Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 2

A continuation of Grovel Greg, Grovel - Greg moves to London.

It is 1976. Greg is a shy and naive 19 year-old, who has decided 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?

In Part 2 Greg moves to London, and takes-up residence in the strange lodging house, "Turbot".

Part 3 is set in the present day, as 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.


9. Father Pays a Visit

Summer marches on. Wimbledon comes and goes. Bjorn Borg, the blonde Adonis, wins it, amid a pastel whirl of summer dresses and sun hats. Borg looks the epitome of 70s Man: strong and handsome, while his long hair affords him that required hint of femininity. For a while, the punks and the progressives and the people who want to look a bit more urgent, sink-back into a heat-induced lethargy.

The warm weather creeps above Uganda, the I.R.A. and strikes in the news headlines. It just won't rain. Well, that is not quite true. In Northamptonshire, torrential rain in the wake of a thunderstorm causes a cattle truck to crash into a bus. Five people, and several cows, are killed. But that storm is merely a symptom of the hot weather, rather than a change from it. In London, and in Bury, it does not rain. Gardens, parks, sports pitches, verges, lawns, school fields, village greens, and the grass on traffic islands have all turned brown. It is forbidden to water them. A new Government role is created: Minister for Drought. On telly, The Minister (Dennis Howell) tells the British people that its fun to share a bath. The water supply is cut-off for periods of each day. There is talk of standpipes.

            In Bury, the heat causes Madge, and others, to devise ways to wear less clothing, while retaining the semblance of decency. But she is pleased that she is on the cusp of the school holidays. Hot weather is a drag when one is shut-away in a classroom, or an office, or a factory, or whatever, but it is a pleasure when one is at leisure.

            This is what Greg thinks, too. He cannot believe how lucky he is that his first spell of unemployment has coincided with the best heatwave he has known. He writes to Madge again. He tells her that Olly has not been seen for a week: he thinks he is out of their hair. Greg is slightly worried that neither his sister, nor his parents, have yet replied to the letters he sent a week ago. But then, the post can be slow.


Saturday, 10th July, 1976

Let us examine Greg's finances. He has his Supplementary Benefit, which is £10.90 per week. This is enhanced by a further £5 for rent. But Greg never spends the £5 on rent, as Mr Zabbath never collects it, because, to do so, he will have to issue legal documents, which will turn Greg into a 'sitting tenant' which (so the Claimants' Union tells Greg) is a good thing. And what of the fivers he used to get from AD? This source of income has dried-up recently, because he can't afford to go to pubs while he is unemployed. And without going into pubs, Greg cannot find-out where the gigs are.

            Greg receives a modicum of assistance from Leomi. This is not in the form of cash; instead it is 'things'- a meal here, a beer there, the occasional tube ticket.

            Finally, there are Greg's savings. During his first few months in London, he did not touch them, other than the fifty pounds he gave to Mr Zabbath as a deposit. But since 7th June, the day he was sacked, he has dibbed-in to the money regularly, and he now has less than £100.

            So, Greg is certainly not the poorest unemployed person in London, his rent-free situation makes-sure of that, but money is tight. He cannot afford to go in pubs, or to buy new clothes. He is not worried about the clothes- they are almost superfluous in this heat, anyway- it is the beer that he misses.

            This morning Greg is due to meet Leomi, to go shopping. Frankly, Greg would prefer not to. For the last two days he has been watching the Test Match on his telly. It is at Old Trafford, Manchester. Greg has become absorbed by the theatre of this match. There is the baying and hooting from the large West Indian section of the crowd, which becomes more intense the poorer England plays. And they provide a constant percussion with empty drink cans. It sounds like a thousand miniature tin miners, beavering-away.

            Play begins at 11.00 am each day. Greg has developped a technique of setting his Westclox for 10.53 am, leaping out of bed and making a coffee in his grimy mug, and getting back to his little black and white telly by 10.59 am. But this morning, he will not be able to do this, as he has to get up at 8.30 am to meet Leomi.

