Walking through London in 1990, with two friends, D. and S., we were at a pedestrian crossing. As we crossed the road, we kept an eye on the green man to make sure we had time to make it across comfortably. In, we don't have digital pedestrian signals, and at the time, the little men were made by reverse stencilled paint over coloured glass.
About half way across the road, there was — quite literally — a ripple in reality, a brief flash of disturbance, and suddenly the lights had changed again… but not back to red.
The plain green guy was now wearing wide-bottomed flares and glasses, had long, flowing hair cascading out behind him, and had a line of stars from in front of his forehead that trailed over his head and down his back, each one slightly bigger than the previous, like some kind of cloak.
We all stopped dead and exchanged stunned looks. One of us (I forget which) said "Did you…?"; the other two both replied "Yes" before he could finish the sentence.
Then we remembered the traffic and hurried across the road, and waited nervously for the lights to go red again. Sure enough, on both sides of the road, the red guy had changed too. He was now carrying a briefcase, smoking a pipe (with wisps of smoke rising), wearing a little homburg hat, and he had big brogues on his feet.
We watched at the lights cycle for ten minutes or so, but eventually continued on, feeling really freaked.
A couple of days later, I was talking about it with a group of friends. To my amazement, one of the girls said "Oh yeah, I heard about that." I muttered something incredulous, and she told me that she’d seen an article in the press talking about how the council had recently changed the lights on that pedestrian crossing.
Apparently it was some sort of tribute about the death of a singer who had been famous in the sixties, and who had lived in that street. She was certain that the three of us there had just not noticed the difference in the lights until we were half-way across the road.
I was far from convinced — the council changing the plates over the lights made sense, but not in less than the blink of an eye. Anyway, L. promised to bring me the article to have a look at our next gathering a couple of weeks later.
A few days later, I went back to look at the changed lights more closely. The construction was standard — they were just black-painted glass, the top section red glass and the bottom section green, with the shapes of the men etched out of the paint, and white bulbs behind.
The figures were based on the original templates of the walk/go men, but with extra details etched out of the black paint to provide the outfits. The glass was bolted in, and took up the entire casing in front of the light bulbs. There was no possible mechanism by which they could have slid down in front of the other plates, or anything of that sort.
Just in case, I hung around at a cafe across the road for about an hour, watching the lights, but they stayed changed. A week after that, I went back again for another look, to get a sketch of the altered designs. I was disappointed to find that the lights were back to being perfectly normal.
It was our regular gathering a couple of days later, and I was quite keen to see the article that L. had mentioned. When I asked her if she had brought it in however, she looked at me blankly. She clearly didn’t have the slightest idea what I was talking about.
She didn’t remember me mentioning traffic lights, Camden, or anything else, and neither did any of the others there. She had never heard anything about the council changing some pedestrian crossing lights, or even of a sixties singer dying recently. In fact, none of them remembered me saying anything much at our previous gathering. When I re-told the story, everyone seemed quite spooked by it all.
I called D. and S. immediately afterwards, and yes, they still remembered it clearly. D. seemed amused by it all; S. was just terrified.