Standing up to Bullies

One thing I like about Amy, the better half said, is she’s so practical. The girls were giggling at the man’s small penis, you were intent on drawing some specious generalised conclusion and only Amy got the point, which was that the man was a bully.

Our friend Anthony Perry says that you should always stand up to bullies. Indeed he wrote as much in his book Love Me, Love Me, Love Me. It is a line that the better half often quotes, as indeed she did on this occasion.

And so Amy did, ruthlessly, I said. Stand up to bullies. As far as she was concerned the man’s penis was neither here nor there.

The better half was flustered. She had just got back from an evening out and it had ended badly. She spent the evening with two friends of hers. I think of them affectionately as Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal.

(Why Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal?

I explained the reference. 1 Corinthians 13:1:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Ah, she said. It’s not the same in Russian.)

Anyway, although they had spent the evening in a Wetherspoons pub next door to a Tube station on our line, Sounding Brass had insisted on driving her, not home but to some station where a train could be caught that would take her to another station at which an all-night bus (for it was now long past midnight) might be available.

Tinkling Cymbal, although the reverse of an assertive person, had secured that the meeting took place next door to where she lived, which was the other end of London from the others. She had walked home to bed.

I’m perpetually amazed at the arrogance of people with cars. As with bullies, we should stand up to them. So often a simple ‘No, thank you’ is all that is needed. Here we are, privileged to live in one of the great cities of the world, with the oldest and biggest metro system in the world, planned in the age of Napoleon, magnificently launched with steam trains a hundred and fifty years ago, not to mention our lovely red double-decker buses which are recognised in the most remote places where they have not yet heard that Elvis Presley is dead and don’t even know who Victoria Beckham is, and people like Sounding Brass insist in ferrying us around instead in their nasty Renault Meganes.

The better half was already on edge – who wouldn’t be – after hours spent in a Wetherspoons pub on the wrong side of London, but when she arrived at the station where the all-night bus might be found she was horrified to find herself in the middle of a Santathon. She rang me on her mobile.

Listen, she said. I’m in the middle of nowhere and there is a bloody Santathon.

I could hear that unlike the version that we had encountered last year, which was earlier in the evening and still relatively benign apart from isolated instances of bloodletting, this was unrestrained in its drunkenness and violence. I could hear sounds that, notwithstanding the uncertain acoustic qualities of the better half’s iPhone, could only be described as baying.

Buck up, I said. There’s a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet in the fridge, only just opened.

Heartened by that she made her escape and arrived home not long afterwards. She had read about Amy and the very small penis on the bus.

I notice incidentally that the tambourine-bashing wing of the Church of England now regards ‘sounding brass’ as a mistranslation and prefers the phrase ’noisy’ or ‘reverberating gong’. This is absurd. There is all the difference in the world between the sound that precedes Sunday lunch and that with which Joshua caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down. As regards the better half’s friend I mean the latter. I reckon St Paul did too.

In a pathetic attempt at relevance the tambourine-bashing wing of the Church of England also incidentally proposes replacing ‘tinkling cymbal’ with ‘twitter’. But like the very small penis of Amy’s client that is neither here not there.

The better half’s way with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet is as ruthless in its way as Amy’s with a bully, but unlike Amy she eases up with the second round.

Talking of all your strange friends, she said, I thought that there was some crisis with your half-witted and dead Uncle Edgerton. I thought that you were summoned back to 1934 and he had disappeared. That’s gone very quiet.

I thought I told you, I said.


Oh, he was exiled into the future and his nervous system was strung out and bricked into the fabric of a disused monastery in Hendon. It was guarded by necromantic spells and zombies. Aubergine Small got him out.

Well that’s all right then. What about Uncle Winthrop?

Lost his wits. That turned out to be when it happened. Between summoning me and Uncle E’s return. Stress-related. As so often.

Well that’s all right then.

Yes. Only thing was, some distortion in the space/time continuum. When he got back to 1934 it was about a fortnight later. Had to take it as annual leave from the insurance company. Sick as daughter two’s otter, he is.

Poor Uncle E.

The better half spoke without conviction.

And what have you done with Thumper?

