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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8. February, 1976

February, 1976

 

But today, Monday the 2nd February 1976, is different. Greg has had all weekend to think and plan and reflect- now he wants to talk to Simon about something. Simon is a little taken-aback by Greg's 'phone call, having not heard from him for so long, but eventually, by promising to stand him a pint, Greg persuades Simon to agree to meet him at the pub that evening.

 

At seven p.m., Greg slips-out of his house as unobtrusively as possible. He likes to keep visits to the pub low-key, as they are not approved-of by his parents. Then Greg starts the one mile walk into to town, the third time that he has walked this route today. Eventually, by about twenty-past-seven, he can be found seated next to his friend in the pub, sipping a pint of Greene King.

            On the face of it, Simon and Greg are well-matched. For one thing, they are the only under thirty year-olds in Bury who do not have long hair and flared trousers. For another, they both like the same sort of music. Tonight they talk at length about Mike Oldfield. Greg maintains that Tubular Bells is his best record, but Simon argues for Ommadawn. According to Simon, Ommadawn 'hangs-together' much better. He adds that it is 'like a symphony, one solid bit of music on each side.' Greg counters this with 'No way! Tubular Bells has got all the great tunes.' 'Exactly!' says Simon, 'That's what Tubular Bells is- a string of great tunes, with no overriding theme.'

They are both shy guys, without a circle of friends. But within this framework of similarities, there is a fundamental difference. Simon is relaxed about his shyness; a quiet inner confidence tells him that, despite his shyness, everything is going to be alright. By contrast, Greg is awkward and resentful about his shyness. He thinks that if he could somehow break free of his (admittedly ill-defined) shackles, he would be a new man. And that is exactly what Greg wants to talk to Simon about. Eventually Simon stops talking about progressive rock music, and Greg has his chance:

"I've been thinking of moving to London." Simon is genuinely surprised, and says nothing, just gawps. So Greg, who always feels uncomfortable taking the initiative in a conversation, has to persevere. “I saw this advert in a magazine. £1.50 an hour for doing clerk work just like mine. £1.50!” At this point, Greg is compelled to wave around the scrap of paper with the 'phone number written on it, as if to prove that this job advert really exists, and is not just a figment of his imagination. By now, Simon has recovered sufficiently to re-enter the conversation.

            "You'll soon spend it in London. I mean, the rent you will have to pay- its a rip-off down there."

            "Its not just the money I want, Simon. There's nothing for me here, in Bury. Nobody likes me here.." he hesitates for a moment, realising that too much self-pity is unbecoming "...and I don't like anyone, except you that is."

            "You think they will like you more in London! I tell you what mate, its every man for himself down there mate. You'll be mixing with muggers and buggers and sambos." Greg is silent. He is bad at arguing against tirades of quickly-marshalled 'evidence'. Simon interprets his silence as incomprehension, so adds "Buggers- you know, queeros, people that want to roger your bottom."

            At that moment, Greg notices a gang of his old school 'mates' making their way noisily past the little pub. They spot him and Simon through the window and appear to have a joke at their expense. Simon does not spot them and continues the conversation.

            "So what do your Mum and Dad think about this plan of yours?" Greg confesses that he has not told them yet, and, after a short while, Simon and Greg drift off the subject. They decide to have another pint, and somehow Greg ends-up buying it even though it is Simon's turn.

            So the pair of them sit there, side by side in the pub, on slightly tired upholstery that is not as comfortable as it looks. The two men look bizarre, with their out-of-date fashions and short hair. Greg's hair is particularly short at the moment. It makes him look severe, like Himmler. Simon's hair is also short, though not as short as Greg's. The curious aspect of Simon's hair is that there is an accumulation of it around the crown. It makes his head look as if it is a funny shape. He looks like Mr Whippy. Heinrich Himmler and Mr Whippy sitting side-by-side in a small English pub, in 1976.

