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Lobby Lud: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Special trains were booked again from Victoria a few days later, when over 50,000 people from towns all over Southern England were expected to flood into Brighton for Lobby's return visit there. In the event, the booked trains were not enough and special relief services had to be added at the last moment. Later visits to Margate, Hastings, Bournemouth (again) and the Isle of Wight were also given their own trains.
Lobby continued his adventures round Britain's coastal resorts for another three weeks, reporting the usual collection of near-misses, harassed doubles and colourful encounters. He had his photograph taken with a lady midget on his knee at the top of Blackpool Tower, drew massive crowds in Brighton and noted familiar faces in some towns as he realised a handful of particularly determined Lud-hunters were following him from one destination to the next. On his return visit to Great Yarmouth, he found the town beset by rumours that local CID men were searching for him on the pier, and allowed a little paranoia to creep into his thinking. Who was that suspicious fellow in plus-fours, he wondered in one column. Hadn't he seen him before?
The prize had climbed to £150 again by the time Lobby reached the Isle of Wight on Saturday, September 3, and that's where he was captured for the second time. His downfall this time came at Ryde's New Pavilion, which Lobby later called “a perilously small and self-contained place”. Still, the paper had promised he would be there between 2:00pm and 4:00pm and so, at the appointed hour, Lobby steeled himself and walked in. “A few seconds later, I found myself looking into a face on which I have never seen grim resolution writ so large,” he reports. “It was Mussolonic in expression. It paled perceptibly, fixed me as a basilisk might its prey, seemed to imply that I had sinned against its ancestors, heirs and assigns, even unto the third and fourth generation.” (16)
That face belonged to Percy Maskell, a 30-year-old unemployed decorator from the Isle of Wight, who thrust a copy of the Gazette at Lobby and made a successful challenge. He had been out of work for six weeks, and relied on 29 shillings a week unemployment benefit to support himself, his wife and his three children. He told Lobby that he'd come up from Shanklin on the train that morning with his six-year-old son. His wife, Maskell confided, thought he was mad, but he'd been determined to join the hunt. After calling at a Ryde builders he knew to see if there was any work going - which there wasn't - he'd hurried off to the seafront to join the crowds.

The Gazette's special car paraded Percy Maskell through Ryde in a seat fixed to its roof

“I stopped at least a dozen likely chaps on the front this morning,” he chuckled. “I kept on looking at your photo sideways, so as to try and get an idea of what the front view would be like. For lunch, I had sausage and mashed at an eating house and challenged a fellow there. Then I saw you cross the road and enter the Pavilion. You were dark, the right height and looked like the man. First I went to one door and didn't like to go in because I had nothing to spend and I thought the waitress would object. Then I went to the other and you were just inside it. I recognised the likeness at once.”
The £150 prize - equivalent to two years' worth of the unemployment benefit he was then receiving - would be “a godsend” Maskell said. He was surrounded by delighted crowds as soon as he and Lobby stepped out of the Pavilion, who congratulated him on being such a worthy winner and expressed their pleasure that a local man had won. The Gazette had a special Lobby Lud car by this time, which paraded Maskell through the town in a seat protruding from its roof while a Gazette man inside broadcast his triumph through the car's megaphone.
Lobby returned to the fray on Monday with a day in Brighton, but confessed that the stress of constant scrutiny was starting to get to him. “This morning I was in the trough of what the weather people call a deep depression,” he wrote. “The inevitable reaction, I suppose, from five weeks' constant strain. If my tactics today were apathetic, and I shirked the risks which are normally my daily tonic, I ask your indulgence, and promise you the usual sensational run for your money tomorrow.” (17)
Perhaps that promise was still in Lobby's mind when he reached Eastbourne two days later, making him just a fraction too reckless there. Whatever the reason, he allowed a woman called Jane Connolly to nab him in the town's Devonshire Park just two minutes before the day's 4:00pm cut-off. This came less than a week after Maskell's triumph, so Connolly won just £50 against his £150. But she still seemed delighted by the result. Connolly lived in Hove, within easy reach of the south coast towns Lobby had concentrated on, and she'd been pursuing him for several weeks.
“I hunted you all the six days at Brighton,” she told him. “And followed you up at Hastings and Southsea. I realise now that I saw you in Western Road, Brighton, at the Preston Park Police Sports, and again at Brighton Station when you changed from the Hastings train to the Portsmouth one. [...] I had practically decided today that I could not afford to spend any more fares or time on the hunt and must give it up.” (18)

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Tales of doubles, dentists and a broken pipe

Lobby's progress round London supplied the Gazette with a constant flow of small anecdotes to amuse its readers. Here's a few examples.

* Embankment, September 14: A caller at the paper's Shoe Lane office complains that he's been stopped 40 times while strolling along the Embankment by people who thought he was Lobby Lud. The fact that he was six inches taller than the real Lobby did nothing to discourage them.

* Greenwich, September 16: Lobby stops at a Post Office to send a nonsensical telegram addressed to the Westminster Gazette. Everyone around him is discussing the contest, but no-one thinks to challenge him.

* Woolwich, September 16: A man on the bus boasts “If I see him, he'll never get away,” just as he draws his legs in to let a fellow passenger squeeze by. That fellow passenger is Lobby Lud, who delights in reporting the incident next day.

* Richmond Park, September 17: Lobby watches as a scoutmaster in full uniform jokingly challenges every motorist who passes through the park gates - women included.

* Streatham, September 22: A woman refuses to believe the innocent man she's challenged is not Lobby Lud. “I'm getting rather fed up with being challenged,” he protests. “I simply dare not get out my pipe and light it.”

* Hyde Park, September 26: Robert Confino, a French journalist working in London, is challenged 33 times while walking in the park, once by a man who grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. This, he insists, is “scrupulously true”.

* Walthamstow, September 28: Lobby gets caught up in a crowd of people chasing someone else, and has to rely on a policeman to restore order. When he emerges, he finds the crush has shattered his pipe's vulcanite mouthpiece, and has to buy a new one.

* Stratford, September 27: Lobby ducks into a dentist's office to shake off someone who's been following him. He has to undergo an examination while he's there, but escapes with no fillings.