‘To be is to do’
‘To do is to be’
‘Do be do be do’
A two hour journey north from Notting Hill through the green and settled landscape of the East Midlands brought me on a weekend jaunt to the industrial city of Nottingham, lying on the eastern edge of the declining industrial core of England. As is my wont, I had a view to taking in some remnants of its evanescent past, off the tourist radar, and to look up some of its literary addresses. This was a spot check in which I inspected spots that the glossy tourist brochures shied away from highlighting. Spots on its civic escutcheon according to some, evoking a belligerent view of the city that they preferred to varnish over with the medieval romance of Robin Hood and the image of a city of smooth progress.
Never far from the ebb and flow of world events, Nottingham had its fair share. I was here to see where complacency about England’s social consensus and harmony was severely shaken at various times.
Any dispute that its history was a highly contested one was cleared up when I made my way to the “Castle”. Like the fighting that took place here – the coyly named civil war – this title did no justice to its real purpose. As I had told my students it was on this site that Charles 1 had raised the Royal Standard in 1642 launching the English counter-revolution. There was no castle to be had. It was burnt down To a crisp by a crowd in 1831 protesting at the failure of the Duke of Nottingham, then the sitting member of parliament, to support the Reform Act. Echoes of the Paris barricades had clearly reached this corner of England. Still on display were the smashed and headless remains of the duke’s statue which had been torn apart.
Saturday afternoon. Called by the factory horn, men and women streamed down Salisbury Road to punch the bundy and put in their eight hours . While fewer in number the jobs were still there at the Raleigh bicycle factory, jobs as assembly line drones like Seaton and Sillitoe fell into as their fathers had done before them. Living out the notion that if a job is worth doing, it’s doing again 9,726 times a day.
As they packed through the gates, I heard gabbled muttering – was this Arthur’s favourite dictum: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Entering the building, meeting up with my visitors’ tour group, we were greeted by the incessant din of machinery going hammer and tongs clanging, clicking and gnashing of gears, levers and wheels, turning molto fortissimo. Roaring with a boom-a-lacka, zoom-a-lacka, wee. Turning out along the belt, one part at a time, this most simple A1 vehicle. One that had conveyed me along the bushland paths of my youth. One that had conveyed Alan along his path to success writing about life on this factory floor, the monotonous nicotine stained work routine, morning, noon and night, and the everyday goings-on of the workforce.
Saturday night. Just around the corner from where Alan lived, off Salisbury Road, I spied the trademark sign. The white horse and the beautiful green tiles along the sides informed me that this was one of the pubs where young stiffs like Arthur sozzled away their swell time. This is where I decided to find the Saturday night scene. Parking myself early on a stool in the upstairs bar, I dragged out my battered, dog-eared copy of “Saturday Night …”, placed it on the bar counter and settled in to take in some local beer and skittles. I looked in vain for Arthur’s motto ‘Be Drunk And Be Happy’ framed on the wall’ but I guessed that wouldn’t have been politically correct any longer. The paperback proved an essential conversation piece. The first to strike up was the barman who saw himself as some kind of authority on it’s subject.
‘What’s your undoing?’he asked. Sizing me up as a literary enthusiast, he took the paperback as an invitation for him to reel off his patter. After ordering, he came right up with more than my amber nectar:
“You’ve picked the right place to spend out on the town. This is where likely lads like Arthur Seaton found their way into literature. This is where the action took place in the film. This is when “piled up passions were exploded”, where “The effects of a week’s monotonous graft in the factory were swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill” he poured forth.
“…Where you felt the beer going beneficially down the elastic capacity of your guts”, I added, really not wanting to stretch mine that much.
“I see you think no small beer of our Alan”, he said.
“He’s like a pint of the best lager”, I said. “He’s got a good head on him”.
A small tippler myself, I ordered a large lager. Aussie as I am, I would have felt sheepish otherwise. I sipped slowly at the risk of it going flat.
‘Is this your full time job?’ I asked him.’
‘I’m studying pharmacy but this is a good lead in. A barman is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory’.
“Have things changed around here much since the film was made?” I asked.
“Things have been tarted up for the sake of tourists taking in the sights. No more sawdust and fag butt strewn floors, soaked up with stale beer.”
“Do you expect more characters like Arthur in here these days?”
“It’s a dead cert,” he replied. “Arthur is the proletarian Jack-the-lad. You’ll find him everywhere young hell-raisers sweat blood, kick up their heels and play the field. You see that little bleeder over there” he said in an aside, looking towards a guy with his arm clasped around a woman’s waist. “He has a lot of time for the missus. Anybody’s – I know for a fact she’s not his, like Brenda.’
Brenda was the wife of Arthur’s fellow worker into whose arms Arthur landed.
‘What we get coming in here as well are young blow-ins from everywhere, putting on their acts of bravado, chasing fame and skirt, hoping they’ll be discovered as the latest Finney. They never are. They’re not naturals. For one thing, they can’t get a handle on the local dialect. You’ve got to grow up with it or learn it at acting school. As for who’s the real McCoy, stick around and find out.”
The minute he walked through the door I wondered if this were one. Dressed in a cheaply cut suit, this bruiser swaggered up studly to the bar, his blonde hair swept back across his forehead in a cowlick, his dumpy mate, snorting an inhaler, trailing behind. The cocky one placed his order boisterously.
“Oi, Gov, give us Black-and-Tans all around for me and me mate. Line em up.”
Catching sight of my book, he said “Why don’t you fill your glass with us, my man? It’s my shout.” Taking him up on this, I tagged along behind this rough stuff to their table, drink in hand. Plonking themselves down, with me wedged tight between, the gruesome twosome bottomed up and lost no time draining their pints, getting their skin full, spouting on in their Midlands dialect. In between words his mate took turns to gawk at me.
‘Are you looking for someaught special, or are you just browsing?’ I asked him. If he hadn’t been such an insensitive ass, he’d have realized I didn’t want to talk to him.
‘Where did you find an idiot like this?’ I asked Frank when Nick went to pick up the round.
‘Don’t mind ‘im’, said the bruiser.’Once ya get used to him, you’ll like him. He can really grow on ya,’ he cackled.
‘Yeh, like a tumour, ’I said to myself. “Black-and-Tans wouldn’t be the flavour of the month in Dublin”, I made so bold as to say. The notorious paramilitary groups had struck such fear and trembling into the people of Eire carrying out the pogrom that regulars refused.
“That’s the stuff to give ‘em, replied the off-sider,back with the drinks. A pasty weasel-faced mullet maned cove ,he leaned forward into his words and becoming quite bubbly. ‘You can’t trust what they say, those bog-rotten flannel-mouthed micks. I spit in their faces!”
Looking down at his plates of meat, I could see his unusually thick soles and heels, making him appear taller than he actually was. I took it ‘Sawn-off’ wasn’t meaning the drink.
‘Have you been in the armed services, Nick?’
‘I spent time in the Territorial Army.’
‘That’s where I got this here,’ he said baring a scar on his neck.’
