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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9. March, 1976

It is Tuesday the 16th March 1976. It is a cold morning. But today Greg notices the cold even more than usual. This is because he is slightly sweaty. As he walks to work, the cold wind penetrates his rather cheap anorak and flaps his damp shirt against his now cooled skin, making him shudder. Back in his house, his family are still seated around the kitchen table, ostensibly finishing off their breakfasts. But his mother is spending quite a lot of her time shaking her head from side to side, in disapproval of something. His father has an exaggerated calmness about him, as if to indicate that it, whatever that 'something' is, is not going to get to him. Meanwhile his sister looks at them both with mild concern. She tries to lighten the atmosphere by saying:

            "Well, can I have Greg's room then?" For the bombshell that has just struck this family is Greg's announcement that he intends to leave home and live in London.

            Out on the street, Greg has a bounce in his step. On balance, he feels good that he has finally got it over and done with. But this is tempered by the negative reaction he received from his parents. His mother is convinced that he will be blown-up in London by the IRA, or be crushed to death in some Moorgate-style tube smash. And his father was cross that he had chosen to make the announcement at breakfast time: "Couldn't this have waited for this evening, Algernon?" he had said. But, thinks Greg, at least his parents had not cried, or shouted, or suffered coronary arrests. His sister had been less shocked. But this was because he had already confided his plans to her some days before. Greg thinks that she finds his plans exciting.

 

How does one resign? The realisation that one does not want one's job any more presents an opportunity for enormous fun. One could, for example, be rude to one's manager, knowing that the worst sanction he can impose is the path one has chosen already. On the other hand, if one may wish some day to return to one's current employer, then this course of action is not advisable. So a middle way is required: a way which retains cordial relations with one's boss, but is nevertheless satisfying to the resigner.

 

Thus, Greg has chosen the middle way. The satisfaction that he will feel will stem from the looks on his colleagues' faces. In a thrice, Greg will be cast as the dashing go-get-it young gun, and they as dull old retainers. They will be green with envy. He decides to get the formalities of it over with as soon as possible. He knocks on Mr Oames's door at nine o'clock and, as he knocks, Greg realises that he is really looking forward to this.

            "Can I speak to you for a moment, Mr Oames?" But Oames looks hassled.

            "Not now, Greg I'm busy." Greg shuffles away, crestfallen.

The same routine occurs at half-past nine, and at ten o'clock. Mr Oames is not normally as busy, or as hassled-looking as this. It feels as though something big is about to kick-off. But Greg is getting desperate. He feels he must resign today, as he has a precise time plan worked-out, linked-in to working exactly one month's notice. So he tries again at ten-thirty. Again Oames states that he is busy, so Greg blurts:

            "Mr Oames, I want to resign!" This news carries sufficient gravity to distract Oames from his work. He virtually bellows:

            "You what!" Then he regains some composure and says "Er, well, put it in writing then."

            By the time Greg has returned to his own desk, the remarkably efficient office grapevine has done its job. Stan, whose full name is Stanislav, comes over to his desk and says:

            "You leaving us then Greg?" Stan sounds almost cross. Greg affirms that he is indeed leaving, and adds a bit of background: thinks he will have more opportunities in London, might as well try it while he's still young, that kind of thing. With a tone of bitterness in his voice, Stan mumbles,

            "Huh, whatever happened to company loyalty?" He mumbles this in a typical Stan way: audible, but quiet enough to tempt the listener into letting it pass. But Greg is infuriated. What right has this old git to say that? Stan does nothing but make work awkward for everyone else, and as far as Greg knows, has done so for the whole of his 'career'. Greg has never been angry before. He does not know how he will react. Will he stay calm, or will he bang his fists on the desk in a fit of petulance? Greg says, without prior thought,

            "So what do you call loyalty, Stan? Doing sod all work for thirty years and still having the audacity to draw your salary?"

            Stan is surprised at being spoken-to in this vein. Usually, people are afraid to challenge his acid tongue, for fear of receiving more of the same. So surprised is he, that he walks away, speechless.

            Greg is surprised too. He is surprised at how the words tumbled out of his mouth, and how calm he felt when he said them. Normally he cannot think quickly enough to deliver sharp retorts. But he is not normally angry.

 

Greg notices that his resignation appears to be the talk of the office. So much so, that he is amazed at how much importance people are placing on it. By midday, it has reached an apex: people are openly discussing it, within earshot of Greg, apparently not caring whether he hears them or not:

            "Strange timing," "Leaving them in the lurch," "Wonder who they'll get to replace him?" are some of the comments that Greg over-hears. He also hears: "Leaving things in a bit of a mess," which he cannot agree with.

