Can’t decide whether you want to buy?
Then read Chapter One of The End of the Pier Affair…
From the History They Tried to Suppress:
The tale you are about to read arrived at our offices in a brown envelope. The envelope contained a single sheet of paper with URL’s to two blogs. Upon investigation, it became clear that these blogs belonged to Lucy Pevensea and Mark Birch. We reprint their blogs in their entirety, attributing each section to the appropriate author.
Is their tale a hoax?
No. Because other evidence, held in our vaults for so long, confirms what these two teenagers tell us. These other contributions will be found within the pages of this tale, when (and if) the need arrives…
(From Mark Birch: Modern Day Pepys)
I thought I knew Lucy Pevensea. She was the quiet little kid who was rubbish at catching; a mouse of a girl with hair to match her personality. I was wrong about that too, because the first day the teacher sat us next to each other she hit me! I made a joke about her having the same name as the book Mrs Teamper was reading. And she thumped me. Not the gentle nerdy thump I was expecting from the class geek, but a fully rounded one. She had my respect from that day on.
Similarly, by the time we were in year 10, I thought I knew all the boring stuff there was to know about Southend Pier, its length, the years it took to build. The naval vessel that didn’t quite hit it before it sunk; the many boats that ploughed through her and into her over the years. And the fire that eventually led to her complete redesign.
Of course, like I’d been wrong about Lucy Pevensea, I was wrong about Southend Pier too.
It was one of those bloody History projects in the half term of Year 12 that caused it all. I mean History’s okay and all that, but it should know its place which is not interrupting my half-term. And it wasn’t even as if it was going to count towards the A level. It was a good old-fashioned project, to boost our research skills.
Still, I’d managed to get paired up with Lucy.
By the time we were 16 we lived two streets apart, and she knew better than involving me in the project. We had it sussed. She did the research. I played football. She wrote it up. I played football. Then, every so often, she’d want something special…well, stupid, and that’s where I came in. Even now, when we’re doing A levels, I was needed for the stupid things.
This particular project was about the world’s longest pier: “The Pleasure Pier and the tourist day-trippers from London in the early 1900s” to give it its proper title.
The pier that stuck out in the Thames! The pier I knew everything I’d ever need to know about because we’d done it at primary school!
Those teachers! You’d think they’d get their act together and co-ordinate projects and yet they expect us to co-ordinate our lives around them. And what do they do for us? Nothing! It’s like Holes! How many times do I have to read that book? I mean it isn’t as though it’s the only book Louis Sachar wrote, for crying out loud. Is it?
We were walking down the pier, right.
It was an okay-ish sort of day. There was sun but it was hidden behind grey clouds. And it was the cold-warm of October. I had a hoodie with me. Mum had said it might rain and I’m a lad who likes a quiet life. Lucy had one of those coats that couldn’t have said “Geek” any louder if it had been emblazoned on the back. I wasn’t going to admit it, but it was far more sensible than mine.
I increased my pace, making out that I had better things to do than hang around enjoying a walk down the pier. Lucy scurried after me. But because I wasn’t into being nasty – I remember what she did to me when I was six after all – I slowed down and eventually stopped.
“So, what ya want me for?” I went for a nonchalant pose, adding to the effect by stopping and leaning on one of the pier supports. If I was honest, I was a bit hacked off by this point. We were a mile out to sea and she was being evasive. Every time I’d tried to ask her on the train from Benfleet, she’d changed the subject. Even when we’d got to the bottom of Pier Hill she’d conned me with a flake in my Rossi. I’m a sucker for a good ice cream. But now she’s looking sadly at me over her glasses. And I know and you know that when a girl looks at a lad with big sad eyes, it’s trouble.
“Look, all I need is a single photo of the out-of-bounds bit and we’ve got the project nailed.”
And I’m supposed to be the stupid one. She’s the one with those high target grades and top set nonsense. Me? I bumbled my way through secondary. Bottom sets for most things… except History. And that’s too long a story to go into now. Doing better now we’re at college.
