Luke Upward: The Legend Of Pimlico part 1
As previously noted, Luke Upward was intermittently banned from racecourses and betting shops, when it was discovered that other punters were betting the field against his selections.
During one of these periods of relative prosperity, England’s pre-eminent man of letters was able to move to London’s fashionably Bohemian milieu of Pimlico. This runs between Chelsea Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, “and so do I, on dark nights” quipped Upward, a libel on himself since he never hurried to avoid muggers, only charitable workers.
Upward rented an agreeable, unpretentious Cubitt house, “stucco but not stuck up” in his words, later purloined by an unscrupulous estate agent. He never discovered its full resources, especially in the kitchen, because he instantly became the prize capture of every would-be local saloniste, to the great and enduring bitterness of the previous lion, the dreary, didactic novelist Walter Downer.
Upward stepped into a fierce local debate about the origins of the unusual name of Pimlico. One faction suggested that it came from a 17th century brewer, one Ben Pimlico, another, equally vehemently, upheld the claims of the friar bird, or pimlico, which used to be prevalent there. Upward dismissed both claims. At a glittering soirée given by his neighbour, Lady Bea Goode, daughter of George O’Kay, Earl of Marchinbande, he enthralled the company with the true Legend of Pimlico.
“Beer balderdash! Friar birds forsooth! Come with me to Imperial China about 150 years ago, to the remote village of Mei-Wei in the province of Cantsing. That was the birthplace of a girl called Pim-Lee-Koh, which means Little Oyster of the Prairie.” Walter Downer foolishly attempted a snort while his mouth was still full of peanuts, and had to be removed for repairs.
“From her earliest days,” continued Upward, not missing a beat, “Pim-Lee-Koh was distinguished by exceptional beauty and intelligence. She had the rare good fortune to receive an education, winning a scholarship to the mandarin school in the provincial capital of Hei-Wei, where she learnt the Hei-Wei Code. Soon the beautiful and gifted girl became a protégée of the school’s principal, who had been converted by Irish Presbyterian missionaries and was therefore known as Mandarin Orange. This devious and ambitious man had been exiled to Hei-Wei from the Forbidden City for singing hymns off key in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. In Pim-Lee-Koh he saw a route back to power. If she could become the Manchu Emperor’s concubine she would quickly dominate him. The Presbyterian plotter would become her controller and the power behind the curtain, composing the decrees which she would force the hapless ruler to sign. In this way, Mandarin Orange would secretly propel the Vermilion Pencil.
“The Manchu Emperor was indeed a feeble-minded youth, interested only in his favourite football team, Manchu Nited. However, Mandarin Orange’s agents in the Imperial court talked up Pim-Lee-Koh so intently that the Emperor was finally induced to summon her to the Forbidden City.
“She and Mandarin Orange set out along the dusty road in a hired palanquin, although none of their pals were keen at all, and advised the pair to stay at home. The journey would be perilous, for at this time all of China was convulsed by the great Tai-Ping rebellion, a mass peasant uprising based on a philosophy which blended simplistic forms of Christianity and communism.
“At their peak the Tai-Pings ruled most of China. Their leader called himself the Supreme Heavenly King and under him were a host of subordinate rulers, including an East King, a West King, an Assistant King, a Secretary King, a Water King and a Lion King, who sold tickets before giving an audience. There was also a Prawn King, although everyone knew he was crackers.
“However, the outstanding Tai-Ping figure was called the Loyal King. Fearless, reckless, selfless, gormless – no, I jest, for the Loyal King was a great general. It was the Loyal King who held the breakaway empire together when the Supreme Heavenly King died of a tragic accident (he drowned in the Tai-Ping pool). He was succeeded by his 9-year-old son, the Boy King, to whom the Loyal King swore eternal fidelity with time off on Wednesday afternoons.
“This was the man whose soldiers captured the palanquin of Pim-Lee-Koh and Mandarin Orange on the dusty road from Hei-Wei. Mandarin Orange obligingly died of terror, but Pim-Lee-Koh spoke boldly to her captors and demanded in traditional style to be taken to their leader, or reader as this was then pronounced in China. They conveyed her to the Loyal King. At once he was spellbound. She said in a voice husky with passion, ‘I’ve lost a contact lens.’ At once he was on his knees to her. He found her lens and for Pim-Lee-Koh it was love at second sight.
“Abandoning the dismal Manchu Emperor, Pim-Lee-Koh never left the side of the Loyal King. Together they ruled the Tai-Ping domains in the name of the Boy King, and led its armies against the Manchu. It was Pim-Lee-Koh who devised a dramatic military innovation for the Tai-Pings: cavalry mounted on bicycles from a central depot, the Empire Bike Stack.
“In spite of the daring wheeled cavalry, the war began to turn against the Tai-Pings as the Manchu Emperor enlisted foreign barbarian armies to re-conquer his lost provinces. Eventually the Tai-Ping came to a full stop. All of its soldiers were dead, wounded or deserters. There remained only the Boy King, the Lion King, the Loyal King and Pim-Lee-Koh, each with a bicycle. (The machines in question were Raleighs, or as pronounced locally, Larries.)
“Then the Boy King’s bicycle got a puncture. There was no time for a repair, with a pursuing foreign army only minutes away. Besides, they had no chalk. The Boy King burst into tears. Without hesitation, the Loyal King handed him his bicycle and turned to face the enemy alone.
“But not quite alone. When the Boy King and the Lion King pedalled away, the Boy King still crying because he had wanted a new bicycle not a second-hand one, the beautiful Pim-Lee-Koh stayed by the Loyal King.”
Upward’s thrilling story will continue only by popular demand. If there are insufficient likes I shall substitute a passage from the dreary, didactic novels of Walter Downer.