‘How did you get that?’ I asked. Arm to arm combat with an invading Pict?’
‘I prefer not to discuss the circumstances under which I was wounded.’
‘I withdraw the question.’
Go on Nick, ’said Frank. Tell him what happened.’
‘All right. I did it shaving.’
Getting my Irish up, taking an instant dislike to this bigoted boor, I decided to proceed cautiously in my conversation. Especially after I noticed him slyly puncturing the vinyl covered foam padding of our seat.
‘What do you call an Irishman that marries a West Indian?’ he asked.
‘Someone in love?’
Nuh. A social climber.’
‘Very funny. What’s black and blue and floats upside down in the Thames? I came back.
‘Englishmen who tell Irish jokes.’
“Mind you, I don’t mind a drop of Guinness myself,” admitted the bigger bloke, as the drinks flowed freely, introducing himself. ‘ Frank’s the name. Welding’s my game. Charmed to make your acquaintance, I’m sure”. “I’m Allan.” I said, extending my hand . “Ere’s mud in yer eye,” answered the sallow squirt, proffering his, a clammy mitt hard to gain purchase on, being flaccid and coated with a smudge of oil. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to meet him. He looked as though he’d as soon pick a fight as look at you. “Hope you guess my name”.
“Let me guess – Lou—Old Harry—‘‘You’re getting warmer.’ ‘Nick?” I said.
‘It is Nick,” he replied “Bully for you!’ It wasn’t that hard. All I had to do was think of popular names that just happened to be those of the devil. If this paddy bashing runt was into lyrical charades as teasers, here hinting at the Stones hit ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, I would play along, but warily, not saying the wrong thing. I wouldn’t tread on his elevator shod toes unnecessarily. I didn’t want to get a rise out of him.
“But wot’s puzzling you is the nature of me game” he persisted, confirming my hunch.
“Up to no good no doubt”, I thought, but answering, “ Hmm, I can only guess wildly—grease monkey?”
“Ow did yer know?”“Let me just say an educated guess, Nick” I replied.
“Well, well, well, educated are we? University of Woolomooloo? he sniggered fatuously, picking up traces of my accent. ‘Welcome back, Lizard of Oz. You’ve paid your debt and have returned to the scene of the crime. What was it great great grandpa got up to, poaching in the forest? Rustling in the border country?’
He then alluded to the Bruces sketch by Monty Python. “I like the University of Woolomooloo rules: No poofters!’ They should all be stoned. That’s what the Good Book says.
”“Why do you like this sketch , Nick?” I asked the greaser, wincing from his uncouth, uncalled for boilerplate blabber . I’d really have preferred not to dignify his comments with an answer. To deny them more oxygen.
“It’s funny ‘cos I call them sugar plum fairies poofters when I’ve got ’em on the ground, givin’ it to them good, ’he bragged unctuously, clenching his fist. ‘Not that there’s anyfing funny ‘bout queers, ”he said, laughing. ’Except when we go gay clubbing-get it!?’he said, striking his arm down hard.
“You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when I tell you one of the Python team is homosexual. The sketch is not to be taken seriously. The Python team is actually taking the piss out of narrow-minded ignorant pissants – like the brace of Bruces in the Philosophy Faculty at Wooloomooloo.”“ So you’re an Aussie after all? Are you a poofter?” Frank asked bluntly, as if to get back for the new English academic member of staff, subjected to the same question.
“Hear, hear! Well spoken, Frank!” said Nick, failing to notice the knowing wink that Frank had sent my way.‘Did you never want to go to university, Nick?’ I put to him.‘ Never. All those Jews and Communists. And that’s just the teaching staff. Are you a teacher of philosophy too? There’s not too much use for those speckys these days. Right?’
‘Humanity hasn’t changed that much, actually.’ The rest of the evening would bear that out.
‘That’s a nice leather jacket you’re wearing, ’said Nick.
‘Thanks, ’I replied. ‘I was being sarcastic.
’‘So was I.’
‘Can I ask you a personal question, Allan.’
‘If you have to.’
‘Are you Jewish?’
‘Do I look like I’m Jewish?’
A few minutes later he came at it again. ‘Hey Allan, are you sure you’re not Jewish?”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” I said, ‘I’ve no cloven hoof or tail. You wanna look?’
‘Where are you from exactly,’ asked Nick. ‘Woop Woop?’
‘‘You wouldn’t know it if I told you.’‘
‘Gunnedah, a day’s drive north of Sydney.’
‘Sorry’, he said.
‘I said Gunnedah, a day’s drive north of Sydney’I repeated, raising my voice.
‘There’s no need to shout. I can hear you O. K. I’m just sorry to hear you sprung from some back of beyond, middle of nowhere, nobody quite knows ,armpit of a place filled with zombies. Dead. Is that where the sign says, ‘Welcome to Gunnedah. Beware of the Dog.’
‘A lot of smart people have come out of Gunnedah. ’‘I’m sure the smarter they are, the faster they come out.’
‘They must look woebegone and faraway. I wouldn’t go somewhere like that if it was the last place on earth.’
‘Tell me, what is there to do in a town like that, to make time pass from one day to the next?’
‘That’s up to you, isn’t it?’
‘What do you do?’
‘Oh, there’s plenty to occupy your time there. Corroborees. Yabby fishing. Kangaroo shooting. Driving whinging poms out of town.’
‘Hey what’s the difference between Australia and a tub of yoghurt?’
Relishing knowing the answer, I put him in his place, asking him ‘Before I think about that, answer me this, ‘What’s the difference between you and a tub of yoghurt? Of course. One has culture.’
‘Wise guy. Are you absolutely sure you’re not Jewish?” he asked.
‘All right, all right,” I said. “You win. I’m Jewish.’
‘That’s funny,” said Nick.” You don’t look Jewish.’
’I held my tongue after that hoping he’d clear out.
‘What’s there to do once you’ve seen the war memorial?’he said .
After he kept on and on, I raved about what beautiful weather and fine chalk white beaches we have.
Finally, in exasperation, he said, ‘If Australia’s so marvellous, how come you didn’t stay there?’
‘Well,’ I explained ‘they’re all so clever down under I had to come up to have any chance of making it at all.’
‘Up where?’he asked.
‘It’s not your fault anyway, Bruce’, said Frank. So what brought you to this neck of Sherwood?’
‘The 9. 40 express train from London.’
‘Oh we have a smart fart in our midst,’ said Nick. ‘What attracted you to this fine city, Tinkerbell? Men in green tights?’
“You might say I’m looking for a bit of local colour.”
“Seek and ye shall find. Welcome to the “colour bar”, a whiter shade of pale, yammered Nick, otherising continuously. ‘If it’s darkies you’re looking for, forget it. You won’t find much in this pub – no nig-nogs, no golliwogs, not least while I’m around.”
“Don’t mind Nick” said Frank, “e’s got a black bee in his bonnet. ‘is buzz is worse than his bite.”
“Mind yer own business!” snarled the surly scurvy-mouthed yob. “You’d be surprised wot oi’ve got up me sleeve.”