Ah. Thumper.


a dawn chorus of the unattached

The better half is in Italy again.

It is another celebration by one of her Russian friends: a birthday this time, an important one, fortieth I think. I rang to congratulate the birthday girl. She said that she was sorry that I wasn’t there. I replied that nevertheless I was touched to have been asked. You’re too busy, she shouted, a sudden note of panic in her voice.

I reflected that the conversation had got out of sync. I should have said the last bit.

The better half tells me stories late at night on the phone, when she has gone to bed and the last of the hostess’s girlfriends’ husbands has given up scratching at the other side of her hotel bedroom door. She describes them all warmly as witty, rich, modest, well-read, rich and good-looking. She says that the woman whose fortieth birthday it was appeared at her party practically naked and could be said to have got away with it. Some of them have a real talent for karaoke.

I reflect on the attractions just sometimes of being inside the tent pissing out. How often does one get the chance of being part of a shiny Russian karaoke party as opposed to being a spectator? I remember the similar pleasure years ago of crossing the forecourt of Victoria Station in the company of a close friend who was a drunken, dangerous and noisy Glaswegian, and how the crowd melted away respectfully to each side of us.

Nevertheless I woke up last night from a nightmare in which I was being harassed by women whose faces resembled that of the good Captain Beefheart on the cover of his celebrated album Trout Mask Replica, and by men in blazers stumping angrily around on their little legs.

It is of course ridiculous to think that there was any connection between the better half’s fun in Italy and my nightmare. Blazers in Italy in July! But you know how it is with nightmares. They mix different things in your mind so that they feel as if in fact they’re the same thing. I was thoroughly at sixes and sevens by the time I actually got up, and it took a second pickled egg with my matutinal whisky to be able to face the day.

It was as well that I was prepared, for when I opened the front door I was met with a scene of pure terror. Some ten or twenty creatures, men and women both, stood there, their faces hideously mutilated and immobile. The women were all clutching enormous bags. God knows what horrors they contained.

Aaargh, I said, and slammed the door.

It was the creatures from my nightmare!

No, that was stupid; in a flash, common sense returned and I was thinking straight again. Obviously it was the zombies from the M- restaurant. I found my mobile and texted Aubergine Small, selecting the ‘Urgent’ option.


He replied quite quickly and to the point.


So it wasn’t the zombies from the M- restaurant either.

Before I knew where I was there was a knock on the front door. I pulled myself together. Was I the man who stood shoulder to shoulder with his Uncle Edgerton in man-to-zombie fighting? If I failed would I be able to look the son in the eye again? I took a letter opener from the hall table and, grasping it in my dagger hand, opened the door a fraction.

Speak, I cried, in my most hieratic tones.

There was a shuffling sound, and then one of them spoke.

Can the better half come out to play?

No, I said, through my teeth and the gap between door and jamb. She’s in Italy.

More shuffling.

Ah, said the voice. We weren’t invited.

Nor was I.

It was not the zombies or the birthday guests or the creatures from my nightmare. It was a fourth contingent. I should have made common cause with them. They were harmless, all too human, a dawn chorus of the unattached doing their best in a strange city. They weren’t pissing out of anything. I should have asked them in, and offered them tea.

But I didn’t.

They shuffled off down the path again. There is a loose paving stone and every single one of the women got her high heels stuck on it. When there was no longer any danger of their rushing the door and occupying my front parlour I opened it and called after them.

There’s a private view of a show of fabulous Russian conceptual art at 22 Calvert Avenue tonight. See you there, eh?

And I did, but that’s another story.

a jan leeming impersonation and the fusion food of death

P2 is getting worse, not better. I took a wrong turning in the Tube the other day, and there she was, a frankly bad impression of news-reader Jan Leeming.

The M- Restaurant, she said, without preliminaries. You know it?

I had better anonymise the place, given what I am about to relate.

I racked my brains. Knightsbridge? Indian fusion? I’ve read about it.

The same. Your uncle Edgerton wants you to check the biryani.

