By Our Great Laureate:
Shunting out of the station, chuffing great puffs of white steam into the black churning smoke clouds of Milltown, the engine clanked and hissed in the surging rhythmic racket of Victorian Yorkshire Industry. Over the great Viaduct, on past the crowded rows of slum dwellings, away from the driven hordes of millworkers about the factory gates, past the sick wretched ricketed snot-faced sprogs (all mere crab lice round the shaft base of the magnificent columnar factory chimneys.)
The long shiny engine gathered steam and pulled fast away from the grim cobbled streets of workaday Milltown, taking meself and fair flaxen Flossie over the rolling dales, onwards to London for The Great Exhibition.
With us in the opulent olive green and walnut carriage were two nuns side by side engrossed in a massive marquetted Bible. Flossie, she of little faith, was herself chortling over a lurid Penny Dreadful, She Was Only A Fishmonger¹s Daughter But She Certainly Knew Her Plaice.
We were on our way to exhibit the finest and most modern of my underpinnings and foundation garments. Flossie had been sent with me to demonstrate my designs not by my choice. Miss Flossie was our Mill-owner¹s foundling daughter and favourite, and had been thrust upon me at the last minute; a timely excursion to avert a burgeoning scandal at the Mill. Her stepfather had been found fondling his foundling, caressing her cove with cough-candy, frottering her in fondant. It was perhaps hoped that a spell of absence, followed by some success and maybe even fame at the Fair, dignified by the presence of Royalty, would contribute to rescuing her reputation. But nay, for me there could be no rescue from Her.
For as far as I could see that wild wayward girl, one who had been inspiredly abandoned as a suckling babe by her own blood mother, would never alter in her disgraceful ways. Wicked Flossie Cobbmouth, for all the allure of her comely frame, threatened to bring me misfortune.
³Coo... ooer Master Pestle, all this rattling around¹s making me all fidgety,² announced the tireless Flossie, unfastening her straining bodice. The nuns looked up, crossed themselves, and returned to the Good Book of the Lord Our God. A harsh jolt at a junction brought one of her fat milky bubbies popping out, and with some clumsy and half-hearted fumbling at the blue-veined stiltonesque globe she cried, ³Ooh Master Pestle, I can¹t get the bloody thing back in!² I fixed my stare on the far horizon in an imitation of reverence for the Work of God and said nothing.
Further forced juddering and squirming brought the other breast into view, and this she seemed genuinely concerned to conceal. Its upper region was streaked with wedgewood-blue snail-trails, the ring around the teat all pimpled and stubbled, a shadow of coarse cropped-down hair running to a beard-like clump on the underside, and between the matted tufts... A Wart! By jove, the beast was surely a witch!
For a minute before the train went into the long tunnel I glimpsed her reddening complexion and heard her try to utter some explanation about how her pussy had gone a-wandering, a-wandering, a-wandering, and in that instant I knew that this she-thing had been forced on this voyage in the hope that she would not ever again return to Milltown. I had to act swiftly. I had three minutes of darkness punctuated by three splitseconds of illumination as the train passed under the ventilation wells - presenting in three striking frames eerie flickering magic lantern tableau vivantes to the startled but suspiciously silent nuns.
In the first fleeting scene was Flossie with her rising hoop and sinking breasts rolling back against the carriage window, myself in a semi-attire upon her.
Next were revealed our thrown forms, set-to like pugilists at a street circus, as my arms thrust up the legs of Flossie¹s bloomers, my head straining through its sodden gusset . Finally, the gaping nuns saw an expanded hoop, a retracted parasol, and a flying poke bonnet, accompanied by the ejection of a large solid through the carriage window.
Once out into the light again the nuns gazed over at a solitary lady traveller. ³Master Pestle hath gone to partake of some air,² I told them in my best female voice, doing up the last ribbon of Flossie¹s dress.
As we disembarked at the station, jostling with the throng of anything-for-a-discount-day-out Thomas Cooke passengers, I regarded the extraordinary amount of luggage the nuns had with them in disbelief but chose not to remark. A ruddy-cheeked porter, pear-shaped and surly but with a massive packet, was aiding me with my cases of modish understructurings when I was alerted to the fact that the parents of the Mill Owner (Flossie¹s own stepfather) were advancing towards me calling Flossie.. Sweet Pippet.. WE¹RE HERE!¹ Shit. Now I had to take on the personage of that heathen harlot instead of (as I had fantasised in depth on the train), that of Madame LouLou de Crinole, a Parisian couturier with a limp, a lazy eye, and a flair for matchmaking. ³Nanny! Nanny! Grandmamma!... Why, you¹re a bloke in a frock!² I yelped without thinking. But it was true. The old dame was a Queen.