I felt a mite like sucking hind teat jammed next to this shady looking stiff but relieved that leastwise Frank seemed on side.
“Blimey, I’m falling down, stiff with shock, Nick, ” Frank sounded off sarcastically.
‘You’re a real surprise package. What you got up there really? A whip for thrashing, giving Kaffirs a lashing – a flick knife to trigger, to slice up some nigger . Must I remind you- if you must be mean always fight clean.”
“It’s easy for you to say, Frank. You’re all sorted. You’ve got some bulk, you bloody big hulk, you.” said Nick, sticking out his jaw and scowling, smarting from this gibe.’
“ Why did you pack up from Oz, Bruce?” Frank resumed, turning to me. ‘Did you have a backless boomerang? It must have been hard for you to shoot through. Did you tie your kangaroos down, sport?” he asked, quoting the opening line of Rolf Harris’s novelty hit.
“Did you let your abos go loose, were they of no further use?” piped in the pipsqueak, back in form, dredging up the highly questionable fourth verse, making light of indigenous captivity, penned at a time when inbred racial prejudice was so rife.
“I like your Philosophy Department’s Rule Number Two’, he snickered, ‘ ‘‘No member of the faculty is to maltreat the abos in any way at all – if there’s anybody watching.”
“News flash, Nick. Rolf dropped this verse a decade ago. Almost all the others are about animals. Slavery’s now longer all the go, if you haven’t noticed,” I informed him.
‘Give this white artist his due. At least give him credit for a great song.”
“I’m sorry to have to break this to you, Nick. Rolf based it on a Calypso song by Harry Belafonte. It’s out of the West Indies.”
“Bollocks” babbled Nick, going a deep red. “All they know is monkey music, those daft Jamaican jerk-offs. Sod the lot of ‘em. Let’s sing some real music,” whereupon he led into his rendition of the boys night out song that had in jig time become the anthem of the drinking class: ‘ Saturday night’s all right for fightin’ – whose blistering pace appealed equally to my normally abstemious self. But oh what shopworn lyrics!
Jumping up on the table, peering around the room, his jawbone moving up and down, the Benzedrine puff adder broke into song at the top of his lungs, drowning out the hubbub. He couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow.
‘He loves to sing. He loves to drink beer,’ said Frank in my ear. ‘ Most people would rather hear him drink beer.’
Chuckling after he belted out each line (N), I kept my response (R), with Nick in mind, to myself.
(N) “It’s getting late, I haven’t seen my date.”
(R) “She must be a blind date.”
(N) “So tell me when the boys get here?”
(R) “You must be blind, mate. Can’t you see for yourself? They’re already here.
(N) “It’s 7 o’clock and I want to rock, want to get a bellyful of beer”
(R) “My goodness, if you’re blind already, what are you going to be like later?”
(N) “My old man’s drunker than a bar full of winos and his old lady, she don’t care.”
(R) “It seems to run in the family.”
(N) “My sister’s looking cute in her braces and boots, a handful of grease in her hair.”
(R) “I’ll keep her in mind when I service my car.”
‘Don’t bore’us’, get to the chorus!’ yelled Frank while Nick segued into it.
(N)“Don’t give us none of your aggravation. We had it with your discipline.”
(R) “Obviously that didn’t extend to the grammatical kind.”
(N) “Saturday night’s all right for fightin’, get a little action in.”
(R) “You’d better look sharp or you’ll soon be out of it.”
(N) “Get about as oiled as a diesel train.”
(R) “Oiled as the wheels of your Raleigh tricycle more like.”
(N) “Gonna set this town alight.”
(R) “No worries. Oil is quite combustible.”
(N) “Saturday night’s the night I like. Saturday night’s all right, all right.”
(R) “All right, we get the message.”
(N) “P… P… P… Packed pretty tight in here tonight.”
(R) “So I’ve noticed. All that B…B…B…B. O.”
(N) “I’m looking for a woman to treat me right.”
(R) “Aren’t we all?”
(N) “I could use a little muscle to get what I need.”
(R) “Have you tried a little tenderness?”
(N) “I’ll drink a fifth of jack and scream out ‘She’s with me!’
(R) “Now that’s really going to win a girl’s heart, isn’t it?”
(N) “A couple of the sounds I really like are the sounds of a switchblade and a motor bike.”
(R) “Whatever turns you on, paper tiger.”
(N) “And I’m a juvenile product of the working class.”
(R) “Grow up, son.”
(N) “Whose best friend floats from the bottom of a glass.”
(R) “Probably an oil slick.”
As Nick regained his seat’, he said, ‘We played that at my birthday party last week. We rolled out a barrel. It was such fun. Never better.’
Frank said, ‘You never told me about it. I’m almost sorry l missed it. What did you do, human sacrifice?
Frank said: ‘Take a bow, Nick. You’re wasting your time in a garage. You should be on the stage.’
I thought to myself, ‘Nick, You’re wasting your time in a garage.You should be out on a ledge somewhere.’
‘At this stage of the game, I’m sharpening up my act in other ways.’
“ You might throw in a little reading,’ I said ragging him, ‘seeing as the song was written in Jamaica. ‘Like Jamaica Jerk-off,”I added, referring to one of the fillers from ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ with its equally dodgy lyrics.
“Well, put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Smart Alec” said Frank, clearly enjoying the opportunity to rub the salt in his loutish mate’s wounds. “Didn’t I tell you that already? Same place Jagger recorded ‘Goats Head Soup’.”
‘ Well what do we have here, a double act–unless one of you is a ventriloquist’, said Nick, looking my way. Frank’s siding with me was getting on his wick.
“Don’t you guys fancy your day in the sun,’ I said, ‘No more working for a week or two, a breather from this dreary weather. Your mates, in the dark ’til nine in the morning and after four in the afternoon, green with envy reading the postcard “Greetings. This is the life! Wish you were here’ as you get a winter tan. Down by the sun soused seaside lolling around a tropical beach, sinking rum and coca cola. One of those that inspired Mick and Elton” I said, “Limpid turquoise waters, blue lagoon, palm-fringed white sands, the tang of sea air, mangoes and banana you can pick right off the tree.’
‘An umbrella overhead, an umbrella in my coconut shell,’ said Frank.
‘What could be more appropriate than that,’ I said. You British people are like coconuts. Hard on the outside but sweet once you crack them. Also often found full of alcohol and holding an umbrella.’
‘I’ll go for all that,’ said Frank. ‘We’ve seen it on the movies, now let’s see if it’s true.’
‘You’re on the beam, Frank, ’I said, ‘an island girl, Jamaica honey, hibiscus blossoms in her hair, wrapping herself around you. What’s not to like?”
“Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid” said Nick. ‘I’d be better off in Blackpool. I’m not past a bit of rum stuff but only when they’re pure white-milk and white sugar-peaches and cream and what have you.”
“Wassup, speak for yerself” said Frank. “Whatever turns you on. Peaches are all yellow and fuzzy. I wouldn’t mind a taste of brown sugar served up by some foxy ebony eyes. Socking it to me all night long My place in the sun.”
