Document of Interest: The Kilburn Hoardings Transcript

The following is a transcript of a cassette recording sent to us anonymously. There were a few brief notes attached. The audio consists of a call to a late night show on a popular London radio station.  The radio station concerned has pulled the audio from their archive and asked PoL not to mention them by name. In the interest of protecting the caller’s identity, we present a transcript in place of the audio. Names have been changed.

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Host: We have a Rachel from Kilburn on the line. What’s keeping you awake, Rachel?

Caller: So, this is gonna sound kind of weird.

H: Go on.

C: My housemate is scarily obsessed with a billboard.

H: Okay.

C: [laughs] Yeah.

H: Your housemate –

C: I told you it was weird. Like, not a billboard exactly, but those – those boards outside building sites.

H: Hoardings.

C: Yeah, hoardings. She’s obsessed with a picture on one near our flat.

H: And this is – [laughs] right, okay, we’ll come to your flatmate in a moment. Uh, let’s start with this picture, tell us about that.

C: Yeah. So, we live in Kilburn and between our flat and the tube station they’re building some big new development. Luxury flats, you know?

H: Oh, let me see. Sandy coloured brickwork? Patches of colour that wouldn’t look out of place in a playground? They’re popping up all over like something from the Twilight Zone. Don’t get me started, Rachel. Do go on.

C: Right, so…

H: The picture.

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C: Yes. Well, you must have seen them, too. Those CGI images of what the grounds of the building are going to look like on an average morning or something. Except there’s like too many people and they all look kind of weird.

H: Always doing the nice things in life aren’t they, those CGI people? Chatting, having a picnic. You don’t see anyone arguing or picking up their dog’s number twos do you?

C: [laughs]

H: And it’s always sunny. None of the rain and toxic air particles we all know and love.

C: So, this is the thing. It started with her just finding them funny. I mean she always used to find those pictures funny, but this one, it really –

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H: You’re going to have to tell us what it looks like, eventually, Rachel.

C: [laughs]. Right, sorry. So, there’s this curvy path next to a grassy mound and half way down there’s this – couple. This man and woman. They’re walking past a tree, towards the new building, you just see their backs. The guy’s on the left, wearing a dark suit, salt-and-pepper hair, turning his head to the woman. He’s holding his hand out in a ‘dispensing witty pearls of wisdom’ kind of a way.

H: I can picture him now.

C: Right. And the woman, she’s turning to him and laughing, you can see a little of the side of her face – you can’t see his face at all. She’s wearing like, tapered trousers, a pale shirt. Kitten heels it looks like, blonde hair. Carrying something like a cross between a clutch and a file folder. And, I mean, these people are CGI and kind of blurry but you get the feeling she’s a bit younger than him.

H: Okay.

C: That’s what it was all about for Emma at first.

H: Emma’s your housemate?

C: Yeah. She was like, are they colleagues? A couple? Is he her dad? It was the dynamics of it – and, like, who was being sold what, here? I think it annoyed her, you know? And when things annoy Emma, she turns them into a joke. That’s Emma. She invented all these scenarios for them. It was just fun, a joke. At first.

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H: And now?

C: Now she’s just – like I said, she’s obsessed. She doesn’t talk about anything else. It’s like this woman is her best friend. She talks about the guy, too. But this imaginary woman is like Emma’s best friend in the whole world, right now.

H: Do I detect a hint of jealousy here, Rachel?

C: [laughs] Well, yeah! That’s it. That’s why I phoned in. I’m jealous of a CGI woman. Thing is she kind of looks like Emma, similar hair and – But no, I’ve been laughing about it, but – it’s getting – she’s started having these dreams now –

H: Hold that thought! Rachel, this is – intriguing – we’ll be right back with you. You’re listening to [redacted]

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According to the notes, the conversation resumed roughly 45 minutes later.

Host: You went awol for a while there, Rachel! Glad to have you back. And it turns out your flatmate has been having one of the dreams you started to tell us about?

Caller: Yes, I – I’ve just come from her room. I got her back to sleep in the end. I – I don’t know if that was the right thing to do.

Host: Ok. Look, you sound – if you’d rather talk to our producer off-air –

C: No, no. I’m sorry, I tried to – it – it isn’t funny any more. She was always such a happy – I…

H: Take your time.