Stepping forward with stealth this ³old lady² snarled, face-in-mine, ³Shut it, Floozie, I¹ve told you before about embarrasing me in public.² I was agog. Was I only projecting my own hideous, paranoid vision of myself in ludicrous female guise, onto this mannish yet mannered madame? Close inspection of her features (and God that was a hard and thankless task) assured me that she might indeed be a quite craggy and weatherbeaten woman.
Perfect! I was passing not only as a woman, but as a cheap, clap-ridden, fuzz-titted slag whose own fostergrandmother could be fooled even after being presented inadvertently with the raw fact otherwise. Our party made its way from the station to Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in a stony silence. Not even the horses¹ hooves clopped.
Once through the impressive great iron gateway, our exhibitors¹ rosettes neatly pinned in place, we merged into the Grand and Acclaimed company of Exhibitors and Specialists in all fields, Visiting monarchs, emperors, heads of state, the famous, the holy, the powerful, well... even God himself was there. What a magnificent glass Palace of Wonders. What a Fantasia of Excellence. I was glad to be a part of it, nay, Honoured.
The horrid old pair, once safely blagged into the Hall went off to have a nose round the exhibits, whilst I set up my stand in peace, helped by half-a-dozen scampish little boys, only one of whose voices had broken (and he the tiniest and least sexy of the troupe). Many hands make light work, but the sight of all those cherubic peach-bottomed lads made it a bit of a heavy one for me. Such an unusual sensation, to the inexperienced cross-dresser, to feel one¹s hardness come up against layer upon layer of waddings and petticoats, and a relief that such stirrings can go unnoticed neath bulky skirtings. If only the boys would hide under my skirts... could they, without suffocating in the cloying cotton? If, only... the squawk of a macaw cut into my thoughts. The great Aviaries of the Empire exhibit was just behind my stand. When I heard a parrot say, ³Mine hoop is thine!² all at once I understood how I would take the Fashion World by storm!
Within a few hours I had got the boys working on some splendiferous hoop work. The unveiling of my collection was NIGH. Oh where oh where were the models I had been promised? I was fraught. This Exhibition-scene, so huge and full of delights, I supposed had distracted those wayward girls. How was I to show my conceptual hoop to the world? Although I was rather attractive as a lady, there was no way I could effect all those costume changes and set the collection off to its best advantage! The boys would have to remain huddled under my dress, in the parrot cage (with parrot) I had customised to make my first patented conceptual crinoline.
In a tizzy, my eyes rested on the Gallerie Incredibilia¹just next to my stand. What possibly had begun as a circus sideshow had somehow been elevated to High Art. In the setting of a mock art gallery were large carved and gilded picture frames, within which were arranged various groupings of carnival sideshow characters (cheap to hire, love the attention, used to the jeers, easy to feed) imitating famous works of art. They were all trimmed with lavish flounces, flourishes, ruffles and ruches of genuine nuns¹ lace. NUNS¹ LACE! What had been in all those cases those nuns had had on the train had been- Nuns¹ Lace! Bales of it ! And to have confected these costumes for such peculiar and pitiable models! What a strange mixture of Devotion and Commerce, Charity and Awe of Art!
Included in the tableaux were the young Merrick, posing as Gainsbourough¹s Blue Boy; a Pre-Raphealite Beata Beatrix , featuring an orang-utan in an orange wig thrown back in ecstasy, a flaming heart upon its breast and a stuffed pigeon strung on a wire with the famous anemone in its beak.Numerous other portraits, based on the Dutch and Flemish Old Masters depicted folks dressed Cavalier¹, or Elizabethan¹ style, all of course heavily featuring lace ruffs and cuffs. There was Rembrandt¹s Night Watch posed by some heavily made-up pygmies whose unusually large heads were illuminated tastefully by the candle-light. A massive rendering of the Wedding of Victoria and Albert cleverly presented the happy couple as Siamese twins, joined together forever in nuptual bliss in an intricate half-man half-woman costume.
Perhaps the Galleria Incredibilia would provide me, temporarily, with some few spare models, plucked out from their back rows. Perhaps those five giraffe-necked women portraying When Did You Last See Your Father? Reluctantly the Nuns agreed to release these Burmese five, who had played up until now a poor version of a human xylophone, to be knocked upon frenziedly by Toucans whose loose bowels had brought the ladies out in an irritating rash. That group of medical-textbook-varicose-vein-sufferers who had acted as the Elgin Marbles were tiring, and also offered their services but I turned them down as I feared the pressure of my special corsets would bulge and burst their veins in wild blood fountains and thereupon upstage my Fashions.
The giraffe-necked woman of Burma proved to be dedicated professionals, well-used to restricting structures and metal cagings weighing them down. They had a certain elegance and poise that set them apart from other mannequins, not to mention their lovely big flashing white smiles with quaintly gapped teeth.