‘So why do they come over here if its so good,’ said Nick, leaning towards Frank across the pint glasses, dropping his querelous voice, almost tapping his nose with his forefinger: ‘ Enoch’s offering them a golden handshake to reward them for going home.’ he said, delivered with all the assurance of insider knowledge. ‘On a voluntary basis for openers, of course’.
‘Yes. That’s very white of him,’ I replied.
‘And he says for a good start some want to take him up on it. The others might draw straws out of their coconut shells to decide who’s next’.
‘ If not it’s eeny, meeny, miny, mo. And ‘O, U, T spells out!’ Most couldn’t afford to leave even if they wanted to. He’s offering a pig in a poke. They’ve already been uprooted once and don’t want to go through this again unless they have better economic prospects. They came here wanting things they never had as a child.’
‘Things like sun tan lotion. Things like hail and sleet and snow.’
‘Better prospect’s what brought them around to shooting off in the first place. Leaving behind their beaches for better off West Indians and tourists.
‘You don’t say. Why can’t their own government offer them all jobs?
‘The million dollar question,’ I replied. ‘One our own can’t answer. The world is a ghetto.’’
“If you go out with a black woman, Frank, said Nick, ‘ it means another sambo going out with one of our lasses. That means less to go around for us.”
“Why do you think so many black guys are able to pick up white women?” I asked.
“Can you believe this guy?’ he said, looking to Frank for assurance. ‘These butches can’t pull us white guys, so they have to do with whatever’s going. Bone lazy, dozy coons – oversexed, overgrown and over here sponging off us taxpayers. Gawd their own women are as ugly as sin. These twats smell mawkish, their voices are too deep, their lips are too thick, their clothes are too baggy, they drink too much. It stands to reason their men want something better. Normal women like ours who have respect for themselves, who never lose their head even when they’re giving it .”
What about the ‘butches’ you just mentioned’, asked Frank. You implied they’re freaks of nature. Where do they fit in?’
“All they need is a good white ironside to show them the errors of their bleedin’ ways, to spiff themselves up, innit.’, rattled on Nick, belching.
‘ After you with the trough, Nick. And I suppose you, God’s gift to women, are the one to show ‘em,’came back Frank, to the obvious annoyance of Nick, wiping his neck with his hanky, getting hot under the collar.
‘He’s got you there, Nick,’I said.
‘I know how to love our English birds’, insisted Nick. ‘Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen.’
‘I saw that with your ex-fiancee you beat up,’said Frank. ‘She had love plastered all over her face.’
‘She says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We’ll see about that. If that wildcat, Molly, had become my wife, I’d have poisoned her coffee.
‘If she had become your wife, I’m sure she’d have drunk it.’
‘She would never become my wife. I can see through women.’
‘Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot,’ I commented.
‘The only person I really trust to tell me the truth is me ol’ mucker, Frank.
If ever there’s something I ought to know, he’ll tell me, even if it hurts. And it does. When I started going out with Molly he was the only one who said that wasn’t right.’
‘I’ve never avoided telling Nick something he ought to know. Mind you Molly was my wife. It was her who introduced me to Nick. She said, ‘ Nick this is Frank. Frank this is goodbye.’
‘ What’s the difference between a woman and a bundy clock? asked Nick, regaining his cockiness, trying to get back on top.
‘I Know the similarity, Smart Arse They both keep track of you. In your case with an Apprehended Violence Order if they want to stay safe.’
‘You only have to punch information into a bundy clock once.’
‘That’s why he lost his job at Raleigh’, said Frank. He punched out a female worker who refused to do what he told her . He even dictated the kind of clothes she should wear.’
‘How would you like to see her dressed, Nick?’ I asked.’
‘In splints. But don’t get me wrong. I support womens’ right to a better deal. I told Molly, ‘ You women shouldn’t have to do all the cooking and washing after you come home after a day’s work. You should do it in the morning before you leave. And you wives should only do half the housework. It’s only fair your mother do the other half.’
‘Nick likes to tell others management prefers black workers.’
‘Do you do-gooders object if I smoke now?’ said Nick, fumbling for a packet of ciggies in his pocket, his hand shaking.
‘ You can burn up yourself for all I care,’ said Frank. Turning to me he disclosed, ‘You wanna know what makes Nick tick? You see those short legs. His brains are too near his bum. You might be interested to know he’s been diagnosed with anti-social behaviour disorder. He joined a support group.’
‘It doesn’t seem to have done him much good.’
‘It’s hardly surprising. They never meet.’
“You have an awfully negative image of black women, Nick,’ I said, ”and women in general.’
‘Don’t try to tell me how to run my my relationships. It’s got so you can’t beat your wife in the street without someone trying to make you feel bad about it or lower your self-esteem.’
‘If you want to have a relationship, Nick,’ said Frank, ‘get a dog.’
‘Women are only good for one thing’, said Nick, ‘if you know what I mean.’
You’re no gentleman are you, Nick?’
‘Oh he is, he really is,’ said Frank, ‘when he pisses in the sink he takes the dishes out first.’
‘I actually have romantic ideas about how I will treat my little woman,’ said Nick. ‘A man should be in love with a woman before he uses and degrades her.’
‘I suppose even men like you will end up married, Nick. As they say there’s someone for everyone.’
‘Whoever she is she must be a right slag.’
‘ You really downgrade the role of women. Women feed us when we’re born, they clean our houses and they’re vital to industry. A woman’s work is never finished.’
‘That’s why they get paid less.’
‘If only women fitted in with what you expected of them, Nick, everything would fall into place,’ I said.
“What’s it to you? These flea-bitten fuzzy-wuzzy floozies aren’t half lewd, rude and crude’, snorted this odious odist, laying it on thick. Don’t they need a licence to be that ugly?’
‘Beauty’s in the eye of the beer holder,’ said Frank, ‘women see Nick as ugly himself ‘til he tells them how much dosh he’s got. Then they see him as poor and ugly.’
‘Sooty scrubbers, slovenly slags, scags, scrags, slappers and slatternly sluts. Mangy molls, bags, hags, drags and mutts.’
‘Steady on’, that’s laying it on a bit thick. As you can see, Allan,’ he said looking at me, ‘some of my best friends are racists’
‘What of it? I call a spade a spade, ’said Nick. ‘It’s their nature. How were they rigged out when we discovered them? Sweet Fanny Adams. Starkers. Thrusting their hips and pouting their big lips in their booga booga tribal trances. Wild bitches on permanent heat. Ever seen a dog on heat, Allan, grinding herself across the grass to get at that itch. Just down from the trees, aba daba daba , sharing some baboon who couldn’t satisfy them all’, he blustered. ‘Hey by the way, what did the explorer ask Zulu Lulu?” he digressed .
I demurred while Frank said, “I dunno”.
“U bangi?” Then coming back with the answer : “U betcha,’ he smirked leeringly, ‘They can’t stop lusting after us .”
‘That’s a good one’, said Frank, hitting the table. ‘now give over or I’ll make your loose lip a fat one.’
