A spitting ball of energy deposited Erimem and Andy in Argyll Street. It was early in the morning. A street-sweeper looked up in time to see the last sparks disappear around two young women. Probably fireworks leftover from Bonfire Night, he thought, moodily. The pair of them looked the sort to be out partying all night. A dolly bird and one of them Beatniks. He sniffed and went back to sweeping his street.
‘It looks different,’ Andy said, looking back and forward along the street. ‘But kind of the same. The shops are different, the pavement and roads are different but still… the buildings themselves haven’t changed.’
Erimem sniffed the air. ‘The smell is different,’ she said.
Andy took a deep breath. There was something… ‘Coal,’ she said. ‘I guess a lot of houses back in this time didn’t have central heating or gas fires. They must have still burned coal and logs. I wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t mentioned it.’
‘I grew up in a palace surrounded by only the sweetest of smells,’ Erimem reminded her friend. ‘My nose is sensitive to smells. She breathed out, looking at the cloud formed by her breath. ‘It is also sensitive to the cold,’ she added.
‘At least you’re wearing trousers,’ Andy chuckled. ‘My legs will be frozen solid by the time we get home.’
‘Then we must find your book,’ Erimem said firmly. ‘That is our mission.’
‘Mission yes,’ Andy said, linking her arm through Erimem’s. ‘But you’d always do a bit of reconnaissance before a mission, wouldn’t you?’
‘Good,’ Andy replied, pulling Erimem along the street. ‘Let’s investigate Oxford Street in 1964.’
Oxford Street was also recognisable. There had obviously been a lot of changes to the great thoroughfare in the fifty years after 1964, but enough of it remained recognisable for Erimem and particularly Andy to feel that they were on home territory.
For someone used to the gaudiness of a twenty first Christmas with all its shining lights, glittering tinsel and plastic sparkle, Christmas in 1964 was a very muted affair. Window displays were restrained, with more focus on traditional festive tropes like snow, Robins, colourful boxes and, of course, Santa.
Erimem pointed at the decorations in a shop window. They were beautifully made of card and coloured tissue paper. ‘The colours are not so bright as your tinsel but I like these. Look at the way the paper unfolds. These have been made by craftsmen.’
‘They were probably made in a factory somewhere,’ Andy corrected, ‘but I like them too. They make me think of my Grandad for some reason.’
‘Did he ever have decorations such as these?’
‘Maybe,’ Andy replied, delving back into childhood memories. ‘I don’t actually remember him as much as having a sort of idea of how I remember him. Does that make sense?’
Erimem paused. It made perfect sense to her. She had never known her grandfather. Her Father’s father. He had been pharaoh before her father and he had died before she was born, and yet in dreams and in what she could only describe as a vision while she had awaited her execution, her Grandfather had visited her in her mind, bringing guidance and wisdom… and leaving her with a lot of questions. It wasn’t something she had talked of in detail with anyone, mostly because she had no idea how to discuss it.
‘It makes a great deal of sense.’ Erimem answered. ‘I understand you very well.’
They began wandering along Oxford Street, window-shopping. They laughed at some fashions and adored others. At a music shop, Andy explained to Erimem who the Beatles were as they looked at the LP sleeves in the window.
‘The most popular musical group in the world,’ Andy explained. ‘They sold more albums than anybody in the decade.’
‘What are albums?’
‘You know the CDs Ibrahim has in his car? The shiny silver discs?’
‘Those are albums.’
‘Ah.’ Erimem nodded her understanding.
‘And those,’ Andy said, pointing at the LP sleeves, a couple of which had hints of vinyl creeping out of the side, ‘are what they had before CDs were invented. Bigger, easier to damage and less precise but some people still prefer them. I don’t know why.’ She aimed a finger at a fanned out display of 45rpm singles. ‘Those are singles. One track on either side. They cos less and it’s a really big deal in this time if a singer or a group sells the most of those in a week.’
‘I know what the music charts are,’ Erimem replied with a smile. ‘And I know what Ibrahim calls them, too.’
Andy laughed. ‘That’s the first sign somebody is getting older – they start calling contemporary music rubbish. Then they move to Radio 2 and start watching The Antiques Roadshow. Next thing it’s comfy slacks with elasticated waistbands.’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’
Andy shrugged. ‘Neither do I, and this isn’t getting us any shopping done.’
