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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7. January, 1976

1976 is underway- the start of the last quarter of the Century. '1976' has an uneasy ring to it. People sense that if the modern-space-age-scientific-technical-nuclear-whatever thingies that were predicted for the Twentieth Century are to happen, they will happen soon. It has a ruder, harsher feel to it. Kids are getting ruder, strikes are getting worse, litter and pollution are everywhere, and now the IRA are blowing things up on the mainland. Social melt-down is around the corner. To make matters worse, the West Indies are due to play England this summer, and Geoff Boycott is refusing to bat.

But Greg is at least pleased that Christmas is over. Now that he is grown-up, he finds Christmas to be rather a tense time. Greg sees on telly that Christmas is supposed to be a time to enjoy oneself, to 'let one's hair down', as it were. But Greg has neither the wit nor opportunity to do so. Nor the hair. Consequently, the sensation that he is missing out on things that 'normal' people do is re-emphasised at Christmas.

            Meanwhile, at work, Greg’s colleagues are as annoying as ever. He listens as his colleagues recall what they saw on telly on Sunday: "An' d'you know what the gaffer on TV said? 'E said 'That Floyde Streete, 'e's a bit of an enigma.' E-nigma! Get it?" [Floyde Streete is a black footballer who plays for Cambridge United]. By this time Joyce and the other harpies are splitting their sides with laughter. "An' then the gaffer said 'ooer I don't s'pose your allowed to say that on telly!'" There is more laughter from the harpies. To them Not Being Racist (or 'Racialist' as they like to call it) is another game for them to brighten-up their dull lives with. It allows them to be more racist than ever before, protected by the subterfuge of Trying Not to Be (one of the features of the game). They regard it as a stupid game that has been invented by stupid politicians, so they are cynical players. After all, the stupid game of jumping traffic lights only exists because someone put stupid traffic lights there in the first place.

 

Towards the middle of January, there is a curious warm spell of weather. Greg's mother notices it first, as she keeps a thermometer in the garden. 'It was fifty-two today' she announces to a fairly indifferent family audience. Nevertheless, the good weather seems to perk Greg up a little. Furthermore, his sister Madge has told him that she is going to start-up a school magazine- 'for the kids, by the kids', she says. Greg finds this enticing- it sounds very fresh.š

 

On the 13th January, Madge tells Greg to come into her bedroom. When they were little, Greg and Madge were forever tearing about the house, in and out of each other's rooms. But now Greg finds it surprising, even a little disconcerting, to be invited into his sister's room. For some reason, the phrase  ‘The Lair of the Adolescent’ enters his head as he is about to go in. He is expecting to find untidy hordes of objects scarcely recognisable to the single male- various kinds of make-up, those weird little underpants that girls wear, home-made posters of various pretty-boy pop starts cut from girls' magazines, and those things that women use when they are having a period. But instead, Madge's room is rather dull and tidy, rather like his own. As soon as he is inside, Madge cuts to the chase:

            "I want you to write a piece for my school magazine" she says. She goes on to explain the ethos of the magazine. The teachers will NOT be allowed to write in it. It will be for the pupils, by the pupils. It will not be about boring things like How Good the School Carol Concert was. It will have stuff on kid's problems and what goes wrong at school and what could be done to make things better. It will cost five pee.

            "So why do you want me to write in it, then? I mean, I'm not at school any more?" asks Greg.

            "But you're such a good writer and you know about politics and stuff."

            "Just because I use a pen at work doesn't automatically mean I'm a good writer" is Greg's retort. But her comment 'you know about politics and stuff' pleases him a great deal, and he soon agrees to write something. "What shall I write about then?" he asks.

            "Just write something about how there's nothing for young people to do round here. No youth clubs and stuff."

 

Although he has agreed to help, Greg is shocked that his sister has embarked on this project. Shocked, because usually Madge is clever person, skilled at keeping 'in' with the 'right' people, which Greg thinks she does by not sticking her head too far above the parapet. This, then, is a somewhat radical departure for her, thinks Greg.

 

That same evening he writes the 'piece' for the proposed magazine. As he writes it, he is chuffed by his new role as a political guru. In truth, Greg is no such thing. Although he is broadly aware of the difference between Left and Right, and he knows that the party of the Left is in power, he possesses no theoretical underpinning. At his Comprehensive, Greg received no tuition on Friedman or Keynes, or Marx or even Hitler. History ended at 1914. This is compounded by the fact that he has not rounded-off his education at sixth-form or university. He has lived all his life in this sleepy Suffolk town, with its pretty streets and its comfortable lifestyle. He has little knowledge of race relations, industrial relations, or poverty. He picks-up snippets of these issues from the Nine o'clock News, but his parents- and therefore Greg (he has no telly in his bedroom)- do not watch 'heavy stuff' like Newsnight or Panorama.