With that she dematerialised. I could not imagine what relevance the biryani at a Knightsbridge restaurant had to the unending struggle against the zombies (or the Z people, as my uncle would call them in front of his wife, my Aunty Sally). I would have treated it as a low priority. In 2012, unlike the 1930s in which Uncle Edgerton lived and worked, the Z people could not be called a current menace. However, as I was preparing for bed that night I noticed smoky lettering on the shaving mirror:


So, for a quiet life, I did, and a few days later (‘good heavens, sir, we seem to have a cancellation’) there I was with the better half. She has little patience with Uncle Edgerton – I think that she holds it against him that he’s dead – but she’s always up for dinner out, especially at a place such as this that has caught the attention of the Michelin committee.

The address is fashionable and the décor is what Tanya Gold in the Spectator calls Assad chic. I left my coat at the door – it had been raining – and we went in and took our place. We ordered our food and drink from a nice but vague lady.

The real Indian food is designed to be shared and is served as it is prepared, there are no conventional first courses or main courses, she explained.

The bill arrived first.

Only joking. It was someone else’s wine.

How elusive the taste sensations were! These are subtle complex marinades using time honoured Indian grilling methods, the better half explained.

And they are prepared in full view in a theatrical restaurant show kitchen, I noted. It certainly makes for a casual and joyous dining experience.

The uncertainty about when the biryani would arrive only increased the excitement. Finally there it was. The waitress drew my attention to tiny red flecks on the surface, like the veins on an unwillingly exposed brain. It is rosewater, she said. She was, as I say, amiably vague, and I think that the reference to rosewater was the only specific remark that she volunteered to us all evening. As it turned out it was wrong – horribly wrong.

I think that the M- restaurant’s biryani is the most revolting thing that I have ever seen on a plate. It was the colour and texture of sludge, inert but not – horrifyingly – quite inert enough. A faint smell came off it. It wasn’t rosewater, it was…

As I sat there with my fork poised a passing customer jogged my arm, disrupting my train of thought. Involuntarily I looked up.

OMG, it’s Victoria Beckham, I cried.

Or rather a very late impression of Victoria Beckham, I added, getting a better view of her face.

P2 ignored this.

On no account eat the biryani. But find how it’s made.

At least she didn’t disappear in public. She shimmered into the Ladies and no doubt did it there.

That set me a poser, and one that the better half was disinclined to help me with. We finished eating and got the bill. Again, it was someone else’s.

Go on ahead. I’ll follow you. There’s something I have to check.

I was still uncertain how, but events assisted me when I presented my ticket at the cloakroom.

No record, said the man amiably.

I sighed elaborately.

I’ll look.

I never did see that raincoat again, but the cloakroom gave me somewhere to hide. Hours later, after they had locked up, I emerged to see what I should see.

I never expected to find the biryani being made in the theatrical restaurant show kitchen – and I was right. There was another kitchen beyond it and down some stairs. At the centre was an enormous cauldron, simmering. You can guess what was in it. But you may not guess what was being dripped into it from an elaborate arrangement of retorts and pipettes. It wasn’t rosewater, it was blood. And I was prepared to wager that the blood was human.

So what happened to those who ate the M-‘s biryani? With Uncle Edgerton’s interest and my growing suspicions I was beginning to understand. I was suddenly furious. My uncle Edgerton had risked his life to make London safe from the Z people and here they were being brought back. I seized everything I could find, starting with the subtle complex marinades. (Actually what I found was vinegar and curry powder, but they were a start.) I emptied them into the cauldron; then the contents of the fire extinguisher. The biryani gave an almost human sigh, and then it did become inert.

Having destroyed the abominable concoction as best I could I left the restaurant and ventured out into the Knightsbridge dawn. Figures lurked in the shadows, swaying. I could see that they were the customers from the M-. They were dressed for a Knightsbridge evening out, the men in blazers, loafers and ironed Levis, the women in little black numbers and amusing costume jewellery, all now smeared with blood, faeces and worse. Their skin was greenish. Decomposition had begun.

You ate the biryani, I cried.

Aaargh, they replied.

Enough was enough for one day. I texted Aubergine Small to sort it all out and I set off fast, away from the zombie menace and towards home.

sunday dinner in lewisham: 1934

Damn and blast, said Uncle Edgerton.