‘I’m feeling dry. Aren’t you gonna offer me something, Frankie?’
‘What do you want? The front of my hand or the back?’
‘You’re so ready to slag off black women , Nick, but have you ever known any? Otherwise how do you know about all these things?” I asked, hoping to put him on the spot.
“ I have my ways. I’ve seen ‘em all right –filthy guttersnipes, black as the ace of spades, on the game in Kings Cross at night, in high heels so their knuckles don’t drag, turning their poxy doxy tricks, hawking their fork and all. That’s spades for you.”
“But listen, Sunshine, have you actually known any – otherwise how do we know you’re not talking through your hat?”
‘Oi, leave off!’ he pleaded, head down, looking rather ill at ease, blushing as he groped for an answer.
“Go on, spit it out, answer ‘im” coaxed Frank, looking like he knew something Nick didn’t want to let on about. ’Don’t forget you kept the receipts.’
‘Frank, shut your rattle.’ I could feel his foot impact against mine. He was trying to kick Frank under the table but mine was in the way. It was a little close there.
‘No, not any more. Spill all the tattle.’
“All right, you might, eh– say I’ve known– one—” Nick stammered , his voice trailing off cringeworthy , glowering at Frank, finding it hard to finish.
“In the biblical sense?” I suggested, supplying him with what I thought was the answer to this delicate matter.
‘I didn’t believe a word they said. Is that what you mean?’
‘I tried to warn you in so many words’, said Frank, looking Nick straight in the face, ‘All that roaring and whoring. You can look but you better not touch. You’ll be scratching like a hound the minute you start to mess around. Doing your dirty numbers on ‘em. I warned you, ‘don’t let your affection give you an infection – put some protection on that erection. You can’t be a saint with his complaint,’ he went on, turning to me, ‘’e’s got a souvenir of London’. There’s a lot of it about. It hit him like a thunderclap. He couldn’t hear the thunder but he sure got the clap.’
‘ Tried to keep it confidential, ’fumed Nick ,’but thanks to me mate the news is leaking out ,’he said glaring.
‘Where do you think I heard about it?
‘Frank’s ‘is name, frank’s ‘is game.’
‘Spread it about and they may be the last words you say. The next ones that come out of your mouth-choose them very carefully.’
‘I’m listening. I’ll say no more’ said Frank. ‘my lips are sealed’.
“You can’t generalize about one group of people based on a single unfortunate experience. Rather a narrow exposure, wouldn’t you say?” I commented.
“That’s all wot were available” said the twerp .
“So too were you, Nick. We all make decisions based on what options we have or think we have. Black women are at the harsh lower end of the economic scale and have fewer choices of opportunity. Like their white sisters, some resort to prostitution to pay the bills, others embrace it more willingly.’
You’re right there. They too like a seeing-to.’
‘You can convince yourself of that. You sleeping with prostitutes must be like making your cat dance with you on its hind legs. You know it’s wrong, but you try to convince yourself that they’re enjoying it as well.’
‘Whatever their motives they all get screwed. They stump up more bail money than they get tail money.’
‘But how much better off are you?’
‘Up yours. I’m doing all right for meself.’
‘Not that much from the sound of it, born with a plastic spoon in your mouth, I daresay. Some might put you down as poor white trash, dumb by nature, a mere mechanic. Others might say the more fool you having to pay for sex.’
‘He took one white hooker to the fancy races at Ascot’, said Frank jokingly. ‘She got tiddly in the paddock and carried on prancing around on all fours. A jockey came along and plonked a saddle on her.’
‘Whatever did she do?’ I asked.
‘What could she do? The odds were long. This silly filly came fifth.’
‘ Eliza Doolittle went from selling flowers to high society. Nick’s starter obviously lacked such promise. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t lead a horticulture.’
‘When it comes to a bit of black stuff, his favourite by the way, he approached one and asked: ‘I wonder what kind of a woman you really are.
She replied, ‘ Too bad, but I can’t give out samples.’
When he started to haggle, she told him, ‘Not tonight Tiger, I’ve got a headache.’
‘Nick The Trick’ is known for trying to pay less than for whites,’ said Frank. ‘He offered that little black baggage five pounds for a poke and she turned him down. His reply to her was, ‘Nigger.’
‘Her reply back, ‘Nigger lover!’’
‘That proves my point. Isn’t this a society that devalues the poor, women and blacks?”
“You’re breaking my heart! Spare us this this soppy slush. Let’s can the blubber. What do you know about the nature of nig nogs, Mr. Clever Dick? ” Nick growled.
“From my reading of history, we have to go back to slavery to understand how things stand at the moment.’
‘Turn it in. I don’t need no remedial history lesson. I never was one for history. I mean, what’s the point in looking back? What’s done is done, and we can’t undo it.’
‘You may begin to understand it, though.’
I understand my black neighbour’s history. He goes on about his family background of plantation slaves.The only cotton he’s ever picked is out of aspirin bottles. What’s past is past. Let’s all get over it and walk on.’
‘That’s easy for you to say. Just think about what happened. Black women conceded to sexual relations with whites not that they were promiscuous but to avoid being beaten, raped or separated from their families.’
‘Why don’t you say something, Frank?’ said Nick.
‘I think Bazza’s covering the subject quite thoroughly.’
‘Amongst blacks,’I went on, ‘there was no prostitution and very little venereal disease. Most frowned on adultery and sought long term monogamous relationships and were only too keen to legitimize their union after slavery was abolished, sometimes in mass marriage ceremonies.”
“What about all these black whores and uppity super studs we see in these American movies, elevating the pimp as folk hero and glorifying hookers? Don’t they prove the point that Nick is making?” said Frank, referring to the current spate of B grade films out of stateside. “They’ve got mostly black actors in them. No one straps them to a chair to take part in them .’
“They’re called blaxploitation movies, Frank, for good reason” I said. “They’re made to make money, targeted to the growing black market, fed up to the back teeth with seeing their people straight out of central casting as Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms – nice servants who know their place, who do as they’re told – ‘house niggers’ as Malcolm X called them. They want a piece of the action, to see black-the-lads who take things into their own hands and fight their way out of the ghetto as soon as they can.’
‘Boxing is one way out of the ghetto, ’said Frank. ’For me it was one way into hospital.’
There’s no denying it,’ said Nick, ’these blacks are fast and take things into their hands. Here’s a question: ‘What’s the fastest thing in Nottingham?’’
‘You tell me.’
‘A black with your radio. And what’s the second fastest thing in Nottingham?
‘You being run out of town for your puerile profiling?’
‘ Funny. It’s his cousin with your tape recorder. They’re into camping these days. They find out when y’all are away on a camping trip, then they come over and do a little shopping. Do you know when it’s Christmas in blackies’ homes? Two days after Christmas in ours. They don’t want to work for things themselves.You know why they’re all heading to live in Nottingham. Because there’s no work to be had here.’
‘Look these characters are no saints with sprouted wings and halos to polish. By any token they reinforce caricatures of blacks as dangerous thieves. But at least they’re more real. Anyway you should talk. Are these black hustlers so different to people like Arthur Seaton or yourselves?”