‘The shops are not yet open,’ Erimem pointed out.
‘True,’ Andy agreed. ‘But I’ve seen a few cafes with their doors open. I’d kill for a bacon roll made by somebody who wasn’t me for a change.’
On a side street just off of Oxford Street they found a spacious café with plenty of empty tables. Erimem took a seat while Andy ordered for them.
‘You know you prefer coffee,’ Andy said when she joined Erimem at their table.
Andy grimaced apologetically. ‘They only do tea. Sorry.’
‘It will be fine,’ Erimem said. ‘As long as it is hot I will be happy.’
‘I suppose the big question is where I’m going to find this book,’ Andy said. ‘In our time I would just go to Forbidden Planet and get it.’
‘There is a forbidden planet?’ Erimem asked. ‘Where? And why is it forbidden?’
‘Horrible things happen there,’ Andy replied with a smile. ‘If I go there, I come out with all my money gone.’
Erimem scowled in confusion. ‘How does that work?’ she asked. ‘And why do you go there if it is forbidden?’
Andy dropped the act. ‘Forbidden Planet is a chain of shops. They sell books, comics, DVDs, audio plays… all about science fiction stuff. Horror too. They took the name from a science fiction movie from the 1950s. In our time they have a huge megastore on Shaftesbury Avenue.’
‘I have been to Shaftesbury Avenue,’ Erimem said. ‘They have a theatre. They have many theatres.’
‘But right now, no Megastore,’ Andy said ruefully. ‘So we’ll have to shop around.’
George, who ran the café, delivered their bacon rolls and teas. Both Erimem and Andy thanked him and he went back to his counter.
‘If we were back in 2015 I could go online on my phone and find some bookshops,’ Andy said between bites of her roll. ‘But since the internet and free wi-fi haven’t been invented yet, I did the next best thing.’
‘Local knowledge,’ Erimem said. ‘You asked the man who sold us this food.’
‘That I did,’ Andy agreed. ‘And these bacons rolls are…’
‘Greasy and unhealthy,’ Erimem interrupted.
‘Totally,’ Andy said. ‘And absolutely brilliant.’
They stayed in the café, watching people come and go, workmen taking rolls away, others sitting and chatting, until the clock read that it was after nine thirty.
‘The shops will all be open now,’ Andy said. ‘Ready to shop till you drop?’
‘Are you ready to rock and roll?’ Erimem countered.
Andy looked impressed. ‘Somebody’s been doing their research.’
‘I also know how the internet woks. Or at least how to use it.’
They had almost reached the door when a tall figure moved between them and the exit. It was a young man in his early twenties. He had the look of someone who simply didn’t care about anything. Andy would have given better than even money that despite his youth he’d seen the inside of a jail already. His clothes were on the scruffy side as well. They didn’t smell too clean either.
‘Hello, girls,’ he said in a voice oozing a nasty variation of wide boy.
‘Excuse us,’ Andy said, trying to move around him.
He moved and blocked her way. ‘That’s not very nice, especially when I’m trying to do you a favour.’
‘No thanks,’ Andy replied. ‘The only favour we need is for you to shift.’
‘That’s where my favour comes in,’ the wide boy said. ‘I couldn’t help noticing that purse of yours when you was at getting your order in. A lot of money in there for you to be carrying about.’
George came around from behind the counter. ‘This is a good place. I don’t want any trouble here.’
‘Won’t be no trouble if she hands over that purse. Got to be twenty quid in that. She hands it over, I get out of her way.’
Andy glanced at George. ‘Call the police.’
‘I can’t,’ George said helplessly. ‘We’re not on the phone.’
The wide boy grinned, showing broken, uneven teeth. ‘Shame, eh? Now gimme the purse.’
His hand lashed out, reaching inside Andy’s coat for the purse.
‘Hey!’ Andy yelled.
The thug’s hand caught the pocket in the lining of Andy’s jacket and pulled and then there was a sick cracking noise and he screamed in pain.
Erimem had moved quickly, grabbing his wrist when the arm was fully extended and driving the heel of her hand in his elbow. The joint splintered under the impact, The thug’s arm dropped limply to his side and he dropped to his knees, screaming.
‘Sorry,’ Andy said to George. ‘But...’
‘I do not like bandits,’ Erimem said. ‘even poor ones such as this.’