 

This is an extract from Greg's 'piece' for Madge's magazine:

 

"Despite being the middle of winter, the weather is warm, reaching 50°F today. Not warm as in 'isn't it gorgeous shall we strip-off?', but warm enough to stop me cursing the cold. Certainly the kids round here don't think its too cold to be out and about. The younger ones are involved in a makeshift game of football that sprawls across the gloomy street. They are dreaming of Ipswich Town getting to Wembley. Some chance! A street lamp has a dual function, acting as a floodlight and a goalpost. An old bike (with its handlebars twisted around to make 'cow horns') is another goalpost. As I walk past the boys, a small kid with snot running down his nose loses control of the ball and it (I mean the ball not the snot) comes towards to me. I tap it back as best I can with my left foot. I like sports, but I am crap at them. In football I don't even know if I'm 'left-footed' or 'right-footed'. But the kids say 'thank you' anyway. Normally these kids don't give me any lip.

      The older kids hang around on the street corners, looking sullen and bored. They do look like they're about to give me some lip, but they don't in the end. Their menace is implied, but not delivered. These kids haven't really got anywhere to go. They are too young to go in pubs, and even if they could convince the landlord they are eighteen, they could not afford the drinks. Occasionally, we see that some vandalism has been committed: a branch of a tree snapped, a rude word painted on a wall, that kind of thing, and we suspect the culprits are among this crowd. But it is not too bad a problem around here. What amuses me is that the rude words often seem to be miss-spelt. (Have you seen the ‘word’ bollicks scrawled on the wall of the public toilet? On the other hand, I guess its fair to point-out that most dictionaries don't help with this kind of word).

So what did 'kids' of this age-group do in the 'Golden Age' of the 50s or 40s or whenever it was? I am sure they could not have spent all their time climbing trees and having Enid Blyton-style 'adventures'?........."

 

After reading the article a few times, Greg gives the piece of paper to his sister. He does this in a furtive way, as he senses his parents may not approve of the article, though he is not exactly sure why not. Madge reads it, and seems to like it. She then shows Greg what she has written. It is a piece describing how it is impossible to hear exactly what words are being sung in pop songs. For example, when Marc Bolan sings 'Metal Guru, is it you?' it sounds like 'Mecca ‘roo: easy chew?' And when the Beach Boys are singing their harmony parts for their hit 'Barbara Ann' it sounds like 'Barber Ann, Bar Barber Ann' where it should be 'Barbara Ann, Barbara Ann'. More importantly, she has written it in (what Greg calls) a 'sarky' style. In other words, and without undue effort, she has written satire. Greg is impressed by this, as his sister is four years his junior.

 

Two evenings later Greg notices that his sister is in a bad mood. She has stayed in her room all evening and will not come out, nor explain what she is unhappy about. He asks his father what the problem is. He says tersely:

            "Started some filthy little rag up at school. Obscene words in it- school quite rightly put a stop to it. No one who lives in this house will peddle that kind of trash." Greg felt the sensation of fear travel along his spine. He gulped:

            "But I wrote something for that." His father looks at him. It is the start of one of those looks that ends with a severe reprimand. But before it develops any further, his father just says,

            "Don't get involved in any of that sort of tripe."

 

And that was that. Greg had not anticipated that such an innocuous little article could cause such angst. On the other hand, it had included the near-swear words 'bollicks', 'snot', and 'crap'. With hindsight, given his parents' Baptist background, and the small-mindedness of almost all the teachers at the school, perhaps he should have known better. This being the case, he could have expected a worse telling-off from his father. He feels that he has got away lightly, and his sister has taken more than her fair share of the grief. And he cannot understand why this is.

           

So the prospect of some fun with a school magazine has been wiped-out. At first Greg feels remorse for writing rude words and for upsetting his family. But after a while he begins to think differently. "After all, I'm eighteen: I'll do what I bloody like!" Of course, he doesn't say this to his father, but he does marvel at the power of the pen to cause such reaction. So, while at work, when nobody is looking, Greg picks-up his biro and holds it out in front of him, pretending it is Excalibur.

  Whilst in this frame of mind, Greg writes another piece, which he entitles 'Hair':

  "In the '50s men had square hair. One or two were Teds, with their D.A.s, but, by today's standard, their hair was square. Then in the 60s, it started to get longer. At first, just pop stars, and a few footballers like George Best, wore it long. Then: 1967- hippies! By circa 1970 Long was the accepted hair style for young men. It was all-pervasive. Actually, it was so all-pervasive that even the less-young men, in their 30s or 40s, were covering their ears and growing sideburns. Now, it is only the old men (and people that live in mental hospitals) who stick to their short-back-and-sides. Here we are in 75 and Long is still with us. It may be slightly less wild than it was a couple of years ago, but it is still the way to look. Long must have been going for 10 years now. I don't suppose there has ever been another hair style in history that has lasted so, er, long. How much longer can Long go? Who knows? Sorry I don't. But while we still have it, it remains a club, an unspoken club that you tell people that you're a member of visually, by how you look. And you are saying you are young and glam and trendy when you have long hair. I suppose the style will end when its no longer seen as young and glam and trendy, but old and dull and hackneyed instead."

  Because of the chastening from his father, Greg does not 'do' anything with this piece (despite its innocuous nature). He puts it in the drawer of his bedrooom desk and forgets about it.

