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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2. Home Town, and the Paradox of Sunday

  The town where Algernon and his family live is Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. It is a 'nice' town, with nice Georgian buildings that overlook the street market, which is held every Wednesday. Georgian buildings are ‘nice’ because they are more rounded and friendly than the gothic Victorian ones you get in other towns. And there are the nice abbey ruins, among which are woven the nice municipal gardens, that blossom in spring. On the edges of the town are more mundane things: and there are just enough of these to prevent Bury from becoming a sterile tourist honeypot, like Rye or Bourton-on-the-Water. On the outskirts of the town centre there is a brewery (that makes Abbot Ale- and a 'snakebite' made with Abbot Ale and cider is called 'Braindamage'), a redundant greyhound track, some offices, and some housing estates, including the one where Algernon lives. Looming over everything, is the vast grey bulk of the sugar beet factory. But these pragmatic appendages do not destroy the fundamental 'niceness' of the place, rather, they tend to emphasise it. Bury is a place where one is expected to be thankful for one's lot; grateful for the diversion provided by its town centre antiquities, and for the fact that it is a 'nice' town in which to live, though there is some litter.

            But it is also a town where, every so often, some utility or other fails to function due to a strike. A town where the buses are unreliable. A town where most people seem to have a job, but very few seem to be able to get rich. A town with a cathedral that has not even got a tower. A town which is dead on a Sunday. A town where kids hang-around in the streets because there is nothing else for them to do. It is a town where nothing quite seems to work properly. Of course, these symptoms are shared by all other towns in Great Britain. But Algernon does not know this. He has not traveled much. He thinks this malaise of the times is unique to Bury St Edmunds.

 

            What of the people of Bury: what does Algernon make of them? Well, Bury is a comparatively remote town, unlike Ipswich or Cambridge, who are close enough to London to be lapped by its influence. Bury is tucked-away in that big swath of countryside that lies between her more cosmopolitan neighbors, known as East Anglia. A backwater. Algernon senses this. He thinks that the people of Bury are partitioned from the sophisticated world of the larger towns. Yes, there are Londoners who 'overspilled' into Bury. But they have been here for twenty years now. They are de-urbanized and merged into the indigenous population. Bury is still a 'country town' (if there can be such a paradox). A town to which people from the 'sticks' flock now and then. They come for the cattle market, or the street market. Or they come to drink on a Saturday night; and to fight, and to practice shouting their London phrases like 'Shut yer neck' and 'Y’know wot I mean'. But they shout them in their agrarian tones, making themselves sound ridiculous. Algernon sees little cultural difference between the town-dwellers of Bury and the country people from its surrounding villages.

            But Algernon believes he is different to all these people. He thinks he is more intellectual, more reflective, and less reactionary than them. He doesn't go in for all the fooling around and drinking and fashions that they get into. On his wages he could not afford to; in any case, his parents would give him a hard time if he strayed too far from the righteous path. There must be some other people like him somewhere, he supposes, but they are not around here. Except, perhaps, his sister.

 

            Algernon does not have a girlfriend. As he is only eighteen, this is yet to worry him......much. However, he notices that quite a few lads of his age do have girlfriends, and, yes, on balance, he would like to have one too. What is of more concern to him is the reaction of those around him to his unattached status. His parents have ways of giving-out subtle signals which indicate, without saying as much, that they are anxious over his lack of activity in this sphere. His sister, Madge, is more forward, and asks him direct questions about who he fancies and why he does not ask them out. The underlying thrust of all this concern (implied rather than stated) is the insinuation that, instead of being interested in women, he is interested in men. Algernon knows this is not true. Algernon imagines that Madge would not think this, either. But his parents might. As much as he would like to demonstrate his heterosexuality by being seen with a fair damsel on his arm, he resents the prospect of dating a girl he is not bewitched by, just to show he is 'normal'. In fact, he has become stubborn on this point.

            Algernon’s lifestyle brings him in to contact with few available women. Having shunned the Bury Saturday night scene, the only other obvious place to look is at work. But the few women that work where Algernon works (it is a finance company) are old harpies who were born when we were fighting The Great War.

            Algernon is aware that his lifestyle limits his opportunities with the opposite sex, but he does not know of a solution to this problem, other than changing his lifestyle altogether.

 

SUNDAYS

 

Sundays are even more boring that the other days in Algernon's life. Earlier in the week, Algernon looks forward to Sunday, on the ground that it is (along with Saturday) a day off work. But as soon as Sunday arrives, it all comes flooding back: Sunday is Boring! Because his parents are lapsed Baptists, Algernon does not have to go to church any more. Church had been great for killing time, but it was otherwise a hated experience for anyone (like, Algernon) who does not Believe. When Algernon became 'grown-up', his parents decided that they could no longer force him to come to church with them. And as soon as Algernon stopped going, they decided that Madge did not have to go either. So she didn't. With their two children no longer attended, Algernon's parents lost interest in attending, so they 'lapsed'. 'Lapsed' in this context means that one has not formally lost faith, but one nevertheless does not bother to attend church any more.

            In the summer, Algernon can while-away Sunday afternoon watching the John Player League on BBC2, or waiting for the ice cream van to come round to the estate. When he was younger, the appearance of the ice cream van was a very exciting moment. On hearing its siren grind-out a distorted 'Green Sleeves' (or whatever was topical) Algernon and the other children would dash mindlessly to the ice cream van, oblivious to the hazards of traffic, or tripping on uneven paving. Once at the ice cream van, the kids with paper rounds would forsake the cheaper ices, and blow most of their wages on a 'sundae'. A 'sundae' was a little plastic tub of tarted-up ice cream. There were different kinds to choose from: a chocolate mousse with a delightful nut fragment dressing; another containing a seductive layer of raspberry-flavour mousse sitting on a bed of ice cream, the whole masterpiece was topped-off with swirls of cream. When one is fourteen, nothing else compares with the moments of ecstasy experienced while one eats one's sundae. It didn't matter if you have to go to school the next day, or if that ponce Donny Osmond had just knocked Slade off the top of the Charts, if you were eating your sundae. But now, Algernon is eighteen, not fourteen, and the thrill of it all has waned. He still goes to the ice cream van, though.

            On a winter's Sunday, even these mundane diversions do not exist. The highlight then becomes Sunday dinner: hopefully roast beef, although Algernon's mother reminds everyone that 'beef's a pound a pound you know'. A secondary highlight is the Sunday paper. Algernon's household has only just began taking a Sunday paper, a practice frowned-upon though not forbidden by the chapel fraternity. Algernon is so starved of contact with young women that he has taken to furtively scanning the colour supplement for pictures of the same. He knows this habit is especially pitiful, but he continues with it anyway. He wonders where all these pretty women, in the photographs, come from. They are usually dark and sleek and sophisticated. They cannot come from Suffolk, he concludes, where all the women are pasty-looking. Maybe they come from Italy? But there must be a concentration of them somewhere, as there are none in this vicinity.

 

Algernon is only referred-to as 'Algernon' by his mother and father, this being the name they chose for him. Everyone else calls him 'Greg'. Greg, as we shall now call him, likes this nickname. It certainly sounds better, to him, than crusty old 'Algernon'. Until his nickname came along, 'Algernon' lead Greg to suffer almost endless teasing at school. 'Very PG Wodehouse'. 'Very late British Empire', they would taunt. Algernon is also the name of the pug dog in Rupert Bear stories. Algernon can be shortened to a chirpy 'Algy'. But, to school children's ears, 'Algy' sounds like algae, that primitive life form learned-about in Biology lessons. 'A primitive life form known as Algy!' they would chortle. It was all too easy.

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