Andy opened the door. ‘But I think we should go in case he causes trouble.’
‘I think you have a point,’ Erimem agreed and skipped past the screaming thug.’
The side street had a thin white covering. The clouds had thickened while they had eaten and snow had been falling for a time. Ignoring the slippery pavement, Erimem and Andy ran onto Oxford Street. They kept running until they had put some distance between themselves and the café.
‘You are going to tell me I should not have hit him, Erimem said when they stopped.
‘Umm, no,’ Andy replied. ‘He was trying to steal our money and grope my boob at the same time. He got what he deserved. I just wish I’d had time to kick him in the bollocks.’
‘We can go back if you like, Erimem offered innocently.
‘Neah. Let’s buy books.’
Following George’s advice they started their search in Woolworths. Andy was unfeasibly excited about shopping in Woolworths. ‘Mum always used to talk about the Wonder of Woollies. She took me there when I was a kid. She was gutted when they closed Woollies.’
‘Devastated,’ Andy explained. ‘Not…’ she swished a finger up her stomach and made a cartoon cutting sound. ‘Not literally.’
‘Good.’ Erimem made the same swishing movement on her stomach and copied Andy’s cartoon sound. ‘Is always bad.’
Woolworth’s had everything from lightbulbs to shoelaces to records to t-shirts and pretty much everything in between. It also had books. Unfortunately, it did not have the book Andy was looking for.
‘Sorry, love,’ a harassed woman busy restocking shelves told them. ‘I think that one’s sold out again. What was it called?’
‘Doctor X in an Amazing Adventure in Space,’ Andy said quickly.
‘Yeah, that’s the one,’ the woman said, leading them to the spot on the shelves where the book should have been. An empty space stared at them. ‘Sorry, I was right. Sold out.’
‘Thanks anyway,’ Andy said.
Before leaving Woolworth’s, Andy and Erimem picked up a copy of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger novel with Sean Connery on the cover. ‘He’s the wrong sex for me and everything.’ Andy said, ‘but I can’t deny he’s a sexy beast. By the way,’ she lowered her voice conspiratorially. ‘It’s illegal in this time for girls to like girls and boys to like boys, so… let’s not mention my preferences.’
They also picked up copies of the Beatles albums Beatles For Sale and A Hard Day’s Night as a gift for Helena and a spectacular amount of Pick and Mix sweets… because they really wanted to.
The snow had set in for the day and when they emerged back onto Oxford Street the pavement was thick with snow. Even the road was becoming white, the snow too heavy for the traffic to clear. To get out of the snow they ducked into a number of shops. They bought hats, gloves and scarves in a clothes shop, which also sold replica football shirts, and so they picked up a Manchester United short for Ibrahim. Andy wasn’t surprised to find that even in 1964, Londoners couldn’t stand United.
They trudged through the snow, going to the bookshops George had recommended. In each of the shops they found the book sold out. On their way to the final book-store they popped into a shop and bought some of the delicate paper Christmas decorations they had admired in shops earlier.
‘Don’t blame him,’ Andy commented as they saw a policeman ducking inside a police box.
‘It looks very cramped in there,’ Erimem said. ‘There wouldn’t be room for two people in one of those things.’
They finally reached the last of the book shops on George’s list the snow had formed a thick carpet on the ground and scrunched as they trudged through it. The shop assistant gave them a sour look as they came in through the front and stamped the snow from their boots.
‘We’re closing early because of the snow.’
‘We won’t be long,’ Andy promised. ‘We’re just trying to pick up a book.’
‘Which one?’ the woman asked.
Erimem supplied the title. ‘Doctor X in an Amazing Adventure in Space.’ She looked to Andy. ‘Is that right?’
‘Spot on,’ Andy agreed.
The shop assistant remained focused on Andy, ignoring Erimem.
‘My friend told you,’ Andy said pointedly. ‘Didn’t you hear her?’
The woman humphed and pointed off to the side. ‘That sort of thing is over there.’
‘Thank you so much,’ Erimem said politely. ‘You’re very kind.’
‘Come on,’ said Andy, ‘or I’ll never get this damn book.’
They hurried in the direction the woman had indicated.
‘Unfortunately there are bigots here as well,’ Andy muttered.