 

š

The pay for school leavers is very low. For those apprenticed to a trade, there is at least the prospect of progressing to higher wages once the skill is learnt. But Greg (to coin his phrase) is ‘crap’ at anything that involves manual dexterity. Kids at school often called him a 'spastic' because he was so bad at football. He knows he would be no good as a toolmaker or a draughtsman or a car mechanic or a carpenter or a footballer. The woodwork teacher had said to him “Your woodwork won't even pass wind, let alone 'O' level!” The only thing he has found that he is any good at is paperwork: in other words, administration. But the pay for this kind of work is poor. In theory, anyone who can read and write can do it. Furthermore, it is non-professional and non-unionised. The final part of Greg's pay equation is that he is only 18. To an employer, he is a kid, and employers cannot see why they should pay kids very much.

            So Greg has to be careful with his money. His housekeeping payment to his mother takes up most of his wages. He is very careful with the rest, and by-and-large does not fritter it away on records or beer or cigarettes or bus fares. He saves what he can, and over the last two years has accumulated about two hundred pounds in the Post Office. Very occasionally Greg will splash-out on something. A couple of weeks ago he paid to see Bury Town play in the Southern League, for example. And last year he bought two LP records, Brain Salad Surgery and Hergest Ridge. But such expenditure is carefully considered and budgeted-for in advance. Overall, he has remained true to his long-term strategy of spending less than he earns.

            Despite his prudence, Greg is becoming aware that he is in a financial dead-end. However diligent he is at work, the best he can hope for is that his raises will keep pace with inflation. He needs to manoeuvre himself into a more lucrative lob, but he is not sure what, or how to go about it. So as January of '76 reaches its end the gloomy feelings that he had at Christmas are starting to return. This is compounded by a cold snap, when his mother's thermometer did not rise above freezing point for several days. Greg hates the cold weather. He tries to burrow deeper into his anorak as he walks to work, but of course, it is not really possible to do that. On Thursday 29th January 1976 he feels so cold that it is only pride that stops him taking the bus.

            In contrast, the office where he works is very warm, and Greg's eyes sting for several minutes after he has arrived. For a few moments, he warms his legs by the radiator while Mr Oames is in the gents. As he stands there, leaning against the hot radiator, he notices the trade magazine lying discarded on a nearby desk. Greg has never bothered to read it before, as he has been told that it is full of dull articles and adverts for terribly high-flying jobs that are beyond the reach of any normal mortal. But today, on the 29th January 1976, an unidentified force compels Greg to wander over to the desk and flick-through the pages of this dull publication. He notices:

 

"FINANCE CLERKS. £1.50 AN HOUR GUARANTEED. SHORT AND LONG TERM CONTRACTS IN LONDON. RING 01 577 6501."

 

           

            ‘One fifty an hour,’ thinks Greg.

"Leaving us, Greg?" To his surprise, Mr Oames is looking over Greg's shoulder. Greg starts blushing and says,

            "Er, no Mr Oames", and drops the magazine on the table, and scurries back to his desk. Despite this embarrassing moment, Greg keeps one eye on the trade magazine all morning. By lunch time, he is relieved that the magazine is still there. He sneaks a further look at it, and this time memorises the 'phone number in the ad- 01 577 6501. Back at his desk, he writes the number on a scrap of paper, puts it in his trouser pocket, and feels slightly excited.

 

That night, as Greg walks home from work, he is deep in thought. He thinks of Labour and Conservative. They seem to have been around forever, fighting each other. But, he knows enough history to realise that this is not true: if one goes back far enough, the Whigs were there, having their say. He thinks of Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister: he seems to have been around forever too. Then his mind wanders on to pop music: he reckons it has got very middle-of-the-road lately. A couple of years ago we had Mud and Sweet and T Rex, which was alright. Now, we have to be content with Bay City Rollers and David Essex, he reflects. As he walks past the VG store near his house, he wonders for how long such a poorly-stocked little shop can survive. It is only a matter of time, surely, before some big national chain like Liptons starts buying plots of waste land on which to build huge supermarkets. Such stores will achieve massive economies of scale, enabling them to undercut the little shops. These big shops will offer a greater choice of goods to the customer. And it will not matter if they are a little further from where people live, as they will provide vast car parks. Eventually, people will no longer tolerate mediocre little shops, and will vote with their feet (well, their cars, actually), and go to Liptons.

            In short, Greg thinks that society has become stale. People have accepted the same old stuff for years and years. Things have become staid. There is only so much more of this that people will take, and then things will change. Things always change, in the end. History has shown us that. Yes, Greg feels that change is just around the corner.

 

šGreg's Friend

 

As Greg has got older, he has become more and more anti-social. 'Anti-social' in the sense of being a loner, rather than in any more pro-active way (for example by painting the 'word' 'bollicks' on the public loos). This is to the extent that he now has only one friend, Simon Appleford. Yet even Simon he forsakes for months on end, such is Greg's desire for isolation. It is as if Greg has become selfish with his spare time, preferring to have it all for himself, so that he can think and plan and reflect.

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