 Greg is not used to going in pubs. He has no particular objection to the activity, but he lacks people to go with and finds the drinks expensive. By and large, he finds pubs a little boring- if one is not with a girl or otherwise engrossed in good conversation, he thinks it is more interesting to be at home. At least one can watch telly or read one's books at home. But Greg concedes that after a certain (unspecified) amount of alcoholic drink, a ‘Glow’ seems (to the drinker) to descend over the pub. Such a Glow is invariably pleasant and makes one more sociable and well-disposed to other people. During a Glow, the dimpled copper table tops and the little monarchs etched into the ashtrays become one's friends. The smoke-tinged walls become comforting rather than disgusting, and the darts board on the wall in the corner becomes a benign face smiling down upon the whole scene.

Greg is experiencing a Glow now. He noticed that after one pint, he already felt in a better mood (than before), and mid-way through the second pint, the Glow is making his tongue loose.

            "I'm a light-weight. I'm feeling pissed already," he says to Simon.

            "Well, we are drinking Abbot. Abbot is the strongest beer you know." Greg did not know this. "So what do you want to achieve by moving to London?" asks Simon. Relaxed by the Glow, Greg discloses more than he would normally choose to, declaring loudly:

            "I want to lose my virginity!"

            Other customers look up from their pints.

            "But you can do that in Bury!" pleads Simon.

            "I think I will have more chance in London."

            "Well ring-up that number then. Find out about that job."

            "But its difficult to ring from work.."

            "Look Greg, there are such things as 'phone boxes. Stop procrastinating and slip into the town at lunch time. Invest a bob on a 'phone call, find out about this damn thing, get it out of your system!"

 

Greg's boring, cold walk home is ameliorated by the effect of Abbot Ale. Deep in his coat pocket he finds a rather ropy polo which he sucks to try and hide the smell of beer on his breath. By the time he reaches his house, the alcohol is wearing off. Nevertheless, he decides to drink a glass of water in an attempt to further dilute the smell of the beer.

 

That night, he writes in his journal:

 

Monday, 2nd February 1976

Went to pub with Simon. Told him of London idea. Told him too much?- Told him I wanted to lose my virginity! So what? He's a virgin too. Surely? He warned me of 'poofs'. Ironic, as at that moment, Ashley and his gang went past window. They think I'm queer. 'Oooh, look at Jeremy and Norman' I'm sure they were saying. Simon thinks its a bad idea, moving to London. But thinks I should try it anyway- strange advice! Says people won't like me in London any more than they do here. Maybe. But here people positively DISLIKE me. People like Ashley and that lot. At least in London people won't know me from Adam.

 

 

Greg realises that organising his move to London will require some financial outlay. His meagre weekly surplus will not be enough to meet the expenses. "I will have to speculate to accumulate," he tells himself. So he withdraws £100 from his Post Office account. Then he starts spending it. From a call box, he rings the agency in London. They ask for his cv. He buys Simon several more pints of Abbot Ale, to persuade him to type his cv for him (Simon has a typewriter). Then he buys a quarto envelope to put his cv in, and posts it to the agency. He makes several more calls to the agency (all from a call box) to establish that they have received his cv, and that they will have work for him when he gets to London. Despite their reassurances, he finds it hard to believe that they really will have a job for him. He accepts that there is an element of risk involved.

            Then, suddenly, he stops spending, for the time being. He decides he will not spend any more until he has 'bitten the bullet'. He rolls the remaining eighty pounds up into a bundle, and sleeps with it under his pillow. It feels like a fortune, although for every single day that he keeps it in this way, its value declines by five pee- this being the effect of the rollicking inflation rate that prevails within the UK economy.

 

'Biting the bullet' is doing the difficult things. These are:

 

1. Telling his parents of his plans, and

2. Resigning from his job.

 

Each of these tasks is difficult for a different reason. Telling his parents is difficult because they are bound to be upset. By contrast, no one will give two hoots when he resigns at work: no, the difficult aspect of resignation is that it represents the point of no return. If his current employer really is planning to 'economise', then it will be unlikely to take Greg back if things do not work-out in London.

            Greg wonders how he will broach the subject to his parents. Should he give a long preamble, giving all the background? Or should he come straight out with it? How would they react? Would his Mother cry? Would his Father shout? Would they understand why he wanted to go, or would they just think that he was a queer little mixed-up boy embarking on some cock-eyed adventure? He was not sure, but he did know that the thought of it was making him very nervous.

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