That was surprising in itself. I was at Amy’s at the time, which was the Twenty-first Century, lying on a divan and thinking about this and that. I heard a tune from Amy in the back and I padded through to tell her again how much I liked her singing. It wasn’t Amy, however, it was a crude simulacrum – P2, as I realised at once. Her P was much better than her Amy, even though her P was unaccountably black. And since it was P2 I knew straight away what to expect.

Damn and blast, said Uncle Edgerton, again.

Horse potty, I exclaimed.

Aaargh, said Aunty Sally.

For I was in no Lovecraftian combat chamber this time, confronted by zombies, but suddenly materialising in my Uncle Edgerton’s front parlour in Lewisham with Aunty Sally and young Swallow.

Glad you could drop in, old man, said Uncle Edgerton, adding in an undertone: Summoning went off unexpectedly, God damn and blast it. Have to stay for dinner now. Not a word!

And so it was, Sunday dinner in South London in 1934, not something I’d ever expected to experience. My cousin M would be envious when I told him. The meat was of good quality but overdone, as were the vegetables. No surprises there: I remembered Aunty Sally’s cooking from the 1950s. Swallow for some reason, looking surly as I remembered him, was wearing his Etonian frock coat and a great deal of starched white stuff round his neck.

Swallow’s going to be in Pop, said Aunty Sally proudly.

Not even a Pop bitch, I thought to myself. They didn’t know it, but as regards Swallow this was as good as it got.

Uncle Edgerton poured a surprisingly good claret.

Entre Deux Mers, entre deux guerres, I quipped – foolishly because of course they didn’t yet know about the second one.

Think there’s going to be another war? said Uncle Edgerton. He fixed me with his blue eyes and said sotto voce: The, er, …. Z people?

Germany, I reckon, yes…. No, not them.

Oh no, I don’t see that. I rather like the little man they’ve got in Germany. Bolshies, more like.

I knew as they didn’t that the war would come, they would lose their house to the Luftwaffe, and that Uncle Edgerton himself would not survive it. It was surprising perhaps that he was more interested in the result of the 1934 Derby than his own prospects. Probably it’s the same for us all; we’d rather not know.

Hunched over a spotted dick, Uncle Edgerton grew red in the face.

Psychic energy, he muttered. Don’t hang about, old man.

I could see that as my materialisation in their front room had been remarked it might be damaging to leave in the same sudden way, so I disposed of my own spotted dick and made some excuse.

Come again, said Aunty Sally. I thanked her and said that I certainly would.

They went back inside and I walked down the front path to the road. As I reached the pavement I could sense Uncle Edgerton’s relief as I dematerialised. I felt like a fart that has been bottled up too long for comfort.

Amy, the real Amy, looked at me with qualified approval.

You want pork dumpling?

I rubbed my stomach.

I couldn’t eat another thing, thank you, Amy, but some green tea would be nice.

As I drank it I wondered about his term for me: old man. Was it just a term of affection, or did he regard me actually as old? I had got into the habit of thinking of him, being my great uncle, as older that I was, but in lived years he was much younger. I must remember to ask him when the zombie wars break out again.

trouble in threes

I told the better half that I had met our dear friend P’s double, except that she was black.

Horse potty, said the better half. She sometimes says this. I don’t know what it means but it usually suggests that she feels under attack in some way, which on this occasion she needn’t have felt, so I told her again slower.

Is the double a paranoid half-wit too?

Our dear friend P is a very sensitive woman, I said admonishingly. Don’t you remember when you were on the phone with her half the night when her father fell down a manhole and she was terribly and caringly concerned that it would reflect badly on her own reputation for reliability in the pavement space?

Having got that far I had to tell her about P2 and her message, which was not easy. The better half looks askance on my zombie-hunting in the 1930s. She hopes that if she ignores it it might go away

Who did win the 1934 Derby, she said, going straight to the point.

Windsor Lad. Can’t you read?

And what are you going to do about it?

What I did was to write ‘Windsor Lad‘ in soap on my shaving mirror and await events.

And so after a day or two I went to Amy’s, partly to check on the availability of Aubergine Small if the call were to come. Aubergine Small apparently was at sea with my son on The Jolly Thought. Skype is sometimes possible out there, but the more reliable mobile connection is no good of course since he cannot speak. I decided to leave it. If he was needed a way could be found.