Amidst hubbub and fanfarings the Great Queen with Entourage entered the magnificent Crystal Palace to begin her tour of the exhibits and proclaim the Great Exhibition of 1851 officially open. A couple of Bobbies were stationed at either side of the stage, so dashingly handsome in the well-preened uniforms that hugged their firm-toned thighs and buttocks. Victoria and Albert strolled stately, by the wonderful scale model of the Tower of London made from thousands of farthings, and onward past Mister Kipling¹s marvellous massive Victoria Sponge Cake the size of a bandstand. With a hearty brass-band version of ³The Blue Danube² and a hasty doling out of Mr. Kiplings famous and delicious Viennese Whirls, the Victoria sponge rotated slowly. Up from its centre rose a figure, with an enormous glacé cherry for a hat. Seemingly a spangled and rouged carnival girl from Barnums¹, the prancing figure revealed itself with a hooked nose and circumcised penis as none other than Mr. Disraeli. ³Hello, Your Majesty² he cheered to the shocked Monarch, who wittily retorted ³We are not amused² and walked off.
At last the Royal Party arrived at my stand. I might now commence the demonstration of my hoop. ³Your Majesties², I began nervously, ³I, Madame de Crinole, upholsterer, costumier, corsetier, and revolutionary epistolier¹ of style, present for you my newest and most incredible invention. Your Majesties, please behold the garment that will change fashion forever, and allow freedom beneath the skirt...². I paused and grabbed hold of the cord that would swing open the stage curtains, ³The Crinoline!². ³Mine hoop is thine!² shrieked the parrot from beneath my gown. With a tug on the cord I unveiled the show, simultaneously shooting my steaming load all over the huddled youths under my hoop .
Shuddering in total-body-orgasm and stammering ³Fashion... Fashion... Femina... Journal de Mode... WORTH! WORTH!...Rose Bertin!² I almost collapsed as I watched the delighted expression of the Royal Couple. Albert looked particularly inspired at the sight of the slender brass-ringed necks of the Giraffe Women. ³Very like your incredible member² muttered Victoria, wet-eyed, to her Prince. The Giraffe Women, encouraged by the attention they were basking in, began to tick-tock their long necks metronomically from side to side in perfect time. By the bewilderment on their faces I could detect that this action was not voluntary. This Grand Exhibition housed the worlds biggest-ever electrically-powered magnet, and from a certain pulsing, humming sound that came from it, I deduced that it was charging up. Could this be what was causing the girls necks to swing so? The shocking new sounds made by the sparking generator (so wrongly imitative of a cosy crackling December hearth), were too fast, too sudden, and were now diverting everyone¹s attention from my Display.
Damn these reckless young inventors with their Satanic new ideas - Alchemists, I call them! Only Destruction can come from harnessing such Powers of HELL!
The throng too began to sway helplessly in ebbing waves towards the Great Electromagnet as the droning and buzzing of the machine increased tremendously. A barker in a tin topper around which were strung jerking pairs of frogs-legs and pillarbox-red-painted horse-shoe-shaped magnets, emerged from under the violet draperies which obscured the infernal machine. Through a tin funnel he rasped and shouted for people to come forward, ³Rrroll Up! Rrroll Up! (slurping as he drew the spittle back through his wooden teeth) Come Shee the Great Great Great EeeLect-rrro MaaaGnet! Thee Wonder Of The Age!² How dare he! The wonder of the age¹ was surely my Fashion!
Similarly incensed was a hag-like woman I saw battling through the mob with a placard. The barker blasted, ³LADIES! Please remove all Jewelery and metal objects upon your pershon!² The protesting harridan flung herself upon him, and with mighty force smashed the placard onto his hat and the loud-hailer. Snatching the tin cone, she pushed the barker to the floor and shoved her way dangerously towards my stand. Eyeing the placard forcing its way towards me, I saw that it read Your Hoop is a DISGRACE!¹ And that voice, a cacophonous drawl of New American origin, a semi-tone deeper than a Bass chorister from the lowest Welsh Valley. ³HOOPMONGERER! FRANKENSTEIN! WOMAN KILLER! PRISONMAKER! WOMB ENVIER! ZOOBUILDER! FREEDOMTAKER!²
The vile but thoroughly thought-out insults stabbed at my sensitive artistically-gifted heart. The parrot stabbed at my emptied scrotum with its beak squawking ³Aah Raison....aah Liaison² and it was only then I realised that the boys had torn my frock away from the inside, exposing themselves, the converted parrot cage, and my flaccid and spent member, its untamed pubes matted with my leavings. Quelle histoire.