            When he meets Leomi, Greg (aware that he is in a bad mood), tries hard to be civil. But everything is a big effort: traipsing to the tube, making conversation, carrying Leomi's shopping around the many shops that they visit, and coping with the sheer boringness of it all. Furthermore, he finds he is easily distracted from his tasks by the sight of other women, who are scantily-clad in the hot weather. All this, set in the context of having no money of his own. No point in nipping into a record shop, or a bookies. No prospect of slipping into a boozer and downing a few beers, unless he can pursuade Leomi to buy them, which is unlikely. Nevertheless, he still gets a kick out of being seen as part of a 'mixed' couple- when people glance at them, Greg feels as though they are in the vanguard of modernism.

            During the early afternoon, when the shopping is finally over (and Leomi has spent her wages on clothes and nick-nacks for her flat and generally stuff that Greg thinks serves no useful purpose whatsoever), they head back to Brixton. As they walk from the tube, Leomi turns to Greg and Greg thinks she is about to say something profound. He senses he has not been very good company that morning and all at once he is convinced that that she is about to 'chuck' him. But all that she does is ask him whether she can stay at Turbot that night. Greg is surprised by this request, but agrees. Then he says,


            "A work man is decorating my flat and it smells of paint." Leomi had not mentioned that her flat was being redecorated. A worrying thought occurs to Greg: if Leomi comes round to Turbot too early, it will scupper his plan to watch the remnants of today's Test Match.

            "Yes, come round," reiterates Greg, "but don't come too early, I need to get my place ready." This is a lie, because there is nothing to get ready in Turbot. No furniture to re-arrange, no spare bed linen to deploy, no functioning vacuum cleaner with which to combat the dust. And no Olly to fret about, although his weird persona lingers around Turbot like a bad smell.

            So, Greg has contrived the opportunity to watch the last part of the day's play on his little telly. But he cannot help recalling the emotion he felt when he thought Leomi was about to ditch him: was it really a fleeting bout of elation?

            England are playing badly; by contrast, West Indies are playing very well. In the first innings England were all-out for 71. This is a ridiculously low score, even by England's standard. In the second innings, West Indies pile-on the runs, and then leave England a target of 552 to win. Or to put it another way, two days to hang-on for a draw. Or to hope that something unexpected occurs to save them, like a meteorite arriving from deep space and embedding itself in the Old Trafford pitch on a good length; or- even more unlikely- rain. Two days and eighty minutes, to be exact, because there are still eighty minutes left today. Having been bowled-out so quickly in the first innings, odds are that England will lose more wickets during these eighty minutes. England sends-out its two oldest players, Close and Edrich. They are easy to tell apart, as Close has a bald head, which he proudly leaves exposed to the elements and bouncers; Edrich is a geezer, a suaver proposition than Brian Close, although not suave enough to make a natural stockbroker or barrister. Close first played for England in 1949: now he is as old as the hills, and he looks it. But he is brave. He takes a Michael Holding bouncer on his ribs and refuses to grimace, or even rub his chest.

            The summer heat, the crowd: Greg once again becomes absorbed in the match. Close's blow to the chest incites the West Indian supporters. The idle tapping of empty cans becomes a persuasive rhythm, which in turn motivates the bowlers. Suddenly, a barrage of bumpers is released on England's old men. The West Indian fans are delighted, but to Greg it is like watching one’s Dad being set-upon by the local thugs. Greg is amazed at Close's quick reactions, as he fends-off bouncer after bouncer. But in the end, he is forced to take several blows to his forty-five year old body. After one particular hit he seems certain to collapse, but his legs remain braced, and he stands tall again. Greg watches his face: it reveals no clue whatsoever that he has just  been hit by 5½ ounce solid object moving at 100 m.p.h. In the space of a few minutes the match has been transformed from an entertainment into a war. The more blows Close takes, the more delighted the West Indian fans become. Why do they take so much pleasure in England getting a hiding? What have we ever done to them? Greg wonders if Derrick is watching this, and if so, is he enjoying it too?