Amy is having trouble again. Her supplier of kefir has decided to go into competition with her. This is absurd as no one could reproduce the atmosphere of Amy’s place, but that’s accountants for you. The supplier is being particularly aggressive. First a delivery was missed; the next was borderline off. Amy has typically taken things into her own control. She has made a deal with a sheep-farmer in Cumbria for the supply of his sheep’s unwanted intestinal flora and she has converted a couple of the back rooms. They are now hung with sheepskins full of the makings of the kefir. It’s like nothing so much as the climactic scenes of The Long Good Friday. Diminutive Chinese girls thump the skins regularly to assist the fomentation process.

I wondered idly how their job description would have been described in the girls’ work permit applications – had such been made.

More trouble: as we sat there a power cut occurred. The lights went off, but there are plentiful candles. The CD player also abruptly ceased its all-purpose oriental musak: a relief for some. Amy, however, who prides herself on offering her clients a total experience, sighed – and began to sing. She has a high clear voice, the music was profoundly alien and beautiful and everyone else in the room fell silent. I was very much moved. Then the power came back on, the CD player resumed its warbling and the moment passed.

I decided to finish my tea and be on my way. The bottom of the bowl was covered with fine leaves. They seemed to be moving in a way undirected by me. As I watched, they formed themselves into words:


Amy discourages the use of mobiles on the premises so I went into the street. The Inbox indicated an unread email from ‘P2’. I clicked on it. It wasn’t an email, it was a summoning. With a flash, there I was in 1934, next to my uncle. This time he was battling not one but a hundred zombies.

Aaargh, I shouted.

Aaargh, shouted the zombies, who still had a healthy respect for ghosts.

We were hopelessly outnumbered, but at least this time Uncle Edgerton has his trouser-leg firmly secured and both hands free to fight with. I sallied into the melée.

Then with a flash, Aubergine Small also arrived, so we won.

My son later told me that this was fortunate, as when the summoning came Aubergine Small had been about to be shot at point blank by a Somali with a musket. The latter did not take the disappearance in his stride and was still shouting ‘Aaargh!’ when my son cut him down with his sabre. My son used to take sabre classes in the evenings at St Paul’s School and this has stood him in good stead as a privateer.

Uncle Edgerton eyed Aubergine Small.

You’re a big lad, he said. I don’t I have the psychic energy to keep you here long.

Aubergine Small thrust one hand into his satchel. As he disappeared, a card remained for a moment, suspended in empty air like the Cheshire Cat’s grin:


Uncle Edgerton and I surveyed the noisome scene.

Cleaned up on Windsor Lad, he said.

I had nothing to say on that front.


I have something for you.

It was an afterthought from the Jibjab Woman, which I had been carrying around with me. I handed it to my uncle.

It’s meant for keeping your sleeves free while fighting, but it’ll do just as well on your trousering.

It was of course a set of the Islamic bicycle clips.

My uncle considered the decoration.

Powerful magic, he said.

Allah. The best.

I realised that I’d have to leave in a moment. Something was bothering me.

Here you are in 1934, I said, cleaning up zombies everywhere. In 2012, not a sign of them.

There you are, said my uncle, not without quiet pride.

And there I suddenly wasn’t. I found myself on Amy’s divan, dishevelled and smelling unmistakably of ex-zombies.

May I have more green tea, please, Amy?

This once, she said, not pleased.

I could tell that, for her, trouble was coming in threes and I was the third.

windsor lad predicted and recalled

We have a very dear friend. Her name is P. She is not the brightest person in the world but she is constantly engaged with it. Everything she comes across arouses her curiosity and she has a theory for everything. Usually her theory is that things are conspiring against her. Spending time with her is an adventure, because her ideas are so unexpected; they challenge accepted beliefs at every turn, such as for instance the conventional meanings of the red, amber and green traffic lights, or the identity of the ruling party in Parliament.

Anyway, I was on the Tube the other day. I was ruminating on Uncle Edgerton and wondering if I would see him again. I’d read the Handbook all the way through. There was a certain amount about summoning but nothing about being summoned. Moreover, the stuff about summoning was highly technical and assumed on the part of the intending summoner a familiarity, which I do not have, with basic Masonic practice.