C: [takes a breath] So, the noises started right after we stopped talking. I knew she was having the dream. Where she says she walks with them at night. The couple. And, ok, to me, from my room, it sounds like she’s having a nightmare – all this screaming and groaning. But when I wake her and try to comfort her – she’s just angry with me. Furious at me for waking her up. She – she says she’s happy there. “At peace”. Says all this mad stuff. “The trees are like music”. “It’s the only good place” and – she say’s this a lot –   “She’s not laughing. You thought she was laughing, but she’s not.” And – god – the worst is – like, I really hate it when she says this –  she says she wants to know what her eyes are like. The woman’s. The CGI woman’s eyes. Tonight she was just furious at me because I stopped her from seeing what this fucking woman’s eyes are like. And – oh, shit –

H: Rachel?

[Silence]

H: Rachel? She’s – can you hear her again?

C: Yes. Fuck, why did I let her go to sleep again? You really can’t hear that?

H: I mean – Look, Rachel –

C: Ok, I’m walking to outside her door. You need to hear this shit.

[Wailing sounds become audible]

H: Oh, so now we can hear that. Ok. Wow.

C: Yep. London, Emma. Emma, London… Jesus it’s worse than ever.

H: Look, this is – that really doesn’t sound right – if you need to go to her –

[A pause. Wailing still audible, it increases in intensity as the conversation continues]

C: I don’t know what to do. When I wake her, god, the hatred in her eyes. They’re like, black with hatred. You’ve never seen anything like it.

H: If that’s a nightmare then – I don’t know, I’m not an expert but, you need to wake her, Rachel. Look, does anyone else live with you?

C: We’ve got one other housemate but he’s never in.

H: Is there anyone else you can call, anyone in the neighbourhood, because –

C: I don’t see what anyone else could do.

H: I mean, just so you’re not – right, Rachel, what I’m going to do, I’m going to hand you back to our produ –

[Wailing sound ceases suddenly]

C: Wait.

H: She’s gone quiet. Is – is that good?

C: I don’t know… I’m opening the door.

H: Rachel –

[Sound of door opening. Static appears on the line]

C: Emma?…Jesus.

[static increases]

H: Rachel? Is everything ok?

C: She’s not – Emma? Is that you? Where are you?

H: Rachel?

C: [static dominant, voice distant] Emma? Is it you? Emma?

[only static audible]

[caller’s line goes dead]

The recording ends there. We have decided to flag this as a possible picto-door – with the huge caveat that the source is ambiguous at best. Very little is known about these breach phenonema, which seem to exploit the fragile borders between perceptions of an image and its viewer’s reality.

We include similar images for illustration only: in so doing we in no way suggest that these examples are of relevance to PoL’s field of interest.


  • Candidate: The Kilburn Hoardings Transcript
  • Type: Picto-Door
  • Status: Unconfirmed

 

Time Travel at War: Alexandra Palace and ‘The Princess’

The official website of North London’s Alexandra Palace has a timeline feature. As you scroll back and forth through the exhibition venue’s 140-year history, certain events stand out: A ‘flying bomb’ which blew out the Rose Window towards the end of World War Two; BBC transmitters jamming the navigation systems of German bombers; a devastating fire in 1980; the Palace twice being home to Belgian refugees.

But you’ll see no mention of the story that connects these strands. Maybe this is because it is, in part, a story of failure. Or perhaps it has simply been forgotten, as has so much in the history of London’s dimensional gateways.

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Winter at Alexandra Palace during WWI source | public domain

Set your mind’s timeline to the early months of World War One. The young daughter of a Muswell Hill nurse is brought by her mother to visit refugees camping in the Palace’s Great Hall. The experience will have a lasting impact on the six year old.

Now jump forward 25 years. The nurse’s daughter is back, again greeting Belgians displaced by war. This time, however, the refugees are in the Palace’s wings, being housed there largely as a front. The nurse’s daughter has no professional reason for visiting them – Mary Stratton has not taken her mother’s career path. She is at the Palace in her capacity as a foremost physicist, leading a top secret project. Behind the vast Rose Window, inside the Great Hall, a weapon is being developed that she hopes will play a decisive part in the war against Nazi Germany.

Mary Stratton is building a time machine.

