Davenport had always lived a long way from London, but when he was 17 he decided it was high time to hit the smoke.
Whilst a baby still fresh from crawlout, he’d never heard of a place called London. However, on slipping free from his mother’s arms for the first time late one Sunday afternoon, he spotted a yellow photograph of St. Paul’s Cathedral glued to a tin where, he later learned, his mother kept stale biscuits for the Trick-or-Treaters each Halloween.
This being the first picture he’d ever seen, Davenport’s brain kept a little bit of itself devoted.
He thought the dome of the cathedral a hat. He knew all about such things, for his mother always wore one with a tortoiseshell hat-pin.
School taught him a lot more about London. That there were City people, quite different from the normal ones like Davenport and his mother or like his school friends and even the teacher. That trains went below the pavements like horizontal chimney-sweeps. That it was bigger than all the world’s other cities put together. That, most important of all, it had mighty churches sowing the skylines like threadbare forests of faith. And the one the teacher pinned on the blackboard was...
The train loitered through the countryside as if it had lost its way. Davenport was sitting in the corner of the carriage, pretending to read a book, as his mind reacted to scenes it had not yet experienced. The book was by W. Harrison Ainsworth, and the print on the pages was in blocks of foreign black.
Use Town was the place the station ticket-puncher had mentioned as being the train’s destination. Near London it was, he was assured. Use Town may even have one of those underground trains. The train he was now on might even change into an underground one, come London.
There were three other people in the carriage; a woman with a large flowery hat in the luggage rack, a man up there with her who sniggered a lot and a little girl in the other corner on the seat who was evidently someone’s daughter.
Davenport stared at the girl. She must be 12, only five years younger.
‘Is it Use Town this train’s going?’ he asked. This was the first time he had spoken on a train.
‘USETON,’ she mumbled, after a tunnel.
‘Is it near London?’ he asked.
‘It’s IN London, it’s part of London. A big station.’
‘Does the train go underground there — I want to go to the city to see a big church, you see?’
‘No, you’ll have to change.’
Davenport pondered. He’ll have to change. He nodded, understanding perhaps for the first time.
The hubbub of the big station was more surprising than he expected. It hit him like a chain of those summer storms chasing each other around the hills surrounding Davenport’s village back home. The little girl told him where to go. He hadn’t realised that he could have relieved himself on the train.
The man and the woman who had been in the luggage rack, Davenport saw, had turned themselves over to the station lost property office — they evidently were even more bemused than Davenport.
To his horror he lost his little friend in the crowds. And the crowds in Useton seemed not to be at all like the little bunches that automatically formed during gaines of ‘Denno’ in the school playground of his childhood. For here they were constituted of unco-ordinated bodies in sheer exi-fugal selfishness. Davenport found himself party to a particularly large one led by a gangling youth with ear-rings — and this crowd violently careered from one end of the concourse to the other like Davenport’s demented Uncle in the padded cell back home.
Eventually he was expelled by the crowd outside Smiths, where a policeman was standing guard.
‘How can I change?’ asked Davenport, without fear or favour, for policemen were friendly back home.
‘Spain off, you bugger! I’m soddin’ well not going’ to tell YOU anything!’
This was like a foreign language to Davenport.
But, evidently, the policeman was not impressed with Davenport’s reaction, so he decided to try the soft touch, as an alternative:
‘Well, young man, see that over there — that’s what they call Dosser’s Bar...’
And he pointed to a joint bursting to the seams with ill-dressed miscreants tipping wine-glass after wine-glass into their thirsters.
The policeman continued
‘Go in there and I’m sure they’ll give yer a drinky on the ‘ouse...’
Davenport wandered over to the evil-looking place and a great stench of pee met him like he remembered the boy’s toilets in the playground back home. And amid all the dirt and the foul language, he spotted his little girl friend from the train, who was asking one of the customers to interfere with her.
Doubtlessly, Davenport can’t recall much about it least of all the motives that must have taken hold of him unbeknownst, but he took the girl’s hand, dragged her out into the concourse and delivered her up to the policeman. Who forthwith took her away to apparent safety.
He reached the City with the help of a friendly-seeming taxi-man who took pity on him after finding him in his empty bonnet pretending to be the engine. Davenport’s Uncle evidently had a lot to answer for.
The taxi-man knew EVERYTHING about London; where to go, what to do when you got there and, most important, how to change.
Davenport had used up all his disposable assets on the train journey, but he had a tanner left. The taxi-man knew the A to Z like the back of his hand and, for the tanner, he agreed to allow Davenport to follow his taxi on foot. But he couldn’t get it started, for some reason, so he palmed Davenport off with some complicated misdirections... And off Davenport went, on his own.
However, before he rounded the final corner away from Useton, he turned to wave goodbye to the taxi-man. But he’d gone… no doubt for a snifter with the dossers.
All roads lead to St. Paul’s. And, after several hours, a tired and hungry Davenport arrived before the mighty edifice of his childhood dreams.
The enormous dome lifted into the blue sky — if nothing else, Davenport had chosen a nice day for his trip — and the sides of the pillared building had statues dotted about like rock-climbers. But it was the dome to which his gaze kept returning: the huge hat of his childhood with a crucifix-pin rising from its peak.
He was in awe. If he had not changed at Useton, he was certainly changing now. Sublimity filled his head, gorgeous rhythms of faith and desire.
Then he heard the flapping. From somewhere beyond the dome, a mighty bird as big as the cathedral itself must have been slowing its motion for alightment. Davenport still could not see what made such a noise — it was probably Concorde (the teacher had also once pinned a picture of this wondrous jet liner on the blackboard back home) with new found leather wings and spindled snout
But what eventually loomed above the dome was simply a monstrosity. Its face was the Devil’s own Halloween mask, with skin in leprous folds, wild staring eyes swimming in pools of blood, champing beak of yellow splintered bone and wattles of sickly fire. Its nose was indeed like Concorde’s, but drooping from it were swelling globs of regurgitated spew surpassing by far the produce of the vilest fount of slime in the ranks of nastiness...
The ribbed, webby wings suddenly filled the sky, as if the earth itself had unfurled them.
Davenport called out for his Mummy — he wanted to be back home more than he had ever yearned for the tit when a baby.
He felt a small hand slip into his and, looking down, be saw the little girl he’d met on the train (last seen traipsing off with a policeman) smiling up at him.
‘I didn’t let him,’ she mumbled mysteriously.
‘Good,’ replied Davenport, without really understanding why. They wandered off together to where they thought Useton would be.
But before they rounded the corner, he turned back to find that the cathedral must have been nothing but a figment of his imagination. A bank stood where the monster had been. London was evidently a city of false pretences.
They ended up at the zoo which, after all, could not be far from Useton. There they saw a monkey wearing a hat with the words “I LOVE U”. It threw it into the air and the girl picked it up and put it on.
But Davenport had disappeared when she turned to show it to him. So she went off to find the lost property office.
(published 'Krax' 1989)