Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 1

Greg, a shy and naive 19 year-old, decides to take his chances in the big city.

He must pitch his wits against racism, unemployment, and people who want to take advantage of his inexperience.

But things don’t go well, and by the Autumn, he has disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Or has he?

Parts 1 and 2 are set in 1976.

In Part 3, set in the present day, his sister sets out to discover what really happened.

One chapter will be published on Movellas each day, until the story reaches its gripping conclusion.

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3. Brunettes

At last, Sunday is nearly over. Greg makes an entry into his journal, and then goes to bed. Sometimes he writes in note-form (for example "went to football-bought hot dog-went home"); sometimes he writes 'properly'. Tonight he has written 'properly': "Life grinds to a halt on Sundays. The shops are closed. There is no football. No entertainment. On Sundays a unique portfolio of telly programmes is unleashed, duller still than the weekday selection. I have to say I am almost pleased its Monday tomorrow. I have decided I prefer dark-haired women to blondes. I believe they are known as 'brunettes'." With regard to the opposite sex, Greg dare not write anything lewder than this, as he fears his journal may be found and read by his mother or father. As he lies in bed, waiting to fall asleep, he thinks for a while about brunettes. Then he thinks of his journal entry. He is particularly pleased with the phrase 'unique portfolio of telly programmes'. Then imagines himself as a famous author, and then as a writer of rebel-rousing pamphlets. And then he drifts off to sleep.

 

-----                  :                       -----

 

At 7.15 on Monday morning, Greg is woken by the jangling of his Westclox. It is so loud that Greg has become expert at silencing it swiftly, so that it does not irritate the other members of his household. The sudden arm movement which this entails seems to jerk his body to life, and he rises out of his blankets in a stiff but apparently enthusiastic manner, like a keen automaton. He is not one for lingering between the sheets, in the hope that he has made a mistake and that it is really Sunday. He is a realist: it is certainly Monday- there is no point in pretending that it is Sunday. He must go to work today, and the sooner he gets on with it, the better.

 

He has a routine. Routines, he believes, are good for getting those mundane tasks out of the way. He dresses, then shaves with a battered old electric razor that his father has lent him. Greg is only eighteen, and his stubble is as yet ill-defined. However, as with most youths, his face has soft skin which is sometimes blotchy and spotty. As he shaves, he irritates his face, therefore an established part of his morning routine is to examine his shaved face in the mirror, and patch-up as necessary. Just before he goes downstairs for breakfast, he notices his old copy of 'The Oxford School Dictionary' on his desk, and, for some unknown reason, picks it up. He is aware that this is not in his routine, so feels mildly uncomfortable about picking up the book. He looks-up the word 'brunette', and reads the definition to himself: "a dark-haired and dark-skinned (woman)". This phrase seems to please him for some reason, and he goes downstairs with a faint smile on his face.

 

He has breakfast of cornflakes and toast. Only one slice of toast today, though, as there is a bread shortage. This is caused by a strike by the drivers of the lorries that deliver bread to the shops. The strike is patchy, so the effect is to cause a shortage, rather than a total absence, of bread. It is mildly irritating, to have one slice of toast instead of two, but Greg's family just shrug their shoulders.

            Just before the various members of her family depart the breakfast table, Greg's mother issues the instruction: "If anyone sees bread, buy it!"

Madge says "What with?" and Greg's father says "What if its Nimble?" "Even Nimble," his mother replies. His father grimaces. Greg keeps quiet. But he decides he will stop at the VG store on the way home; then at least he will be able to claim that he had tried.

At last, Greg sets-out to work- by foot, as usual. It is a chill morning, so he has decided to wear his anorak for the first time in the year. The walk is tedious: he has walked it so many times in the past two years. Any novel aspect of it has worn-off. Sometimes, Greg is deep in thought, and he scarcely notices the journey passing-by. On other occasions, he plays little games he has invented with the purpose of making the journey seem quicker. An example of such a game is to allow himself, say, one hundred double strides, and predict where he will have reached by the time he has walked those one hundred double-strides. A more venturesome game is to see how many strides he dares to walk with his eyes closed.

            But today he has a new game: Spot the Brunette. As described earlier, Greg has developed a theory that a brunette is a rare thing in Bury St Edmunds. Given this, he does not think Spot the Brunette will be difficult to play, as, in practical terms: he is unlikely to lose count of the score. He imagines that most of the women he will see will be those pasty-looking ones with nondescript brown hair: 'mousy blondes', as his sister kindly calls them.

