The bruises are starting to heal. Dan is now out of bed and walking again. For my part, it no longer causes me violent paroxysms of pain whenever I laugh (not that I’ve had much cause to do that these past few days!).
How did it all go so wrong? Last Thursday’s event had looked set to be a huge success. Twitter was all abuzz, so when we arrived at the Ripper Museum for Dan’s talk, there was already a queue snaking round Mitre Square! Geoffrey, the museum curator, stood in the doorway, peering over his spectacles with a ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ look.
“Thank God you’re here!” he cried with relief, hurriedly ushering us inside and locking the door behind us.
Well, the scene that greeted us took my breath away! The whole cafe was lit by candlelight, it was as if we had been transported aboard the TARDIS back to Victorian times, and Geoffrey was the Doctor (more William Hartnell than Matt Smith). On a table at the far end of the room, (where Dan was to give his talk) sat the prized possession from the collection, the human kidney sent by the Ripper to the police! Two candles stood either side of the glass jar, guarding it like sentries, and it almost seemed to glow and pulsate in the flickering light, as if it were alive.
“Yes, I thought you’d like that,” said Geoffrey, chuckling, “adds an extra gothic element, don’t you think? Just do be careful you don’t knock it over, the alcohol in the jar is highly flammable! What’s that you’re carrying?”
“A smoke machine and an overhead projector,” I gasped, dropping both heavy items to the floor. (I had asked Dan to help me carry them from the station, but he was carrying his costume and also, as he pointed out quite reasonably, he needed to preserve his energy for his performance).
We set up, Dan changed into his Victorian costume and Geoffrey opened the doors to let in the hordes. Our audience was a motley bunch. It soon transpired they were evenly divided between ‘Ripperologists’ and ‘Wildeans’ (many of the latter sporting green carnations) and they were all, quite frankly, weirdoes to a man (and they were ALL men!) Geoffrey briefly introduced us and then the show commenced. I switched on the smoke machine and Dan entered from the toilets in top hat and cloak.
“Night. A clock chimes twelve times,” intoned Dan, swishing his cloak around. “A young woman hurries through the dark, deserted square. Suddenly, a figure emerges through the unfurling London fog in front of her.” I thought Dan was giving a stunning performance, really showing the benefits of his abortive RADA training (another story for another time, dear reader) but there was some tittering from one corner of the room, tittering which gradually began to spread across the room like a Mexican wave. It was when Dan began to do the voices that people really began to hoot. His ‘cockney prostitute’ voice was too much for some. Rather red faced, he bravely finished reciting the book’s opening chapter to scattered (and somewhat sarcastic) applause. Then he began the ‘meat’ of the night, his detailed presentation of the evidence against Wilde. Then, lastly, came the Q and A. We were both somewhat taken aback by the hostility of the questions. The Oscar Wilde society were furious. One compared Dan to the Marquis of Queensbury, another angrily accused us of trying to defame a dead man who couldn’t defend himself (he got a huge round of applause for this). Understandable perhaps as he was their ‘hero’ so the sordid truth must hurt, (Jimmy Savile fans must be currently undergoing similar torments) but if anything the ‘Ripperologists’ were even worse! They picked holes in everything, pointing out that Wilde was in Paris at the time of one murder, in Dublin at the time of another, etc etc etc (Well of course he’d have given himself alibis, wouldn’t he?) One man, after mistakenly presuming he’d torn our argument to shreds, smugly asserted that “of course everyone knows that the real Ripper was in fact Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man!” to be shouted at by every other Ripperologist in the room, saying, “no, no, it was obviously George Bernard Shaw!” or “nonsense! Even a damn fool knows it must’ve been Prime Minister William Gladstone,” to which someone else retorted “Tory lies! It was blatantly Disraeli!” It was at this point that I noticed something was seriously awry with the smoke machine. It had been gently releasing a steady stream of dry ice across the floor, but now it had malfunctioned somehow and huge clouds of smoke were gushing out, quickly filling the room till nothing could be seen through the dense fog, whilst a succession of disembodied voices angrily shouted out names; “George Gissing!” “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!” “W.B Yeats!” “No, no, Florence Nightingale!” “You’re all wrong, it was Emmeline Pankhurst, I have the proof right here!” At this, everyone seemed to suddenly notice that they couldn’t actually see anything, and widespread panic broke out.
“Please, remain in your seats,” urged Geoffrey’s alarmed voice, but it was no use, pandemonium was unleashed. Tables and chairs could be heard toppling over as people cursed and cried out in pain.
Dan was angrily hissing at me, “Switch it off, Matthew!”
“I can’t,” I whimpered. There was the sound of something glass smashing to the floor nearby. I stepped forward, and something squelched under my foot (I think you can guess what!). I yelped in disgust as I slipped over onto my back. A burst of flame flared up over me, the room was filling with real smoke now, black and thick, setting off the fire alarms and sprinklers. Everyone was coughing and screaming. Someone had found the door and flung it open, smoke spilling out into Mitre Square, dispersing enough for everyone to see their way out. As I exited through the door I grabbed a sobbing Geoffrey and we hurtled across the square just as his beloved museum exploded behind us, all the evidence and artefacts pertaining to the Ripper’s crimes incinerated forever!
So, if you were planning a trip to the Ripper Museum anytime soon, sorry, too late! As Geoffrey sadly noted in the police station later that night, as he rocked backwards and forwards, “it survived the Blitz, it’s survived multiple funding cuts and threats of closure, but it couldn’t survive one night with Dawn Rescue!” Well, perhaps there’s a little lesson there, Geoffrey. If you’re going to run a museum glorifying an evil murderer, well, the good Lord might get a little cross about that and, as it were, ‘send the boys in’! “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase…” (Deuteronomy 32:22)