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Alexandra Palace source | licence

But now we come to the 1980 fire. This event was not kind to historians of Stratton’s creation. Much of the paperwork, not to mention what remained of the machine itself, was burnt to ash along with the room it was stored in. We know that the machine had been codenamed ‘The Princess’, but the details of its workings are lost.

What does remain, thanks largely to the diligence of her sister, is a wonderful cache of Stratton’s personal letters, notes and other papers. Alongside hints of the social dynamics at work in her team, they give fascinating insight into what drove her.

“War has a habit of twisting science to the most awful destruction”, Mary wrote to her sister in 1942. “Well, I believe I am close to finding a way to turn science back upon war itself, to hasten an end to all this death without shedding a drop of blood more”.

The ideas of Albert Einstein crop up time and again. His theories on time’s illusionary nature clearly fed into Stratton’s work. And it seems his thoughts on pacifism and liberty also informed her thinking. (Mary was present in 1933 when Einstein spoke at the Albert Hall. Whether she met him in a more personal capacity during his visit to London, we can but wonder.)

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Albert Einstein source | public domain

Stratton’s papers show a wide range of influences. She drew, as Einstein had, clear links between science and literature, art and freedom.

One intriguing scrapbook has cutouts of William Whiston’s 18th Century chart of the Solar System and Gustav Dore’s depiction of Dante’s Paradise alongside a sketch of Alexandra Palace’s stained-glass Rose Window, which had awed Stratton as a child.

The visual connections inferred may give tantalising hints as to the manifestation of The Princess. A letter to Stratton’s sister certainly does. Shortly before her death, Stratton saw the 1960 film of HG Wells’ Time Machine.

“Dear Sis, their Machine! I nearly burst out laughing with recognition. Ours was a deal less pretty Victoriana and a shade more bashed-up Brewster Buccaneer – but something about the general feel of the thing didn’t half give me goosebumps”.

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HG Well’s Time Machine from the 1960 film, and a Brewster Buccaneer (the kind of weapon of war Stratton hoped to render obsolete)

But what of the aims of the time-weapon? The hypothetical murder of a young Adolf Hitler is a well known thought-experiment. We’ll keep to ourselves our thoughts as to where Stratton would have stood on the ethical element, but it may not have been relevant anyway. The physicist didn’t seem to believe such an enterprise was possible.

Somehow, a decoded transcript has made it into Stratton’s sister’s collection which discusses facets of the mission with uncharacteristic candour. It is addressed to the team’s superior military co-ordinator.

“I’m afraid the boys are getting rather carried away: travel back and we can murder everyone, travel forward and we can find superior weaponry and import it back through time. I’ve had to hose them down somewhat”.

For one thing, Stratton noted that The Princess, when completed, was likely to be ‘short range’: “We’re not talking about traversing epochs – yet”.

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William Whiston’s 18th Century chart of the solar system alongside Gustave Dore’s depiction of Dante’s vision of Paradise

More importantly, Stratton believed that any major changes to even recent history could endanger the integrity of our perceived reality.

Instead, she took inspiration from the technicians who were utilising the Palace’s BBC transmitters to disrupt German navigation systems. Crucially, this interference was clandestine, designed to lead the Germans to believe that their own systems were at fault.

Stratton thought that by dipping into the near past, agents could disrupt German operations which British code-breakers had discovered were planned for the near future. Enough disruption would render the Nazis unable to wage war, without the risk of damage to localised spacetime.

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An aerial shot of Alexandra Palace. The Great Hall, with its Rose Window, is visible at the building’s centre source | licence

But Mary Stratton’s theories would never be properly tested.

Whether there was a mole in the mission, or the Nazis own code-breakers intercepted a message, we may never know. Perhaps the bomb attack on Alexandra Palace was just coincidence. The damage was minor, but the team and their military superiors were spooked enough to discuss moving the project to a more secure location. However, they don’t seem to have got very far with this before the war in Europe came to an end.

Of course, in the Pacific, the closing of the war was hastened by a far more terrible scientific endeavour. The A-Bomb changed military thinking. Mary’s ideas fell out of favour, remaining so until the Hawkingsian renaissance of the 1980s.

Today not so much as a blue plaque stands to remind us of a woman who never accepted a vision of humanity that for a few dark years seemed poised to envelop the world.


  • Candidate: The Princess (AKA The Ally Pally Time Machine)
  • Type: Time Machine
  • Status: Uncompleted

Source and license for featured image.