They reached the area they had been sent to very quickly. ‘What does the book look like?’ Erimem asked.
Andy opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again. ‘No idea,’ she replied. ‘Didn’t exactly check on that. Schoolgirl error. I imagine it has Doctor X on the cover somewhere in big letters.’
‘That is not particularly helpful.’
They searched the shelves and the display tables, looking for the elusive Doctor X. A movement in the corner of Erimem’s eye caught her attention. The unpleasant woman they had spoken to a little earlier had stomping their way. ‘The hippopotamus from the door is waddling this way.’
‘I’m sorry,’ the woman said, sounding anything but sorry. ‘You’re going to have to leave. The shop’s closing.’
‘I’ve got it!’ Andy was holding a copy of the book. Doctor X, with his hooked nose, white hair and baggy old coat and crooked bow tie looked out moodily from the front cover.
‘Just in time,’ Erimem sighed in relief.
‘You’re too late. We’re closing,’ the woman said.
‘Listen,’ Andy said. ‘We’ve been looking for this all day. Admittedly it’s let us do a load of other Christmas shopping but it’s what we came to… London for, and no poxy blizzard is gonna stop me buying this for my little brother.’
Andy ignored the interruption. ‘And if you try to stop me buying this book I’ll put it all over social media…’
‘Remember the time,’ Erimem added.
‘Newspapers,’ Andy said quickly. ‘I’ll put it all over the newspapers what terrible service you give here and we’ll see how your bosses like that in the ruin up to Christmas.’
‘Oh, all right,’ the woman huffed. ‘Just hurry up.’
Andy grinned in triumph. ‘See what being a stroppy cow does?’ She picked up the two other copies of the book from the shelf. ‘I could flog these on Ebay… this is at least five or six hundred quid.’
Erimem knew that her friend was not convinced by the thought. ‘Then why do you delay? The money would be useful for you.’
‘But then my greed would stop a couple of kids getting a present they might really want. That’s not Christmas. How would I feel if somebody had bought this book out of sheer greed and I couldn’t get it for Matt?’ She put two of the books back on the shelf. ‘I am so going to regret this.’
‘You are a good person,’ Erimem assured her.
‘Remind me of that when I’m skint a week before pay day,’ Andy muttered. ‘Come on. Let’s pay for this and go home.’
At the counter Andy handed the book to the woman who rang it through on her till.
‘That’s two and six,’ the woman said. Both Andy and Erimem noted that there was no ‘please’ attached.
Andy fished three shilling coins out of her purse and held them out to the woman. ‘Here you go.’
The woman put the book into a paper book into a paper bag, making Andy wait with the money in her outstretched hand until the book was inside the bag, which the old troll handed over as she took the coin. She was dropping it into the till when she stared at it in confusion.
‘What’s this?’ she said loudly.
Andy looked confused. ‘Three shillings,’ she said.
The woman brandished a coin under Andy’s nose. ‘This one says 1965 on it. Are you trying to push dodgy money on us?’
‘Oh, bollocks,’ Andy muttered. ‘Look, if you wait a month, that’s going to be legal tender.’
‘I shall have to inform the manager about this, and then it’ll be the police.’ She stared at them through nasty, piggy eyes. ‘I knew there was something wrong when one of her sort came in,’ she said,’ looking at Erimem with disdain.
‘There is a perfectly simple explanation for this,’ Erimem said quickly. ‘We are time travellers who came back fifty years to buy this book for her brother because that television programme is still very popular in the future.’
‘Mr Thin!’ the woman bellowed.
‘Truth isn’t always the best policy,’ Andy said to Erimem. She turned to the older woman. ‘Look, we don’t like being a nuisance, but you’re a horribly objectionable racist and we’re leaving. Keep the change.’
With that, they bolted for the door, pushing it open and running into the snow. Behind them they heard a bellow of ‘Mr Thin!’ followed quickly by a shout of ‘Police! Thieves.’ Risking a quick glance behind them, they saw a policeman running through the snow after them, his feet slipping as he ran.
‘He’ll break his bloody neck,’ Andy shouted.
‘This way.’ Erimem pointed to a corner. They took it as fast as they could, their feet sliding in the loose snow. Ahead of them was a cul-de-sac with no exits visible. However, when the policeman arrived seconds later there was no sign of the girls he had been chasing. The little alley was quite empty.