“Aw come on they’re also racist, end of,” objected Nick. “Rastus slags off the whites shown in these films – cops, politicians etcetera, who are always are on the take. They’re called ‘whiteys and honkies’. This is an ethnic slur.”
“Oh, my heart goes out to you, Nick” said Frank. “That must hurt your feelings.
Nick yammered on with his blithering diatribe bemoaning the very fact that they took up space. ‘What cuts me up is that these lazy blighters here make off with our jobs and our way of life.’
‘If they’re so lazy, why do they want those jobs? You’re not looking at the skills and culture they bring. Surely you’re intelligent enough to admit there are things for and against immigrants.’
‘Look, no one tells me how to think. I’m fully capable of drawing up my own list of pros and cons.’
‘I can verify that,’ said Frank, ‘you’ve spent so much time in knocking shops and prisons.’
‘Except in the case of family reunions,’ I said, ‘ immigrants from the former colonies have to show they have the skill sets that are in short supply.’
‘What do they do for us really? Our lads and lasses can do the same jobs if properly trained. I draw the line when told I must pay and continue paying for something that happened hundreds of years ago. When will we stop owing? They already have special jobs programs. They’ve got affirmative action. When will we be even. They should forget about all that past. They must think we’re stupid.’
‘I can’t imagine why they’d think that.’
‘Refugees from Africa are being put up in four-star hotels. We’re too open and generous.’
‘You think you have a heart of gold, Nick, but so does a hard-boiled egg.’
‘Believe me. No, that’s asking too much. But let me tell you all the same. Because of anti-discrimination laws they get fast tracked to a council house. They take over whole suburbs where us whites are strangers.
They do our own people out of a home. I call it positive action gone mad.’
’‘They call it reparations.’
‘We used to rule the waves. Now we waive the rules.’
‘How do you know that, Nick?’
‘It says so in ‘The Flag’, he said, referring to the National Front newspaper, pushing the racist buttons.
‘‘You don’t say. So it must be true then. Straight from the horse’s arse.’
‘I didn’t know you could read, Nick,’said Frank.
‘I can read you like a book. I’ll send you a review soon.’
‘What you don’t know could fill a book.’
Who are you and what would you know?’
‘ I’ve seen you burning books, not reading them. If I had a pound for every one I’ve see you read, I’d be insolvent.’
‘My favourite is ‘The Negroes Contribution to Culture’, the shortest book ever written. Listen they’re taking over our country. It’s just like in the United States. Immigrants have come into the States and murdered people.’
‘Yes, Nick, they’re called the Founding Fathers.’
‘Immigrants are infesting and taking over my American friend’s country, a white man’s country.
‘I’ve got more news for you, Nick. Unless your friend’s name consists of some sort of animal preceeded by a gerund it’s not his country either.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It was seized from the inhabitants. When the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of America they fell on their knees; then they fell upon the indigenous people.’
‘Isn’t that what the darkies are doing to us? They try to take over everything. We have to take our country back.’
Nick’s rave helps explain how the National Front and their equivalents tap into mainstream culture. They don’t have to say that they’re the master race; They can simply say that you’re under attack or you’re the victim of diversity or replacement, the victim of affirmative action, to feel this kind of white resentment.
‘Have a good look around you Nick. It hasn’t gone anywhere.’
If we don’t do anything about them, I won’t be able to live with myself.’
‘I’m sure many wouldn’t be able to,’ said Frank.
‘They don’t even try to be British. They come over here. They bring their own food, their own way of life, they spit their own lingo.’
‘In terms of past history that sounds very British to me, ’I said. ‘Going to another country, not learning the language, sticking to your own religion, forcing your customs on others and making no attempt to integrate is actually the most British thing you can do.’
‘You don’t mind a bit of curry yourself, Nick.’
‘We’ve got the recipe now. Them spacky Pakis don’t need to stay anymore. Or the blacks. They think they own the place. They haven’t taken over our schools completely. As for everything else, there’ll be sod all left for our lot. If we’re not better than them, then who are we better than? What we need are laws to send them back. Something’s missing.’
‘Something is certainly missing,’’ I said, looking Frank’s way. ‘So you support the National Front, Nick. That’s very courageous of you.’
‘I don’t know about that. I’m just doing my bit to clean my country up, ’he said with pride and lots of prejudice. ‘There’s a new day coming.’
‘What I meant was it’s very courageous of you to admit it.’
‘Rest assured we’ll put about all these lazy lummoxes in their banana boats, bongo bongo back to the Congo or whatever stinking caves and woodpiles they crawled out of. Bingo, bangle, bungle, they’re happiest in tribal feathers, their witch doctors and voodoo zombies putting bones through their noses, hunting with spears and poison arrows in the jungle. A man can end up cooking in a pot. We don’t want that. All men are not created equal. We grew here. They flew here’.
‘If a black person is born in England it makes them British.’
‘Does it really. If a dog is born in a stable it doesn’t make it a horse. We’ve got our place and they’ve got theirs. They should be left there to live their own ways. If God had meant for us to be together, he would ‘ve put us together. But look what he did. He put them over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries.’
‘ Well, he must’ve told them where they were, because somebody came and got them.’
‘They have to push along. Just like Idi Amin made the Asians .Now there’s a clever coon for you. These are sanitary measures long overdue.’
‘And I suppose that includes burning witches and returning the Star Chamber and Bloody Assizes.’
‘You’re one step ahead of me. We are society’s healthy elements. It’s antibodies. We’ve gotta turn back the tide. Otherwise they’ll get the whip hand over us, and bollock our race,’ he declared, foaming slightly at the mouth.
‘Do you really think that just because they’ve adapted physically to different environments they’re that different to us inside?’
‘Anyone who thinks that white and black people look as different as we do on the outside, but are somehow magically the same on the inside, is delusional. How could our faces, skin, hair, and body structure all be different, but our brains be exactly the same? This is the nonsense we are led to believe. This enemy within already poses a threat. We’ll have no more brothers’ wars as a distraction.
‘So you’re anti-war, but only when it involves white people killing other white people.’
‘We’ll fight Russians if they invade but the darkies are already entrenched. They act like parasites on a giant oak, feeding on it day by day sapping its strength. I’m afraid to pick up my mail. The black and brown hands that handle our letters could infect other envelopes in the pillar boxes. Can you imagine how outraged I felt on seeing a black man waiting in line with me at the blood donation centre. This invasion force breeds like rabbits dropping babies, multiplying like billyo, diluting our blood, weakening our superior race.’
‘That’s the racist in you talking.’
‘That’s the wise man in me talking. There’s something deep, ancient and biological against something as perverse as mixing races. Us whites, we’re an endangered species. There won’t be room for a white person to breathe in before long. Just mularroes, quadroons, octoroons and all kind of coons. We want beautiful babies, not ones with brown faces. If not it’s our funeral. if not this country’s #*## done for.’ he cursed. ‘All that’ll be left is one mongrel unit.’
