Wednesday 22 April 1864
Still very much in denial about our nascent relationship, Licky and I attempt a small-scale skirmish; a joint storming of Beach Bar to thrash out some intimacy in the Ronson-lit beer garden. However, no sooner have we downed a dirty bitter than the presence of Bateman and Larry Pekalowski, 'fresh' from their latest round of Harrow Fives, is announced by the sound of rackets slapping against any available backside. Their last fifteen encounters have all been won by the American and we can little imagine his reaction should Bateman finally beat him, though a fair guess would be UNPRINTABLE, you little UNPRINTABLE (UNPRINTABLE being the worst of all contemporary insults, oft aimed at the writer sans publishing deal). Tonight boyish banter is the order of the day. Now Licky is no prude, her soft voice enshrouding a multitude of sins, but when the language turns a certain shade of blue we realize that to rekindle our date we should head back down Oxford Road and find some privacy in the lair (I have had the foresight to send Miss Jordan and my entire army of carriers to the gala night of Birds, an erotic shoulder dancing club opened opposite us on Princess Street). Licky and I walk arm-in-arm. A takeaway Italian reverse pie sits in a cardboard box that warms my hand; all is well.
Then on this most romantic of nights, under the bridge outside Crow 2 who should I spot but the blasted troll? Crutches splayed he sits next to Shifty McQuiggin, both snarling their way through a drink. Brilliant – my two prime sources of middle-class guilt in one convenient yet unsanitary location. Normally I’d give them a pound and have done with it, but I’m damned if I’m going to let Licky see me tremble under the weight of their combined gnarliness. Before we reach the underpass I begin our necessary acceleration, eyes locked dead ahead I encourage Licky to do the same by suggesting I can see a two-for-one sale at Bumbles Wine Merchants some 2,000 yards hence. It is no good – the second we are past them I hear that voice, terrible in its familiarity.
We continue walking.
‘Marry her!’ he shouts again. I run the voice through the primitive data analysis machine recently installed within my top hat. Drunk – certainly. Aggressive – no, the troll must have consumed his optimum dose of cooking sherry. I stop, Licky’s curiosity encouraging me to turn and touch the peak of my hat. The troll’s toothy smile, the colour of an albino pit pony, strains to break the darkness.
Almost home, the talk unusually small for us too, I finally scratch the itch in my britches. Although I have carefully handpicked the delicious toppings for our reverse pie – double-cheese, banana, salami and garlic – I know we shall never consume them. A poor old fellow, down on his luck, needs all that healthy nourishment more than the randiest couple in Manchester. ‘Wait here,’ I command Licky, and run back towards the bridge. Although he has seen me just minutes before, it is clearly a struggle for the troll to recognize one half of the above (and former victim no. 14825) but more disturbing still is his inability to comprehend good grub, sourced from the finest gift horse.
‘Ta,’ he manages reluctantly, then grins up at me like some hideous giant child, ‘couldn’t give us a quid for a drink to go with it?’