³It¹s a man!² resonated the sickened crowd before me. ³That¹s not our little Flossie!² spoke two voices to the east of me. ³That¹s Entertainment,² guffawed an amused Victoria. ³That¹s a coincidence,² said Mister Disraeli. ³That¹s our exit!² said the Giraffe-necked women. ³These contraptions degrade WOMEN!² continued the assailing American, not to be upstaged by my Party Piece.
All hell was soon to break loose as the magnet prepared to switch over to full and total POWER. The Royal Family was ensconced upon a red carpeted podium at the fore of which was a large brass and ebony lever set upon a Corinthian plinth of cream alabaster wrapped in Ivy and Lily-of-the-Valley. For Victoria, to be in control of such a huge source of power was a familiar and even tittilating sensation; she gripped the polished ebony handle with glee. ³My Subjects! This has been a day not without event and profound revelation and it is in this vein that I throw this Switch and present The Power of the Worlds Greatest Electro-Magnet!² She could not have foreseen the result of that action.
I pray on my knees to the Great Almighty Above and All Around us humbly that what powers of description I am left with shall not fail me as I present to you, faithful reader, who has stood by me throughout all of this travelogue, the climactic scene of The Great Exhibition of 1851.
The power of the magnet was unleashed. The violet drapes crashed to the ground, as the slate-black monolith, bedecked in fizzling sparking wires, loomed as a Tower of Doom over the amazed throng. Hands ran to heads in panic as hatpins and hairpins quivered at its call. Watch-hands whirred and fastenings popped open. A terrified Cocker Spaniel cowered as its chain leash snaked cobra-like before it. Bird cages flew open, and both looking-glasses and eye-glasses seemed to swell and melt. Decorative militaria went to war with gravity and polarity, as did all metals and even compounds containing trace minerals.
First to fly spectacularly through the air over the heads of the assembly onto the surface of the Great Magnet were the Elephant-necked women of Burma, propelled by their neck rings as well as their ironed hoopings, to form an effect of petal cups on gold stems sprouting from the top of the monolith.
All eyes were on the straining tent-like gusset of Prince Albert¹s trousers. Tearing through the cloth came his famous ringed and bolted dong, hungry to cling to the Big Magnet, and to Victoria¹s surprise he too shot towards the top of the magnet like a red stamen in the centre of the elegant white flower¹ of hooped giraffe-necked women.
Swinging swooping shooting bits of every kind of metallic paraphenalia flew around the magnet - even Gladstone¹s Bag flung itself thereupon. Amelia Bloomer, that hellish American gasbag with the loudhailer and lack of fashionsense, found herself gagging as the tin cone dug into the back of her gullet, wrestling to hurl her against the now cluttered and constantly clanging magnet.
The Galerie Incredibilia was a ruin. The poor nun¹s life-work was wrecked beyond repair, resembling a jigsaw of Bosch¹s tryptich The Garden of Earthly Delights. Free at last, Beata Beatrix the Orang-utan tossed its tousled wig and in its only-as-far-as-the-painting-goes half-length emerald hand-woven silken robe, knob hanging out for all to see, flounced over to the podium. Victoria eyed the specimen with interest then broke out in a sweet sunny-day smile. ³Oh my dear, the dream of my life has come true at last.² she trilled, You have brought to me a Rambutan from the Tropics, for which I must pay immediately the princely reward of one thousand pounds.² Grand! She signalled to one of her entourage and he wrote the ape a cheque. Cupping her ruling right hand round its fuzzy red bollock she moved as though to bless it with a kiss, then bit right into it thinking it was a rambutan.
The ape went berserk. It grabbed the great Queen and thrust her skywards through the glazed atticana of the Great Crystal Dome. Dragging the switch back in its rage, the ape managed to turn off the offending magnet. The very air about us seemed to heave to a halt as the magnetic field died. The machine groaned like a slain Giant. Gaskets blew, pistons pumped themselves off, gauges smashed, and pipes burst open, filling the great Dome with a steaming intense atmospheric pressure.
The Crystal Palace is a marvel of engineering, and in response to the pressure and heat within it began to rise slowly and gracefully off the ground taking Queen Victoria up with it. The Queen, who had the imagination and style to transform even the most appalling calamity into a forum for a few bons mots, waved down to her subjects. Up and away she rose over the gaping masses, sparkling in hues of rose and amber through the pomegranite-tinted sunset clouds. Glinting and flashing she billowed fairy-like, speckles of blue blood splattering the rooftops and pavingstones. ³I hope to rain over you for a long period,² she quipped as on she sailed, the best advertisment for having a big hoop that ever there was, alighting finally, like a petal on a pond at Sydenham.
There was much merriment in London Town that night, and many a tale has been told of it since. So this is mine: ³My hoop is thine,² until Next Time.