Expecting to find it straightforward, I’d spoken with both Aubergine Small and the Jibjab Woman to see if they would be interested in a spot of zombie-killing in the 1930s. I’d certainly got a taste for it myself. Aubergine Small was up for it. He fished in the satchel in which he keeps the pre-printed cards with which he answers frequently answered questions. As he did so I could not help thinking that an enquiry whether one wants to engage in zombie-killing in the 1930s could not be that frequently asked. Nevertheless he had a suitable response handy, one no doubt appropriate to other questions as well:


The cards may have been designed, like Professor Stephen Hawking’s voicebox, with the American market in mind.

The Jibjab Woman on the other hand declined. She had, she said, nothing against zombies. Golems, yes, she spat, but not zombies. You forget, she said, possibly because of my affection and support for Amy, that I am a woman on a mission – to beat the shit out of the enemies of Islam – and my mission comes first.

Missions tend to, I murmured. That is sometimes a good thing but usually not.

Anyway, unsummoned, Aubergine Small and I were stuck in the Twenty-first Century, where unless I was looking the wrong way zombies were thin on the ground.

But to return to our dear friend P, as I glanced across the carriage on the Underground, ruminating, as I say, on Uncle Edgerton, there she was. Her beady little eyes were darting around the carriage and she was muttering to herself. With an affectionate exclamation I bounded across.

P, I said – in her own native language, out of politeness, rather than the English with which she struggles. How nice to see you, how unexpected!

As I did so, I noticed something strange. Our dear friend P comes of obscure stock, a matter on which she is sometimes regrettably less than frank, but she is more white than anything else. This woman however was undeniably black.

You’re not P!

Not so loud, she said. We may be overheard. Call me P2. And follow me at the next stop.

So I followed her into a branch of Pret, or possibly Eat but not The Fresh Kitchen, Sainsbury’s excellent fast-food chain, because I would have remembered that, particularly if we’d shared one of their tasty ham and cheddar baguettes, so much more flavourful than the blander sandwiches at Pret and Eat. No, it was Pret and we each had a bottle of water tinged with the juice of some fashionably healthy fruit or vegetable.

When you were on the Tube were you thinking of your Uncle Edgerton, P2 asked unexpectedly.

I admitted so.

That’s how I got through.

I gasped.

Are you a Mason too?

With my name! said P2. Is the Pope an anti-Christ?

But why, I persisted, do you look so like our dear friend P? (I didn’t mention her being black.)

So that you’d trust me, P2 explained, cunningly. I fixed onto your thought waves as you stood on the Tube thinking about your Uncle Edgerton, and then I intuited your feelings of affection and trust for your dear friend P. I might have impersonated your friend Amy instead – I read that you like her too – but P’s face is easier.

Read where?

In your psychic emanations, said P2.

You certainly don’t talk like our dear friend P, I said. She talks a lot of nonsense.

Enough! This is costing your Uncle Edgerton a fortune in psychic energy. I have a message, and then I must depart.

This was exciting. It sounded as if zombie-killing in the 1930s might be on again after all.

Tell me!

P2 consulted a small piece of paper.

Who won the Derby in 1934?

It was as if I’d been struck with a sand bag. This was Uncle Edgerton’s less attractive side. No doubt in his universe the 1934 Derby was still to take place and bookmakers were still accepting bets.

I have absolutely no idea, I said huffily.

Well Google it, said P2. He can’t.

Well you Google it.

I wish I could, said P2, but I am but a spirit of the air given by powerful magic a temporary form in time and space, and hopeless with computers.

Judge not that ye be not judged, I mused, which was convenient for me as I really did not want to antagonise my uncle, venal as he undoubtedly was.

I tell you what, I said. I’ll find the 1934 Derby winner. In return I want to come back, and this time I want to bring Aubergine Small with me.

Make sure you do. A messenger will be provided, said P2, and promptly disappeared.

I consigned two nearly full bottles of tinged water to the rubbish bin. I hope that Pret weren’t hurt.