            He walks through the streets of Bury. At first, he does not see any women at all, mousy or otherwise- Bury does not exactly 'kick' first thing on a dull November Monday morning. Then at last, in the corner of his eye, he spots one, scurrying back into a house. More surprisingly, he thinks she has a mop of dark hair. He turns just in time for a better look before she disappears. Indeed: a youngish woman with black hair! A rarity in this part of England! But, is she a 'brunette', Greg wonders? He remembers the dictionary definition: "a dark-haired and dark-skinned (woman)". The woman he has just seen has very pale skin. To be a true brunette, according to the dictionary, she would have to have dark hair and dark skin. And what does the dictionary mean by 'dark' skin? How dark does it have to be? Are blacks the only true brunettes? Could a white ever be a brunette? Greg ponders these and other questions and thus becomes engrossed in thought, and before he knows it, his boring journey is over, and he is outside of the office where he works.

 

š

 

 

Monday wends its dreary way towards Tuesday. Greg, and the other members of his family, each play-out their separate roles in the big wide world of Bury St Edmunds, certain of the prospect of being drawn back together again for the custom of evening dinner. Greg's sister Madge attends the local comprehensive school, where she fends-off with skill advances from adolescent boys, and the occasional teacher, and questions about her brother's sexuality. She sees these as minor irritations, and she has learnt how to deal with them. She sees school as a positive experience: an opportunity to learn as much as she can about this life before embarking on adulthood. [Greg, by contrast, hated school.] Madge steers a crafty path, keeping close to the 'in' crowd, without becoming a slave to its every fad.

            Greg's father drives to work. He is The Man of the Family, so he is allowed to use The Car. After all (he could argue), he chose it, and his wages paid for it. Furthermore (he could argue), if he was unable to get to work, then he would not get paid, and the whole family would suffer. Consequently (he could argue), everything possible should be done to smooth his path to his place of work, including giving him use of The Car. In fact, Greg's father never uses any of these arguments: they are merely implied, understood, and enshrined in the sub-conscience of the family. Once at work, Greg's father is employed in one of those moderately technical roles, protected by professional qualification, state monopoly, and (in some cases, although not in his father's), free-masonry. This entitles Greg's father to a reasonably high wage and a reasonably high degree of job security. His real achievement has not been to hold-down his job, but to manoeuvre himself into it in the first place.

            Greg's mother does not go to work, in the sense of being in paid employment. She is a 'housewife'. Her day is filled with housework, shopping, paying bills, and checking the well-being of various elderly relatives that live nearby. She controls the day-to-day spending of her husband's wages. There is much stress in her role. Her purchases must stay within budget. If the grocery item earmarked for tonight's dinner has suddenly ‘gone up’ and become too expensive for the budget, or is out-of-stock, she must 'think on her feet'.  She worries about not being able to do the hoovering and the lugging of shopping now that her back is bad. She worries about the bad health of the old people in her family. She worries about the prospect of her daughter falling into the wrong crowd, and about Algernon not falling into any crowd at all. Sometimes she wonders what it would be like to go out to work, though this does not pre-occupy her. In any case, she assumes it would be out-of-the-question for her to go to work, as her husband had once stated, with chapel fervour, that 'no wife of mine need go to work'. Occasionally, she hears a little voice that suggests to her that it might be 'fun' to go to work, to have gossip and new friends, and that, being a housewife might in fact be harder work than being 'at work'.

            Meanwhile, Greg works industriously at his job with the finance company. The main activity of this company is the loaning of money to people. Sometimes the company deals with a customer direct, other times it is via a trader who is attempting to sell a car, a hi-fi, or a sofa to some impoverished person. Greg has become proficient at his job. He knows how to judge whether someone is 'credit worthy'. He knows over how long various loans may be repaid. He knows how to calculate the 'APR'. He knows what will happen if someone does not keep-up the repayments. He knows which paperwork needs to be filled-in at any stage of any of these transactions. He likes to keep busy. He does not want to get the sack.