            "There are a lot of black people in the cwowd." The voice startles Greg: he has not realised that Zepp has been in the room with him, watching the telly. Zepp continues: "Wetht India ith a relatively poor economic zone: it ith thurpwithing that tho many of their countwymen can afford the long flight to England."

            "Zepp, those guys live HERE!" Zepp looks perplexed at this. He had only come into the room to enquire after Greg's sister, but now he suspects he is on the verge of a break-through in his understanding of English society.

            "Then why do they not thupport the England team?" asks Zepp.

That night, Greg sleeps with Leomi. They do not have sex: it is too hot. Half-way through the night, Greg decides his bed is too small for them both, and sleeps on the floor instead. He falls into a deep sleep. When he finally awakes, Leomi has gone. Greg does not realise straightaway, but his Post Office savings book has gone too.


Sunday 11th July 1976

The players in the Test Match have a rest day. Brian Close had only scored 1 run in the entire eighty minutes last night: but he was not out. He had survived by applying pure courage to the task in hand. For the Sunday papers he has posed with no shirt on, to show the bruises on his chest.

Meanwhile, in Bury, Greg's father is getting into his Wolseley. He is going to drive it to London. It is a long time since he has driven it any further than Ipswich. With him is Simon, Greg's one-time friend from his Bury days. It was Simon who had encouraged Greg (in a modest way) to move to London. So it is ironic that Greg's father is hoping that Simon will help him persuade his son to return to Bury, to live.

            It promises to be a taxing journey, both for the old car, and for the two men. Greg's father's face is already pinched into a frown, such is his concern over the possible un-roadworthiness of the motor, his unfamiliarity with London's roads, and working-out what to say to his son when he finds him. On his part, Simon has to contend with the regular fretting from Greg's father. A typical conversation, as they drive along, goes something like this:

Greg's father: “Not really sure of my way round London, Simon.”

Simon: “Just take it slow when we get up London and we'll be OK. I'll navigate.”

Greg's father: “Shame its come to this- bloody nuisance actually.”

Simon: “Got himself mixed-up with a bunch of sambos, hasn't he? Still, gotta try and get him out of it, I guess.”

Of course, Madge could have described the location of Turbot quite usefully, but her trip to London was secret, so she says nothing. She feels proud that she, a fifteen-year old girl, has already successfully found her way to Greg's place in south London, beating the fretting adults by a week. But as the Wolseley pulls-away, she has a guilt pang. What if her father gets confused in the streets near Greg's house, because he does not know the way, and has a terrible crash? It would be her fault, because she could have helped him to find the house. She is also worried that, by visiting Turbot, her father will learn of her visit. She does not think that Greg will deliberately reveal her secret; its just that Greg can be so naive- one injudicious remark could spark-off a trail of questions which eventually blows her cover.

Of course, Greg knows nothing of his father's planned visit. His sister is unable to tip him-off with a 'phone call, as the Post Office cut-off the 'phone in Turbot  many years ago. Today, Greg wanders-off towards Derrick's. He wants to ask Derrick whether he appproves of the West Indies' bowling methods at the Test Match. He also wants to ask for his advice over Leomi.

On his way to Derrick's flat, Greg notices a young woman on the other side of the street, walking in the opposite direction. He notices her because she is very pretty. And she draws attention to herself by walking in that confident way that very good-looking people walk- the way that suggests they own the pavement. Greg thinks it may be Shaccara, the girl he saw at Derrick's party a couple of months ago. His uncertainty is caused by the discrepancy between the sullen girl he saw at the party, and the confident one he sees now. Greg surprises himself by waving at her. He could not stop his hand from doing it. He is even more surprised when she smiles and waves back.

