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Lobby Lud: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Connolly's secret, she revealed, had been to tape a copy of Lobby's picture to her dressing table mirror, where she could study it every morning and read the reports of his latest escapades. “I concluded that you were much more likely to be on the edge of the crowd instead of actually in the thick of it,” she added. “I went round to all the Brighton people mentioned in your reports and cross-examined them in the hope of getting a clearer idea of what the rest of you was like to supplement the photographs. They all remembered you, and wanted to kick themselves for letting you slip through their fingers.”
The Gazette carried Connolly's story in its September 8 issue, leading on her determination and the scientific methods she had applied. Next to this was another story, announcing that the competition would now enter a new phase. “LOBBY LUD FOR LONDON,” its headline screamed. “OMNIBUS HUNTS FOR ALL.”

The new contest, as that headline suggests, was built around London's buses. Each edition of the Gazette would list the numbered bus routes Lobby had to ride that day, specifying exactly which portion of the journey he'd do and the hours he'd be there. His first day in London, for example, would be Monday, September 12, when he would ride the number 9 from Barnes to Liverpool Street, the 11E from Shepherd's Bush to Liverpool Street, the 27 from Highgate to Hounslow and the 27A from Highgate to Twickenham. He would board the 11E near Shepherd's Bush between 8:00am and 10:00am, and then travel all four routes until 12:30pm. After lunch, he'd board a number 9 near the Strand or Fleet Street at 2:00pm and travel all four routes again until 5:00pm.
The base level for the new prize was set at £100 instead of £50, rising by another £50 every week Lobby remained undetected to a maximum of £250. Bus conductors and drivers were barred from entry, but promised £25 each if Lobby was caught on their bus and one or both could produce a copy of that day's Gazette. No challenges would be accepted before 8:00am, after 5:00pm, or between the hours of 12:30pm and 2:00pm, when Lobby must have hoped to get a bit of peace and quiet for his lunch.
The change in routine seemed to reinvigorate Lobby. The Gazette had given him a few days off before starting his London career, and he hit the capital full of mischief. He spent his opening Monday there teasing various bus conductors and, whenever necessary, challenging his fellow passengers so as to put others off the scent. On Saturday, the Gazette promised, he would be in west London's Richmond Park. “Exceptional opportunities for detection will be given,” it promised. (19)

The Bush House crowds were as densely packed together as those at any rock festival

Londoners took to the chase in huge numbers, with Lobby reporting “thousands” of pursuers as early as his second day there. This was the day of Mr Henderson and his friend's persecution in Elephant & Castle, and Lobby reported similar scenes everywhere he went. “Policemen were moved to mirth as the crowds thickened and swirled about them,” he wrote. “Bus and tram conductors forgot their fares and leaned overboard to bandy my well-honoured name about; tradesmen's lads swelled the chorus; shopkeepers stood grinning at their doors; postmen dallied, bag over shoulder, to debate London's latest sensation.”
Lobby was having fun again, and this prompted him to resume the stunts he'd enjoyed in his early seaside days. On the Wednesday, he visited Scotland Yard to parade himself before Britain's top coppers and, finding no takers there, moved on to Westminster Bridge where he spotted a pavement artist drawing his portrait. At Temple Station, he watched a determined crowd chasing one of his doubles up the steps to street level as two policemen looked on laughing. On Thursday, he gave a daringly precise time for his passage past Bush House - 1:22pm - and then dealt with the matter by scouting the crowds in a taxi, waving and blowing kisses to them as he passed. He then plunged directly into the midst of them, pressing through on foot straight past the building and on up Kingsway.
The next day's Gazette photograph of the Bush House crowds show the wide pavements there crammed solid with people, as densely packed together as the first dozen rows at any rock festival. Many of the men are wearing hats very similar to Lobby's own, not through any deliberate effort to impersonate him, but simply because that was the fashion of the day. One or two have pipes as well. There's a dozen men in that photo alone who could be Lobby, so it's small wonder that his pursuers found it so difficult to distinguish him from the innocent by-standers all around.
The fact that Lobby was not as easy to spot as they had imagined led some Gazette readers to conclude the competition must be fixed. The paper responded by carrying a box declaring it had never employed any decoy Lobbies to distract the crowds, that the real Lobby would always confess his identity if challenged correctly and that all the printed facts about his appearance and his daily schedules were 100% true.
One reader - identified only as RM of Lowestoft - wrote in to say he had come across several people who insisted that Lobby did not really exist at all, but thought this could be explained by simple vanity. “They feel certain they can spot Lobby Lud,” he said, “and, when they find on experiment that they can't, the only explanation that occurs to them is that he isn't there to spot.” For his own part, Lobby continued to rely on the stock answer he'd developed early in the competition. Anyone who challenged him, but failed to get the Gazette's specified wording right, was told simply: “You are making a mistake”. Whether that mistake lay in identifying the wrong man or simply using the wrong words was for them to decide. (7, 20)

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