‘You’ve got a huge attitude problem, Nick,’ I sighed resignedly, trying to get a word in edgeways, ‘ attitudes like yours can lead to things. Where do you get this tr—oubled view?’ I asked, studiously avoiding blurting out ‘tripe.’
‘You’ve got a huge perception problem. Now read my lips. I see this country going to the dogs with me own eyes. I give it ten years. Why are you wearing Levis? Your jew jeans? Look, ’he said, producing a spark plug from his pocket ‘Made in Japan. Jap crap. Not like our local parts. Made by people who make things that actually work. I don’t want my hard-earned British pounds converted into yen. I want a British spark plug.
’‘Haven’t you heard other nationalities complain of faulty British manufacture?’
‘For me, there’s no other even though things have changed for better in some ways and worse in others..’
‘How do you mean?’
‘For the love of Christ. just look at the state of the traditional family. Girls are having sex at an earlier age. There’s a growth in the number of absentee fathers and there’s an increase in the number of marital affairs. But we shouldn’t just concentrate on the good things. At the same time you’re mocked in the high street if you talk of patriotism and the Queen. Mocked as our great country is dragged down, robbed of it’s immunity, endangered by galloping cross-fertilisation, losing the set of customs that shapes and unites us, called ‘the sick man of Europe’.’
‘What’s your problem? There’ll always be an England. There’s still plenty of what Vera calls busy streets, turning wheels, and marching feet.’
Yeah streets full of blacks, demonstrating commies and cars held up by them. I don’t know my homeland anymore, the one I grew up in, as it sleepwalks into a second rate status. Englandistan. It’s got to the point you’re scarcely able to mention the name of your own country, one that produced so many explorers, soldiers and merchant adventurers. It’s a joke when you have to apologise for being English. A joke when you feel unsafe in your own country. Where does that leave me? Take away the roast beef, the pudding, the baked jam roll and custard and there isn’t very much left. “the British people will be airbrushed out of existence. And I hear true Englishmen, no chinless wonders, saying the same things as me. Honest men like Enoch Powell and those he listens to.
‘People like Alf Garnett, that one man catalogue of hatred.’
‘Let me tell you something. I loved it when Alf tore into blacks and yids.’
‘I have to break it to you, Nick. Warren Mitchell who plays Alf is Jewish himself. The actor is aiming to expose Alf as a foolish bigot, a bully, windbag and coward.’
‘I don’t agree with that outrageous view at all. Alf is a patriotic supporter of Enoch.’
‘And doesn’t his wife know it. I’m afraid I have no due regard at all for Enoch’s ideas on race.’
‘If you’ve got no respect for Enoch, you’ve got no respect for me. Little people like me watching our kids look like licorice allsorts, little people afraid of being madly swamped by your wogs, gyppos, paddies, tandoori twits, pikeys, gyppos and darkies, of becoming second rate citizens in our own country. Full fathom five in a sea of blood.’
‘Fee-fi-fo-fum’ I thought, ’how could anyone be so dumb.’
‘What do you say to those who call this racism?’I asked”
‘ I’m of a piece with Enoch, cross my heart or hope to die. English, not racist.’
’As he uttered these words tears coursed down his cheeks. ‘I don’t judge a man by the color of his skin; I judge him according to the size of his nostrils’
‘You sound very much like one, Nick.’ I said confident with my size. trying not to laugh at what I felt were crocodile tears. It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man.
‘And you don’t know what you’re talking about. That says what a university education gets you. I asked all of my black and minority ethnic neighbours if they thought I was racist or not, and they both said that I wasn’t.
‘That’s hardly a large sample to draw upon, is it.’
‘You don’t know me. I’ll have you know my father brought me up thinking that Santa Claus was a jigaboo.’
‘You mean to say you actually have a father like that?’
‘I did. He’s no longer with us.’
‘I’m sorry to hear he’s dead. I’m sure wherever he is, he’s looking down on you.’
‘He’s not dead. Just very scornful. And what’s even worse, he’s moved to Australia.’
‘It’s remarkable that he wanted you to have a positive image of black people?’
‘I wouldn’t go that far. It was part of his unwritten contract. He figured when I found out Santa didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be that big a let down. It was his idea of a Sanity Clause.’’
‘Are there any black people in your neighbourhood?’
‘ I have one now whose house lies within spitting of mine. I know this from my personal experience trying to spit at it. He’s a real social climber if ever there was. This shagbag married a gypsy. He took me by surprise recently. He said to me ‘I’m a better man than you if I do say so myself.’
I said, ‘You’re a cheeky little devil. What makes you think you’re a better man than me?’
He said ‘I don’t have a bloody black man living next door to me.’
‘How would you describe the difference between and you and him?’
‘That’s easy. He’s got a great neighbour.’
‘ I found that funny . So last week I saved him from a good going-over.’
‘How so? ’asked Frank.
‘I controlled myself’, said Nick, looked as pleased as punch at his joke, going over like a lead balloon.
That black man must have a lot of self control having a neighbour as loud and obnoxious as you, Nick’ said Frank.’’
‘Now I know how Canada feels’, I said.
‘Listen, I’ve got a soft spot for this darkey’s face. Face down on Romney Marsh. I’m one of his well wishers. I wish I could shove him down a well. I doubt anybody would miss him.’
‘Very funny’, said Frank. ‘Funny peculiar. If you think that’s a joke, I could supply the punchline. I’m not saying I will, but –’
‘But! I’ll give you but!’said Nick. Then realizing his ally was distancing himself said ‘Listen, Frank—‘.
‘Don’t ‘Listen, Frank me’, he said. ‘Speak for yourself.’
‘Are you angry with me, Frank?
‘Of course I’m angry with you. I won’t be inviting you to my birthday party.’
‘Of course Enoch’s a racist too, ’I added, ‘Very cunning but not wholly convincing. You can understand people’s immediate concern about newcomers who look different. But he goes much further than that. He warns that by 1985, the majority of the immigrant community will have been born in Britain. Come on give us a break, by then these kids will sound and act just like anyone else.’
“Over my dead body’, huffed Nick, ‘You can’t convince me otherwise.’
Indeed I couldn’t and wouldn’t try any further. While I had learned from the exercise, his proved a closed mind and there was no way in. Retreating from further scurrilous outpouring, I left it to Frank to handle this ornery critter. It didn’t go well. Or did it?
‘You’ve got a mouth, Nick. But you’re just an ignorant twat, ’cried Frank.
‘I don’t let anyone say that kind of thing to my face.’
‘Before you complained I said it behind your back. Now it’s to your face. How can you tell which is which?’
The whole conversation in which Nick didn’t have the upper hand finally got to him.
After some heated vituperative exchange, not letting Frank get a word in, he ended up shouting crudities at him, going quite ballistic, within an ace of coming to blows with him.
‘You might wait and let me finish before you jump down my throat,’ said Frank. That put him in his place. Nick went quiet all of a sudden.
‘What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt?’
“You wanna take this outside?”
‘Oh sure. Getting your ass kicked in the street in front of lots more people is so much better than in the cushioned booth of a comfy pub stocked with ice.’