With much to think about I returned underground and resumed my journey.

uncle edgerton and the zombie fighter from the future

I was sitting in my study the other evening, poring over some documents that my cousin M had located about great-uncle Edgerton. The better half had gone out to a wine-tasting with some of her girl friends and the house was silent apart from the distant ticking of the Second Empire clock and the whimpering of the dog. He had entered REM sleep and was chasing a rabbit, a creature that he rarely encounters in life but that is nevertheless important in his world view.

My great-uncle Edgerton, it will be remembered, was a modest man. He had a secret, his membership, to the Third Level, of the Order of the Drawn Sword, but his employment would not have made him rich, there was little family money and his Masonic activities would not have altered that situation. Uncle Edgerton had a wife, Salinger (in practice Sally) and a son Swallow.

(‘Swallow’ – I pencilled a note to suggest some play on words for the gay porn people.)

Uncle Edgerton died, slightly mysteriously, in the War. I remembered Aunt Sally and Swallow from my childhood. Aunt Sally was a nice old woman. Swallow was overbearing, a bully with a fruity voice unlike anyone else in the family. He never married and he died quite young.

And here was the mystery. Uncle Edgerton sent Swallow to Eton. None of us could work out where the money for this came from. There was no scholarship; Eton had confirmed that. Then the money seemed to have run out. Swallow didn’t go on to the University. He had gone through life with a grievance, believing it owed him more, and, as I say, he died young.

I was ruminating on Uncle Edgerton when I felt a sudden itching sensation all over. Moreover the walls of my study had become infirm and the dog was growling. But for the dog I would have ascribed it to indigestion. As it was, I prepared myself rapidly for the worst – and I was right.

Suddenly I was elsewhere. It was a featureless room. Two figures were there, struggling to the death. One I instantly identified from the old photographs as Uncle Edgerton. The other was a zombie.

They saw me the second I saw them.

Aaaargh, said the zombie.

Aaaargh, said Uncle Edgerton.

Clearly they saw me as a ghost – and that gave me a brief advantage. I took in the situation at a glance. Uncle Edgerton was fighting with a handicap. He had, of course, one rolled up trouser leg (tweeds, like the Court of Appeal judge’s, but of a much cheaper cut) and it was coming loose. He was grabbing at it with his left hand to stop it falling down and grappling with the zombie ineptly with his right. I strode forward and took the zombie in a head lock. It was grim work, but soon over. Uncle Edgerton slipped a golden sword from about him and severed the creature’s neck.

He then did certain unspeakable things to render the zombie inactive for eternity, and over them I will draw a veil.

Good show, he said. Wasn’t sure it would work. Desperate measures.

Curiously, I said, I was thinking about you.

Always helps. With summonings.

I introduced myself.

From the future, eh? Unusual that.

Did you know it would be me?

My dear fellow, of course not. How could I know about you? Just a general cry for help. At the highest level of course.

Level Three, I said.

He looked at me rather straight. Are you on the Square?

No. But they told me.

Best forget all about it.

If you were really in a tight spot I have friends who would have been more use to you than I could be, I said. I told him about Aubergine Small and the Jibjab Woman.

A woman, you say.

A modest Moslem woman. Unbelievably skilled in combat.

Woman, eh.

I could see that the Jibjab Woman was a bit much to take in all at one go.

Well, he said. Mustn’t keep you. Unbelievably grateful and all that. But the summoning does take a degree of psychic energy to maintain, and I’m running out.

Indeed the walls of the room had become in their turn unpredictable.

One thing, I cried, as Uncle Edgerton himself became hazy in outline. Swallow’s education. Eton. How did you pay for it?

Uncle Edgerton disappeared altogether but his thin voice lingered:


I was back in my study. The dog had resumed his sleep – dreamless now. The better half was still out tasting fine wines. It had all taken very little time.

What a sap, I thought. I’d have spent the money getting out of Lewisham.

I wondered if it would ever happen again. Then I noticed on the top of my pile of papers a pamphlet that I’d never seen before. It was entitled in an antique typeface ‘The Order of the Drawn Sword: a Handbook.’ I wondered if the procedure would work the other way around. I would investigate, just as soon as I’d reported on the school fees to my cousins.