By midday, the heat of the sun has almost reached its full potential. Near the Thames, a gentle downstream breeze allows only partial relief from the heat. But even this is welcome to Simon and Greg's father, because their old motor has over-heated and become stationery on London Bridge. The two men stand, hands in pockets, staring into the engine of the Wolseley as it belches an impressive cloud of steam into the London air. This creaky old English car, like old England itself, seems unable to cope with what the modern world is throwing at it. Greg's father utters a few phrases that you would not normally expect a Baptist to say; even a lapsed one. Simon thinks of lightening the tone by commenting on the fine view of Tower Bridge, a little further downstream. But in the nick of time he realises that this would only make Greg's father angrier than ever.

Derrick is not his usual chirpy self, when Greg sees him. He looks like he has only just woken-up, though he denies this is the case.  Maybe he has other concerns on his mind. Perhaps he has business interests? Greg never did find out what Derrick did for a living. He is never out at work, but he has one of the nicest flats in south London. Greg does not seem important to him any more. As Greg talks to him, Derrick simply parries his remarks, without making any effort to develop the conversation.

            "I don't give a shit whether you go out with Leomi or not. If you don't want to, then don't." Actually, this is not what Derrick said, but it may as well have been, for all the interest he has shown in Greg's problem. And what is Greg's 'problem'? Well, it is simply that the sparkle has gone from their relationship. The passion that Greg had for Leomi's body has waned. Greg, unused to the ebbs and flows of relationships, thinks there is something 'wrong'...... The only topic Derrick shows any enthusiasm for is the pounding that the West Indies gave the England batsmen the night before. "You guys had it comin,'" he offers.

            "Turbot." Simon squints as he reads from the faded name-plate of Greg's house. "Yeah, it says 'Turbot'- this is it!" He knocks at the door. To his surprise, the door is not locked; it opens very slightly under the weight of Simon's knock. The two men peer into the hallway. As they do this, Zepp drifts into view. Simon wrinkles his nose when he sees him. Greg's father says:

            "Is Algernon in?"

            Zepp doesn't know who 'Algernon' is. Nor does he care. There have been a lot of strange people calling at Turbot recently, since Olly had left. He assumes they are people connected with Mr Zabbah (whom Greg calls 'Mr Zabbath') endeavoring to re-let Olly's room. Anyway, why should he care?- he is going back to Botswana in a few weeks.

            Zepp silently drifts-away to some other part of the house, and Simon and Greg's father take this as their cue to enter Turbot. Their mauve Wolseley is left in the street outside, hissing, and oozing various fluids.


Greg has got Sunday to 'kill' before the Test Match starts again. "Why can't they play on Sundays?" he asks himself. After leaving Derrick's, he wanders down to Brixton to see Leomi. But she is not in. So he walks back towards Turbot, going slowly so he can waste as much of boring Sunday as possible.

            Instead of going into Turbot, Greg decides to sit in the park. There, he reflects for a while on his situation. He reminds himself of why he came to London: primarily to date brunettes. And he doesn't have a brunette at the moment. Wait- what is he thinking about? Of course he has a brunette: Leomi! But it doesn't feel like he is going out with her any more. Wouldn't it be good to be seeing a real prick-tease instead- like Nadia or Shaccara? Thus Greg makes a decision: the next time he sees Shaccara, he will make a pass at her- regardless of whether he is supposed to be going out with Leomi, and regardless of whether her boyfriend is The Spiv. And he decides he will find-out why Nadia was so 'cold' to him on the day he was sacked. And then, in the sunshine, he falls asleep.

