It was 15.27
Twenty-seven minutes past three in the afternoon?!
I looked across my shoulder and did the 'double-check of shame'. I was not alone. My heart started to pound as thoughts raced through my head, spinning like a gyroscope.
Who was that? Where was I? How the hell did I get there?
It took a second for me to register where I had been the day and night before, and then I remembered - The Eccentric Club. Or more specifically, The Arts Club in Mayfair. I'd gone to prove myself as Lord Christopher Ward. To try and improve my social status. To be the aristocrat my title required of me, and to gain contact with other Lords and build up a new social network through the Convivial Meeting I'd been invited to. I hadn't envisaged it ending up in such an unhealthy manner.
You see, here I was, in the kind of state the 'old' me was more accustomed to - a head full of mush and a badger's tongue. Not to mention a void between the moment alcohol had clearly entered my mouth and the moment I'd woken up with a feeling of shame in a room I knew nothing about. I couldn't help but feel something must have gone wrong. In this kind of situation, it normally had.
I decided to check under the sheets. I was still wearing my suit.
I felt around in my pockets, and pulled my camera out and switched it on. I must have taken some photos at some point. I realised I could probably work out what had happened and who I was with by taking a look at them. That way I'd determine whether I should wake them up and get them to cook a late breakfast, or hastily make a run for it and never speak a word of the event to anyone ever again.
Initially, the camera told me its memory was empty, and a wash of disappointment spread through me like a knife through butter. But then out of the blue, it fired into life. I clicked on the first file and as I waited for it to load, I realised I'd have to run through them chronologically. Relive the whole thing, in order. For better or worse...
Two photos of toilets. It was a pretty shady start, I must admit. Yet, I instantly recognised them, and my memory started flooding back. Of course I recognised them, they were the most obscure gents toilets I'd ever been in. How could I forget?! Plus they were the catalyst for remembering I had actually met another Lord during my excursions. Lord Dave West, to be exact - the owner of this private members nightclub in Mayfair called Heyjo, and a born and bred Essex barrow-boy turned millionaire. I'd been introduced by Imants, my Eccentric Club mentor and guide for the day, who'd decided that acquainting a fellow title-owner and self-confessed eccentric would be beneficial for me, even though he wasn't your archetypal Lord:
The pink suit had definitely proved his eccentricity. As did the toilets and his liberal stance on life; as well as the fact that there appeared to be a phallic undertone to various things within the club. Indeed, talking to him and seeing the number of beautiful women he had working on laptops dotted around the place had also served as fair proof that being a Lord clearly must have its benefits. Plus this was where I'd had my first drink of the day bought for me. I'd go on to rue such generosity, but at the time it was a fantastic perk. More drinks were to follow too, as we left Lord West to continue running his business. He'd told me as a passing shot that I should join him on one of his 'club nights' next time I was around. I walked out thinking I'd have to hold him to that offer.
We swiftly moved on, in a cab, towards Brook Street. I remembered this being the place I felt most in awe of, as I sat and sipped brandy and white wine, bought for me in the world-famous Savile Club. I'd heard of this place before, you see - Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling had once been members, among others. The idea of walking in the footsteps of such great historical figures was quite hard to fathom, especially as I was just a long-haired student nobody from Reading. There was almost something fantastical about it though; as if I'd never considered the fact that such places actually existed, and never considered that I could ever end up in them.
The club's air of tradition and history was clearly being upheld by its members, as they sat and muttered quietly to one another in Chesterfield armchairs surrounded by wood-panelled walls, huge oil paintings and racks of fine spirits. The alcohol, and Imants' guidance soon had me socialising with them easily enough though, to the point where I can vaguely recollect the 'snuff box' being shared around. Things must even have become relaxed enough for photos to be suggested:
I'd obviously begun to feel comfortable with my new surroundings. At this point, however, Imants reminded me that the Convivial Meeting was due to start reasonably soon and that he was the man presenting it, so I downed the wine he'd bought me and we stumbled towards a cab and back across Mayfair to the Arts Club. Unfortunately at this point, with more alcohol to sip on, things started to get blurry, even with the photos to aid my memory. I couldn't recall if I'd even eaten any dinner, for instance. At least the next photo reminded me that we'd obviously made it in time for the start:
Which had been at 7.47pm, on the dot. Imants greeted everyone with the motto Nil Nisi Bonum, and then there was a short fashion show and a charity auction. Visions of what had happened after this floated around my brain. I'd socialised with many people initially, including a genuine Eccentric- a man with a bird-cage on his head. I clearly remembered that. But where was the photo? I could also vaguely remembering standing next to a statue of Winston Churchill, and being invited to dine at the House of Lords with a French Duke and his friends. But there was no photo of this either? And probably no proof. I'd have to chase that up with Imants, to check that it had not been something I'd imagined.
Despite being alone, I enjoyed seeing this photo. It looked very much like I'd fitted in, even if I couldn't remember it. Brandy and quiet contemplation. It was the kind of thing I'd gone there in search of. Yet within the photos that followed, things got a little bit strange again:
There was a wizard present. Why hadn't I remembered that?
And somebody drawing caricatures? I was wondering what had happened to mine.
Had I won an award for something? I certainly didn't remember that. I couldn't see that I'd brought it with me, from scouting the bedroom I was in. I decided that maybe I'd left it behind. I wondered what it was for. Most eccentric? I had a long way to go yet. Flicking to the next photo had me soon forget about the award, in any case, as it sprung up a question or two:
There was something rather ominous about this particular photo. Something that made me bolt right up in bed. Who was this? And at what point had we gotten so friendly? My heart was skipping away, yet again.
Next to me, the body started to move, and then stir. The person in the bed was waking up. What had I done? Was this photo what I thought it was? Was it the preparation for what was about to come?! Just as I began panicking and trying to find means for excuses, I accidentally pushed a button and scrolled to the next photo on the camera:
Everything became clear.
The man on the left of this picture was James Goff - my best friend from back home in Reading. Of course it was! He'd sent me a text message half-way through the evening; I remembered now. He'd been working in the centre of London and had sneaked into the Arts Club, at which point I'd ticked him off but Imants had okayed it, so we'd sat in Chesterfield armchairs and chewed the fat deep into the morning, as if it had been something we'd need to savour. People had come and sat with us as I now recalled, and we'd spent much of what was left of the time drinking more brandy and trying to get the wizard to teach us how to disappear.
Clearly James was the body lying next to me in this bed. I leaned over and now I noticed his shoes and suit scattered across the floor. I'd been so stupid to have feared the worst.
"James," I whispered. The body only managed a grumble back. It was a grumble I recognised however, allowing me to officially breathe a huge sigh of relief. That photo was clearly far more innocent than it looked. If anything it was proving what fun the event had been. Perhaps I hadn't ruined my first chance to masquerade as a Lord after all. There was still an issue that needed sorting, however.
"Any ideas where we are mate?" I asked him. "Is this your place?"
"Nope. No idea," he said, as he rolled himself over to show his tire-beaten face. "Hadn't you better be getting your train though?"
My train? Of course, my goddamn train home! I scrambled back under the sheet, and reached into my pocket once again. I pulled the tickets from my wallet and there in front of me was the 'something that had gone wrong':
London Paddington to Truro - 15.35
I looked at my watch.
I'd missed my train home. Fifty quid down the drain. A while to wait for the next one.
How had I managed to lose my way so much? Was this how every Eccentric Club meeting ended? I wanted to get in touch with Imants and find out what had really happened. Find out if I'd dreamt meeting that bird cage, and the French Duke. I put my camera back in my pocket, before James and I got up and sneaked away from the house we knew nothing about...
Lord Christopher Ward