‘You’re a a traitor, Frank, If I never see you again it’ll be too soon. I’m out of here. I’m off.’
‘See if I care! Hop it, before I stop being nice!’ Frank told him.
‘Sod youse, I’m off,’ was his parting shot.
‘You’re positively rancid, ’I told him.
He stomped out. It would appear I had set the cat among the pigeons, led to Frank falling out with his mate. Good riddance, I thought, relieved to see the back of him.
‘How did you ever meet up with someone like Nick?’ I asked Frank .
‘I threw him a bone from my takeaway curry one night and he followed me home.’
‘Last drinks, thank you ladies and gentlemen . Let me have your glasses. It’s time to sup up and go home’, ’announced the bartender. I bade him and Frank goodnight and headed for the stairs.
‘Watch your step, Bazza”, called the bartender. As if I needed reminding. These were the very steps where Finney’s Arthur had fallen down, eleven pints and seven small gins inside him.
As I thought out my way back to my hotel, my night’s drinking associates stumbled out of the door behind me. Their passage lit by the Edwardian lamp out front, they proceeded to defile the landmark tiles with their impromptu technicolour yawns.
The squeals, the swearing, shouting and sirens could be heard until well after three.
Come Sunday, the new born morn, cloaked in mist turned bright, crisp and clear. Good morning Mister Sunshine. Tra-la-la, twiddly-dee-dee I heard the bird’s trill. I heard them all sing, hey ding a ding, ding. After breakfast, stirring my stumps, I set out on a brisk walk away from the city centre. My path took me past the White Horse. It had a sign out front: ‘Sorry, we’re closed’. They didn’t have to be sorry. It was 7 am on a Sunday, and it wasn’t the House of God after all.
I hadn’t gone very far when I came across the crumpled punch drunk figure lying slumped in a shop doorway. Only a closer going-over would determine if this were somebody requiring assistance, or some drunk sleeping it off. Standing over the sloppy technicolour yawned yobbo, it’s forehead bleeding from a cut, it’s face mewling and puking, twitching, gurgling, slobbering and wheezing, I could smell it was him like an alley cat, that grumpy potty-mouthed maggot from the night before. Was this the dead body he had been talking about? Feeling my skin crawl, my gut reaction was to leave him there and then. My better judgement was at least to check that he was tickety boo. I couldn’t resist a distress signal.
‘Look what the cat’s dragged out’, I said bending down, ‘can I help you? We don’t want to lose you just yet.’
He failed to respond to my consideration.
‘Hello, do you read me?’
He grabbed me by the lapels as soon as I touched him. He slurred, gasping for air raspingly , ‘get yer ponging paws off me, ya ruddy git!’ I happily obliged this retch.
‘Take it easy, it’s Sunday. Shake off the dew. Shouldn’t you be at church?’’
‘You think you’re smart, don’t you,’ he said extending his middle finger towards me.
‘Well, I’m not dumb and I’m not lying in a screaming, bilious heap in the street like you.’
‘Here’, I said handing him my hanky.
‘What’s this for?’
‘To wipe your eyes. To wipe any part of your face that feels moist. Remember, that’s the handkerchief and that’s your sleeve. Don’t confuse one with the other if you ever expect anyone to pick you up. What happened to you?
‘what does it look like.You poisoned me last night, didn’t yer. Slipped something in my drink.’
‘If I did it was unintentional. You know how the subconscious works.’
He started boohooing a river.
I said, clasping my breast ‘Poor you, it hits me here. Bring on the gypsy violins!’ and pulled away deciding to leave him at that.
‘Hey wait a minute—‘
‘I’m not paid to wait.’
‘Where are you going’, he moaned.
‘Wouldn’t you like to know.’
‘You’re not leaving, are you?,’ he pleaded as I started walking away. –
‘No, I’m walking towards you backwards.’
‘You can’t leave me here!’
‘What, and ruin our beautiful friendship. I’ve got to ring for an ambulance to take you to the hospital. You need to have your head examined. All of it.’
Maybe being helped by a traitor to his race might have led to some kind of epiphany for him. Right on cue, he saved me any further trouble.
‘What and get treated by those native witchdoctors and Paki quacks? It’s like the Cotton Club in there.’
Pulling away again, this time for good, I advised him, ‘If they upset you, get them to turn off the lights. You won’t know the difference.’
‘Waddya gonna do now?’
‘I can’t say but I’ll be sure to keep you informed. As much as I enjoy your company, I’m not looking for a long term relationship.’
‘Where ya going? Earl’s Bloody Court?
‘Anywhere where you’re not. This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.’
‘Oh, go to hell!’
‘I’ll see you there.’
Eventually I reached the outskirts – the haunt of the city’s famous contemporary native son. It was here that Alan Sillitoe had shaken the literary world with his insider’s insight into the smouldering discontent that had flared up. He had made the locale come alive – the streets, the houses, pubs and the canals where all the action was set. Alan had put me right in here, conjuring up this slice of life with his powerful sense of time and place, his books conveying the attitudes and situations of his squalid childhood.
Slumming along the remaining uncleared rubbly rows of tacky back-to-back terraces, the humble upbringing of Arthur Seaton and his creator was brought home to me with all its vividness. Grotty, dingy, rancid, where the sun refused to shine, reeking of cheap sizzling fried dinners, stinking like the two-up, two-down red brick that Arthur still lived in with his parents, family home he recalls thus: “We lived in a room in Talbert Street whose four walls smelled of leaking gas, stale fat and mouldering wall paper”.
Peering past the outdoor toilets through opened doors, through the scullery windows, I glimpsed sections of the pokey musty interiors that had hemmed in this budding wordsmith before his household name spread further.
The bathrooms where gruesome gin and hot bath abortion procedures were carried out. I could hear bellows like those of Sillitoe senior crying blue murder over his imprisonment, running up bills for food he had no hope in the whole world of paying and being forced to pile up their belongings and move house yet again. I could hear screams like those of Alan’s mother from the good going-over she was given.
Sunday night. The dim light of the moon glimmered through fleecy clouds, casting a pale light over the streets and the dark waters of the Trent. Crossing the lush, park to catch the last return train, my mind pregnant with associations, I got tangled up in a riot of luxurious vegetation. I could see the swaying of foliage. Were these insatiable busybodies like Arthur and Brenda – or was it her sister – behind it – having their furtive and frenzied “bit of love” under a friendly bush? Or was this a fornicating figment of my fertile fantasia? Was I reading too much into this literary landscape? What was behind this flight of fancy schmancy? I put it down to that certain “je sais quoi”. A definable quality. All those miserable measures of English urban blight you can think of – low income, crummy housing, poor health, under-employment and crime – you name them, bottom of the pile, Nottingham had almost them all.
All had conspired to provoke my highly inflamed social realist imagination to run riot. It had worked like a charm. There must have been something in the water.
It was time for me to skedaddle and not a minute too soon. I thought as the train rolled into sight I couldn’t stay any longer – for the sake of my liver.