When Greg awakes, he feels groggy. He thinks he has sunburn around the back of his neck. The metal on his wristwatch has become hot in the sun, burning his skin. Above all, he feels miserable. Now, his new 'friends' have lost their lustre. Olly in particular has lost Greg's respect. Imagine luring his little sister to London by impersonating him! He really ought to give Olly a good hiding. But, in his heart, Greg knows that he has neither the physical nor mental aptitude for such action. But it isn't only Olly- his friendship with Derrick is on the wane too. Confident, good looking, and older than him, Greg had looked-up to Derrick. But now Derrick seems remote, and disinterested in Greg. Indeed, why should he find Greg- a nineteen year-old kid who knows nothing, interesting? Derrick only cares about his mates, decides Greg: his West Indian mates. The ones who laugh at the English batsmen when they are hit on the head. 'It im on de ed mon,' Greg says to himself, sarcastically. 'Yeah, this summer is made for you black guys,' thinks Greg: 'the heat, the cricket, the general break-down in our society. All goes in your favour. Maybe my next girlfriend won't be a black; maybe its better to go lighter. Maybe that's why Mother and Father have not written back yet- they are uneasy about me going out with a black girl?' At this, Greg trudges back towards Turbot.

Simon and Greg's father are still in Turbot, waiting for Greg. Greg's father is becoming increasingly angry. Up to this point, the pair has passed the time by criticising things; their conversation sounds like a cynical version of 'I-spy'. One player must name a topic; the other player must slag it off.


            'Dirty-Smells funny-Needs a lick of paint!'


            'Dirty-Full of litter-Graffiti-Blacks-Arabs-Kebab shops-Food poisoning.'

            'Greg's lifestyle?'

            'Gone off the rails-Lives in a doss house-Seeing a Negress- Neglected his family.'     And so-on. But this game, fun as it is, is insufficient to prevent Greg's father's blood from boiling-over. Although logic denies it, he thinks that Greg is deliberately avoiding him, keeping clear of Turbot until he has gone. Greg's father must go to work the next day, but he is on the wrong side of the Thames and it is starting to get late. Worse still, he knows he must nurse the car, the family car, back to Bury St. Edmunds. If he leaves it in Stockwell's streets for long, he is sure it will be vandalised.

            Simon senses his predicament. He has great empathy with Greg's father's desire to sort his son out: in fact, Simon was very enthusiastic towards today's trip. Simon sees helping Greg back onto the rails as an act of Anglo-Saxon solidity. Eventually, Simon says:

            "Tell you what- I'll hang on here for a while. You take the car back, and I'll come back on the train. He's got to come back here eventually."

            "Wouldn't bank on it- he's probably out with his Negress."

            "He's got to come back sometime. Pick-up his gear, or whatever." Greg's father's instinct runs against splitting with your mate in a strange land, but Simon is persuasive, (he blusters "l'll make him come back," and Greg's father believes him). Soon the mauve Wolseley can be seen chugging away from Stockwell Park. Meanwhile, Simon bides his time amid the dubious surroundings of Turbot. He tells himself that he is feeling confident. He doesn't want to let Greg's father down. But he is alone now, in south London.

            By mid-July, the longest day is behind you. The summer evenings are still long, but not as long as they were a couple of weeks ago. So, when Greg rounds the bend in Stockwell Park at 8.30pm, it is starting to get a little gloomy. Thus he cannot be certain whether the Wolseley he sees moving off into the distance is a mauve one, or some other dingy colour. But even if it was mauve- what of it? It does not cross his mind that it really is his father's car- it is just one that looks like it. On his part, his father is so concentrated upon navigation, he fails to see Greg in the mirror. Or, maybe he does see a man with sticky-up hair, but it does not cross his mind that it is his son.

When Greg enters the living room at Turbot, the half-drawn curtains and dirty nets make it gloomy and difficult for him to see who it is who's sitting on their sofa. It does not alarm Greg that there is someone there; there are often people popping in and out of Turbot, looking at Olly's old room (sent there by Mr Zabbath, he thinks). But what is curious about this visitor is his pointy hair style: a veritable cone, silhouetted against the fading light. Gradually it dawns on Greg who this is.

            “S-Simon..” he stammers.