“Yeah but there’s got to be a reason it’s a keep out,” I reminded her.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. For someone who wasn’t known for brains, I’d finally said something sensible.
Lucy looked at me as though I’d grown two heads. “Since when did you become such a coward, Mark Birch? Come on…”
And this time it was me scurrying after her.
That didn’t last long. I was too cool for that.
“Lucy… slow down!” I shouted. “You’ll get out of breath. You’ll do one of those hyperventilating things like you do every PE lesson…”
This time there was a raised eyebrow. It should have looked silly. It didn’t.
Realisation dawned. “You don’t… Lucy you little…. Well, well, well!”
“Come off it, Mark, you’re not the only one who can get out of stuff. Only some of us don’t use sport as the excuse!”
I could have hit her.
Anyway, back to the pier. We’re a mile out to sea and since the renovations there’s bugger all to see, apart from the ships on the Thames…
The train, which at this time year is all decked out for Halloween …
…And the decking.
Lucy’s dad calls the new design a monstrosity but he would. He thinks Prince Charles knows a thing or two about architecture. On the plus side he supports Arsenal, though I think he only does it to wind up Lucy.
There are two buildings on the pier. One’s a café that someone said was once owned by Jamie Oliver and his mate Jimmy. Neither is usually open when I go there. Mind you, the pier doesn’t seem to be open that often these days, certainly not after 8pm anyway!
By this time we’re at the station and about to be blown away by the bitter wind that whips across the estuary from all directions. I head over to look at the fishermen and admire their efforts and the range of fish they’ve caught.
And she’s heading for the steps which lead to the lower level of the pier. It’s dark down there, and slippery. It’s wet and smelly and probably full of seaweed.
I’m looking over my shoulder to check that the CCTV cameras are facing the other way.
And sensible, geeky Lucy’s leapfrogging over the gate and sliding down the wet stairs to the waterlogged deck below.
Well what is a football captain supposed to do? Let the class freak get the credit for the ‘then and now’ photo? Not bloody likely. I took one last look behind me, there was no one looking. So I ran; ready to put into practice the advice from hurdles. Lead with your left leg. You can do it.
Well that was stupid!
The solid pier shimmered and shrivelled. The gate below my legs disappeared and the water lapping at Lucy’s trainers vanished. There was an ear-piercing scream. I think it came from Lucy, and everything went black.
“Luce, what just happened?” For the first time ever I saw what people must see when they look at me: bewildered. That’s the only word for the look on her face.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I really don’t…” her voice trailed into silence, then like the buffering had finished she started up again: “Err, Mark, where are we?”
I was about to tell her we were on Southend Pier and not to be so silly, when I realised something. We weren’t on Southend Pier any more. We were in a tunnel; a disused, cobweb-ridden tunnel with tiles on the walls and ceiling; the London Underground?
How the hell did that happen?
(From Lucy Pevensea: Time Travelling)
This was like no underground station I had ever seen, or even been in. Like Mark said, it was dark. And there were cobwebs. But the lighting was wrong too. No neon light shining out. It was kind of murky with a sort of ‘yester-year’ look to it. There was a fizz and hiss in the background too, as though lighting was a new technology not quite at ease with the world it was in. The tiles on the walls and ceiling also looked new, too new for the environment. Like the station had been refurbished, or we were on a movie set and someone would call Cut! any minute now. There was a noise but I couldn’t place it. It was alien to the darkness, a kind of whirring sound, clunky and muffled.
Shakespeare would have said it was ‘out of joint’. And for the first time in my life, I had the feeling I knew exactly what Shakespeare meant.
I decided I was being fanciful. It was something Mark was always quick to say. Little Lucy Pevensea, doesn’t live in the real world. But neither does he, if we’re being honest.
Of course, because he’s a boy and because he lives in the world of ‘I want to be a footballer’ he’s classed as normal.
“Well we’ve got to get out of here,” I said, looking at him expectantly.
