them before?"

"No, I..." 

I am about to continue but have a peculiar feeling that there was in fact something familiar about one of them, There is some memory on the edge of my conciousness but I can't quite grasp it.
".. I don't think so. I guess they were chancers out to rob me"

Even as I said this I knew it didn't ring true. Not here.  Not in Clerkenwell. Something much more sinister had been going on but I had no idea what.
"And do you know what they hoped to steal?"

"Phone, wallet, my watch perhaps?"

Suddenly, he reaches out, seizes my hand, pushes up my sleeve and looks at my watch for a moment.
"Not much of a prize - it doesn't appear to be working!"

It is true. The watch has stopped - but it has stopped forty minutes ago when I would have still been in the Jerusalem. Suddenly I feel nervous again - and this time nervous of my new companion and his abilities. He, however, seems more at ease and lets my arm go. I look at him
"What happened out there? What did you do to frighten them off?"

"Oh, I know how to handle that type old sport. Just a bit of assertiveness is all it usually takes. But don't you worry about that - why don't you take a chair and relax?"

He seems to want to change the subject and goes over to ring a bell by the side of the fire. I sit and look around the room. On one side the books, which are from many periods, seem geographically related - atlases, travelogues, itineraries and so on . On the other, there are historical publications - textbooks, periodicals and a leather bound archive relating to London.

After a few minutes, there is a tap on the door and my host goes to open it. It is Rudge and there is a brief quiet conversation. The servant nods and leaves. My companion comes back, stands over me, proffers his hand and says:
"How rude, I don't even know your name!"

I introduce myself. He sits and leans back in the chair opposite, sips his drink and looks at me curiously:
"Well, I shall call you 'Pilgrim' in honour of the way we met - what with you on your knees and all that!"  

This seems to cause him some considerable degree of private amusement.
"Pilgrim, it's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Valentine.

I'm the Clerkenwell Kid"

THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY?

There have been quite a few commercials on the TV over the last few years with music which people have thought was by The Real Tuesday Weld. Unfortunately they were usually not-very-good in-the-style-of things which is a double blow - you don't get the money AND people think you'll knock out any old crap. I never normally bother about these things as I haven't got a TV and after all, who actually is original these days anyway? But, I couldn't resist a sigh and a chuckle when a friend showed me the new album by that funny Scottish band Franz Ferdinand.


Look familiar?



I don't mind at all but I did rather feel for my friend Paul Heartfield who I've been working with for years and who I think has quietly become one of the best photographers in London. he is always having his ideas pinched and not being credited properly and I am sure he would have helped FF if they'd asked him. Still, if you want to see the real thing head over to his place. It's far better