            “Yes Algernon, its me,” says Simon calmly. Why has he called me 'Algernon?'- wonders Greg. “We've been waiting here a long time for you, you little pipsqueak.”

            “We?” says Greg.

            “We,” confirms Simon. “Your father and me.” So it was his father's Wolseley that he had seen! Greg struggles with the concept of people from his 'other' life suddenly appearing in this one. Nevertheless he is impressed by the gravity in Simon's voice. He is reminded, maybe, of Margaret Thatcher- though Simon's voice is possibly a semitone higher than the Tory leader's. “Your father,” continues Simon, “has gone home now. Gone home a broken man. Broken by a son who chooses to live in a squat, with a bunch of coons.” This is too much for Greg.

            “Its not a squat!” he shouts. We pay rent for this place!- sometimes.” Then the magnitude of Simon's other insult dawns on Greg. He has called the people he has been hanging-out with for the last three months 'coons'. His friends. His girlfriend. How will Zepp feel if he has overheard this? "Why've you come here, Simon?"

            "Come to take you home me old son. We've decided you can't stay here any more."

            "Why not?" says Greg, as he shrugs his shoulders. This question flummoxes Simon. He has assumed that Greg has stumbled into his current situation against his own will, and is powerless to extricate himself from it without outside help. The idea that Greg may prefer his new life to living in Bury begins to irritate Simon.

            "Look at you. You've got no job. You live...[he pauses to look around] squalor. You've got some kind of shit in your hair. You're going out with a Negro. You haven't even got any socks on!" That was true, Greg is not wearing any socks- socks seem an unnecessary expense for an unemployed man in the middle of a heatwave. Leomi does not mind him not wearing them, anyway. It probably makes his feet smell better. Greg wishes he could get more angry about Simon's insults of Leomi. But he hears them at a time when he thinks their relationship is over. He will not tell Simon this, though.

            "You joined the National Front or somethin'?" is the best Greg can come-up with.

            "Think of your old Mum and Dad. Think how they'd be if you roll up with chocolate grandchildren. It'll kill 'em!"

            "It'll only kill them if they keep having to hear people like you spouting your drivel," says Greg, trying hard to raise some enthusiasm for the argument. But because Greg is no longer passionate about Leomi, he is able to stay calm throughout. His calmness angers Simon further, and his neck becomes red, and his voice yet higher-pitched.

            "You haven't even rung them since you've been down here! Not once!" blurts Simon. Then he says "You....You need to be taught a lesson!" He stands-up suddenly. For one crazy moment Greg thinks Simon is about to attack him. Simon probably thinks this as well, but after waving his arms around in the air for a few seconds, he tearfully aims himself at the front door of Turbot, colliding with several things in the semi-darkness as he goes. Greg sees a picture of himself being punched by Mr Whippy, and smirks.

Greg is pleased he did not lose his cool with Simon. Greg always feels guilty after he has lost his temper. Now he is sitting alone in the semi-darkness in Turbot, relatively guilt-free. He shakes his head slowly. The letter he'd written his folks under the influence of the Party Seven was the cause of all this. Evidently, it had so angered his father, he had taken the unprecedented step of driving to London in his wobbly old car. He'd even talked Simon into coming too. It must have taken some hurt for his father to reveal a 'family problem' to a third party. But sod it! That was up to him, wasn't it? He didn’t have to come to London today. Its not Greg's problem that his father takes a racialist view of society, is it? Greg hasn't done anything wrong: he has not been thieving, or taking drugs, or indulging in sexual deviance of any significant kind- had he? No. So Greg decides he must not feel guilty.

            Zepp comes downstairs, and turns the light on. The 40 watt bulb makes little improvement to the gloom. Zepp sounds tired. He has been studying for his business exams, assumes Greg.

            "Who wath that man you were arguing with, Gweg?"

            "His name is Simon. He used to be my friend."

            "Tell me Gweg: what'th a coon?"

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