“Which way?” That’s Mark, practical to the last. I suppose that’s why we’ve always been such good friends. I’m the brains, he’s the brawn.
“Err, that way?”
We headed down the platform and into the gloom.
“Well that wasn’t very bright was it?”
We came to a brick wall. Literally! And a poorly constructed one at that; which was odd, because the rest of the tunnel was brilliantly lit with a luminescence that again shouted ‘new technology’.
And yet, it was as if this section of the underground had been deserted, and in a hurry too. There were wall and ceiling tiles left in piles along the floor, which in parts was smooth and beautiful and in other places cracked and uneven. In one area a cloth cap hung over the back of a pitchfork, another monument to a bygone era.
To make it even more confusing, the bricks in the wall were not laid with precision. Indeed, it looked like the kind of wall my dad would put up – technically very brilliant, with cement made to the correct consistency, but its execution was all wrong. The bricks were disjointed. In places the cement was too thick. In others a small chunk of brick was wedged into the gaps, almost as if the cement had run out and there wasn’t any time left to make more.
A strange kind of half-light shone through the gaps, and if you stuck your ear to the wall, not only was it cold but I could swear you could hear the sound of people talking in muffled tones. As though there was an awful lot of air between us and them. When you looked at the floor it had been tiled, but the bricks cut straight across these tiles and there were dollops of cement splattered all over the place, some of them even had footprints running through them.
Running? Why would someone be running down a tunnel that was being walled up? It didn’t make sense.
We headed back the way we came, bickering like two small children.
If Mark was writing this section he’d have told you every single detail of our spat. I’d like to say that I’m too much of a lady to do that, but it’s not the case. I can’t tell you anything about that conversation because I can’t remember it. I do have a recollection of arguing about the merits of stairs over lifts. I do recall me saying that if we got to the stairs first then we’d take the bloody stairs, and I do remember I wanted to hit him. But if I’m honest, the reason I wanted to hit him has gone. He’s a boy, I’m a girl. Nuff said. Besides, it was blown out of my memory by the finding of the stairs, and the discovery of what was behind us and getting closer.
I first felt it when something tapped me on the shoulder. Not that tapped is the correct word, because fog in a tunnel can’t tap you on the shoulder. Actually it slammed into me…with force.
And yes I did say: “Fog in a tunnel” and so I can say: “Slammed into me…with force.” Because that’s exactly what the coldness behind me did. And it was heavy too, like a sumo wrestler in a space that was too small for him. When I turned its coldness slapped me. I screamed and tugged at Mark’s sleeve. And together we ran up the stairs all…
Boots clattering on tiles! I looked down to find my ballet pumps had been replaced by lace-up half-boots with a wedge heel. I found it difficult to run.
My legs felt cold. I looked down I was wearing woollen tights and a dress.
A white dress… And my hair…
We raced on to the concourse.
Something was wrong.
Not only were there too many stairs, the ticket office was too small. There were no ticket machines, no barriers, no Oyster card readers. “Err, Lucy…”
I ignored Mark and turned back, trying to see what had frightened me (or who had frightened me). Only there were no stairs. It was a blank, bleak, black barrier, impossible to see through; impossible to pass through. Mark knew this first-hand, because he tried to get through it and was thrown violently across the concourse. As he crashed onto the floor his clothing flared – a bit like a struck match – and was replaced by a too large granddad shirt, black flannel trousers and hobnail boots.
“Err, Lucy…” Mark was still lying in a heap, but he was alert and staring at the wall behind me.
“What?” I snapped and turned, looking above my head to where Mark was pointing. “But that’s impossible,” I croaked. “…Strand… Piccadilly Line? Impossible!”
“Tell me about it!” he screamed. “This station’s not the one at Charing Cross – it’s Aldwych! There were two Strands – only one got renamed and the other taken over.”
Mark was burbling and his arms were whirling. “The Aldwych Strand’s been close since 1994. That’s six years before we were born, Lucy!”
Which if you think about it still didn’t make our clothing look right.