            The other people he works with know the job well, too. However, unlike Greg, they do not appear to be busy. Instead, they chat with each other, make strange 'phone calls, or ponder for ages over innocuous-looking pieces of paper. Mr Oames, their manager, cannot understand why it takes so many people to do such a small amount of work. But they tell him that the work is complex: customers often 'phone-up to query things, and you can't just hang-up on them, can you? The other staff like Greg- he does most of their work for them. Furthermore, he keeps their idleness secret from Mr Oames. On his part, Greg accepts this, so long as they leave him alone to get his head down and plough through the work. That is what he likes doing.

            Finally, it is five o'clock. Greg rather formally puts his biro down, like a bricklayer packing-away his trowel at the end of a day's toil. Greg imagines himself as a latter-day artisan, the tools and the manual skill used to operate them being replaced by his pen and the power of his brain. He puts on his anorak, steps outside into the dark town, and begins his long walk home.

            Greg walks through the smart buildings of the town centre, then through the area of scruffier buildings which would like to be part of the town centre, but are just too far from the favoured zone to justify the upkeep. Then he walks through batches of houses that get progressively newer as he gets further from the town centre: Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, '30s houses with bay windows, and finally to the estate of late '50s houses where he lives with his family. Near to his house, he passes the VG shop. As he approaches, a smart car pulls-up outside and the driver, a woman, gets out and goes into the shop. Greg gets no more than a glimpse of her, but decides that she has enough potential to justify going into the shop himself. Inside, he keeps his head down and pretends to be scanning the dusty shelves for some specific grocery, hoping that no one will realise he is just here to look at the woman. Finally, he locates her near the bakery counter, and shuffles cautiously in her direction. As he is doing this, two thoughts emerge in his brain: one clear, the other less so. The clear one is that the woman he is following is a brunette. This time, a 'real' one, with dark hair and beautiful olive skin. She is slim, and tall, and is wearing a smart, dark-green knee-length skirt, and an equally smart jacket, a slightly lighter green, and made from corduroy. Her hair is glossy. She looks confident and sophisticated. Greg decides she is twenty-three years old. He has not seen anyone who looks like her before, except in photographs. Yes, this is a true 'brunette', thinks Greg. The less clear thought, Greg decides, is somehow connected to the fact that this woman is standing near the bakery shelf. But, at this stage, he is not sure why this thought is poking its way into his head.

            "Excuse me, you don't happen to know where they keep the.. [he pauses for a second while he thinks of the most obscure grocery he can imagine]....the piccalilli, do you?"

 

Greg is amazed that he has spoken to her. He stands there, stunned by his own bravery, not even caring whether the brunette will reply or not. He never speaks to attractive women! When he used to fancy Zoë at school, he didn’t speak to her for two years.

 

            "I'm sorry, I'm new to the area and I'm not familiar with the shop yet" came her reply.

            "Oh, where are you from?" asks Greg, with equal boldness.

            "I only moved here over the weekend. I've come from London with my husband." As she says this she places a packet of Sunblest in her wire basket. Deterred by the mention of the word 'husband', Greg hurriedly replies,

            "Er I hope you enjoy it round here", and scurries away. Then he realises what that other thought was: Sunblest! THE BRUNETTE HAS TAKEN THE LAST LOAF OF BREAD! If only he'd been more alert and less lecherous, he would have snaffled that loaf and become the family hero. Instead he will bring-home a difficult-to-explain jar of piccalilli. But, as he stands at the till waiting to pay for the piccalilli, he feels he has learnt something: he is not sure exactly what it is, but it has something to do with the realisation that it is both necessary and feasible to talk to the opposite sex, if one wants to get on with one's Life. It feels as though a small cog has finally become engaged in his brain.

            “That's fifteen pee please.”  Greg hates it when, with the new currency, shop assistants say 'pee' instead of 'pence'. He pulls a heap of coins from his pocket, and scowls at the money in his hand- that curious mixture of old and decimal coins that comprise our legal tender. He selects a florin and a shilling, which together are deemed equal to fifteen 'pee'. 

 

 

Monday, 17th November, 1975

Spoke to a brunette today. Yes, SPOKE TO A BRUNETTE! Remarkable how easy it is to strike-up a conversation if you take it casual. I must try this again soon, preferably with a brunette. And I know where they all are now: only trouble is, it is London. I don't know much about London- well, apart from its the capital of England and stuff like that- what I mean is I have only been there once, on a school trip to the Natural History Museum.

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