            At lunch time, he takes a wander in the town. He carries with him an air of mild satisfaction. He walks by the television shop. Rows and rows of colour tellys simultaneously broadcasting the same programme. 'I wonder why they do that?' thinks Greg, 'After all, one telly does much the same as any other. You don't need twenty to show you what they do.' Greg finds colour tellys garish compared with the black and white one at home, especially twenty colour tellys. Then again, this shop is a Colour Specialist, as a sign in the window proudly proclaims. Despite his disapproval, he begins to notice the programme that all the sets are broadcasting. Frame after frame of Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister. Making an announcement to the press. Leaving Downing Street, waving to the cameras. Some archive shots from the fifties and sixties. And the same film of him making an announcement to the press, over and over again. Something has happened- but what? Has a member of the Royal Family died? Have we declared war on Iceland? Has Ted Heath been lost at sea after a yachting accident? He goes into the shop and asks the assistant:

            "What's happened?"

            "Prime Minister's resigned."

 

 

Little-by-little, Greg realises that the people at work were talking about Harold Wilson resigning, not him. Greg's personal moment of glory had been usurped by the PM. Greg feels shocked by the news. He is not sure why he is shocked. After all, in places like Italy they have a new PM every couple of weeks. But Harold has been PM ever since Greg can remember. Admittedly, there was a spell with Edward Heath, but it has been mainly Harold. Why would he resign? OK, so we have inflation and strikes and what-not, but those are not resigning matters, surely? Not in this country. Surely he could have hung-on until the next election?

 

Tuesday, 16th March 1976

'Today, I resigned. Soon after, Harold Wilson copied me.

Harold first: Although there are lots of reasons why he MIGHT resign (doing the job a long time, getting a bit old, etc), there is no one compelling reason why he SHOULD resign today. So it all seems very odd. It is as if the forces of change have been bottled up for a long time, building up pressure unnoticed. Eventually, something has to give, and hey presto, the Prime Minister's gone. Not that it will make much difference in the short run- probably Callaghan will take-over- but it is a symbolic thing I feel. But Ladbrokes have Shirley Williams at 25/1. A woman Prime Minister? That will never happen.

            Now me: Not as much flack off my parents as I thought I would get. 'Strong disapproval,' I call it, no more than that. Father started off by saying "We brought you up to...." then he didn't know what to say, so he just says "well, you're nearly 19 now, I suppose you can do what you like." Later on he warns me about muggers and 'coloured people' in London. He thinks 'coloured people' sounds less racist than 'blacks'. And Mother has commented that London is a 'dirty, filthy place'. All very helpful.'

š

 

For the next few weeks, Greg is busy making the necessary arrangements to move to London. The agency seems very keen for him to start: almost surprisingly so. Its manager talks to Greg personally and persuades him to start in three weeks time, not four. Greg is able to do this as his current employer owes him one week of leave. The agency even puts Greg in touch with a Mr Zabbath, who tells Greg he can 'sort you out a nice room, no problem.'

            Despite all this activity, there are nevertheless idle moments when Greg can mull-over his decision to leave Bury. As if to tease him, the weather perks-up soon after he has resigned, and life in Bury seems less dull. One Sunday he sits at the dining table with his family for tea. There is apricot jam and nice bread, for a change. How did his Mother manage to get nice bread amid another shortage? He does not think he will ever have tea with apricot jam and nice bread when he is alone in his room in London. His mother is being very nice to him, making an effort to have a conversation with him. As Greg listens to his mother, he feels a lump develop in his throat and tears welling in his eyes. He thinks 'oh Lord, what have I done?' But later that evening, he regains his composure, and focuses on the reasons why he is going to London.

            At work on the 29th March Mr Oames calls Greg into his office and tells him that it is not too late to withdraw his resignation, if he wants to. He hints that there may be changes soon, and an opportunity for advancement. Greg politely refuses. He tries to explain to Mr Oames that he is seeking social opportunities, not career ones. But the concept is not coming out very clearly, so he gives-up.

            Despite finding it necessary to decline it, Oames's offer buoys Greg a great deal. He reminds himself that he is an artisan, selling his skills. And employers will compete to buy the skills of a good worker- that is what it is all about, supply and demand, the law of Economics.

            On the same day, in the evening, his sister comes into his room. Greg notices how grown-up she looks nowadays. Recently, her childish mien has disappeared. Her hair has become transformed from a wild tangle which her parents implored her to comb, to a sleek bob which she tends almost constantly. Now she talks and moves like a woman. And she is aware of this too. There is a knowingness in her words as she tries to persuade Greg not leave. There is a way in which she keeps her eyes on him as she speaks. She promises that they can start a new magazine together. She promises that she will help Greg find a girlfriend. She says that, in a couple of years, they can go halves on a car. Any car that Greg chooses. She promises anything she can think of to encourage her brother to stay. And her eyes promise even more. But Greg casts a casual "Are you wearing lip gloss?” in her direction. Then he says “Things are about to change, Madge. Things that have been the same for a long time now are about to change. Nothing is forever. But London is not so far away, you can come and see me, if Father lets you." Madge looks very sad, and walks away quietly.

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