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.

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8. Heatwave

Saturday, 3rd July 1976

It has been hot for nearly two weeks now. Not moderately hot, as it had been a few weeks ago, but seriously, stunningly hot. When Greg had first considered living in London, he had imagined himself in some Dickensian hovel, shivering in front of a tiny fire. But at no time since he had boarded the London train back in April has he been cold. And now, every strand of hair on his head, every shred of his clothing, and every sheet on his bed, is an impediment to the task of keeping cool. Not that Greg has minded much; he is able to spend most days lounging in the park near Turbot with his shirt off, or strolling the streets ogling the women in their summer outfits. The pleasures that come with having time on your hands in hot weather go some way towards compensating Greg for the hurt and confusion he feels at being sacked by Mark Loan.  In the park, the grass has retreated to a brown, patchy stubble because of the relentless sunshine. The now-exposed earh is starting to dry-out too. The heat- reaching 90° every day- seems capable of squeezing the last molecule of water out of even the most stubborn material. In fact, the ground has started to shrink, causing cracks to appear in parks, on 'grass' verges in the suburbs, and even in the concrete streets. There is a hose-pipe ban. The last day it rained was 19th June. Shame about the timing of that rain: it had been the Saturday of the Lords Test. Much to everyone's surprise, England had appeared to be winning, but then it had rained. The whites in the Tavern Bar had even been singing a drunken 'Rule Brittania' late on Friday afternoon. Thanks to the rain, the game eventually petered-out into another draw. A shame also because Greg had gone to Lords that day, with Derrick. It would have been a good day, sitting in the sun with his new mates, having some beers. But it had rained and rained, so they had traipsed home early, damp and sober. The MCC had to refund £43,000 of gate receipts that day. Since that day it has been wall-to-wall sunshine.

            Most evenings, Greg sees Leomi. The idea that he has been duped into the relationship by a conspiracy among Derrick and the other West Indians has been put to the back of Greg's mind. It has been relegated there by Greg's fascination with sex. But instead of the theoretical, academic, suppressed fascination that he used to have, his fascination is now with actual, tangible, real, juicy sex. Doing it. Sticking it in. Finding new positions from which to, well, stick it in. He is infatuated with Leomi's fanny. It is a new and endlessly interesting toy. Certainly interesting enough to distract Greg from his liking for beer, which is fortunate, as he is no longer able to afford it since he lost his job. In fact, Greg and Leomi's is a strange relationship, characterised by the absence of the usual 'going out' activities (restaurants, cinemas, etc), and dominated by the quest to find cool places to have sex. Greg's room, tucked-away upstairs in Turbot, is not a cool place for it. Hot air accumulates during the day in the hall and living room, and drifts upstairs in the evening. But they had done it there, anyway. Greg is surprised that Leomi deigned to have sex on Greg's grubby little bed. Leomi's flat is a marginally more luxurious venue. The heavy curtains are kept drawn during the day to hold back the sun, but man!!- was it stuffy! Greg has learned that there are ways of having sex whereby the woman does the 'work'. This was useful, as Leomi does not sweat as much as Greg. Only at moments of extreme exertion does she sweat at all. When Greg does the 'work', his entire body soon becomes covered in a film of perspiration.

            Today, Greg is off to King's Cross. He has decided to pay another visit to the Claimant's Union. Greg thinks it strange that the Union is open on Saturday: but he imagines that this is an organisation so detached from the world of work that to them the distinction between week-days and weekends has become irrelevant.

Instead of getting on the tube at Stockwell, he walks to the station at Vauxhall, partly to reduce the fare, but also to stay in the open air for as long as possible before descending into the oven underneath. As he walks, he absorbs a little more of London. He assumes that every step he takes makes him more streetwise. As he approaches Vauxhall, he spots Olly lingering furtively in a street nearby. Greg looks away. He senses that Olly hates it when Greg 'spots' him. When Greg looks-up again, Olly has  gone. So much for being streetwise.

            But when Greg emerges from the train at King's Cross, he spots Olly again. How did he get here? He had not seen Olly go into Vauxhall Station, nor had he seen him on the train- but he's here all the same. This time, however, Greg is convinced that Olly has not seen him, as he is many yards ahead, hemmed-in by a slowly-moving crowd of hot people that have just spilt out of the train.

            'What is it that the bastard does?" wonders Greg. He decides to follow Olly, to find-out once and for all.

It is difficult to keep-up with Olly. He has the nack of effortlessly drifting through crowds, whilst Greg is constantly bumping in to people and saying ‘ooo sorry.’ To Greg's surprise, after passing through the tube ticket hall, Olly goes up the stairs into the main railway station- The Cross. Greg remembers that this is where he first saw Olly, back in April, so it is reasonable to assume that Olly knows his way around. Nevertheless, Olly takes a few seconds to look at the arrivals board, before shuffling off to platform 9. Greg follows him- in doing so he is extremely conservative in how near he allows himself to get. He is satisfied with the occaisional distant glimpse of Olly's faded denim to confirm that he has not lost him. Olly is probably the only person wearing a jacket in the whole of the United Kingdom at this moment. At platform 9, Olly waits. Greg has found a doorway to hide himself in. Now and then, Greg peeps-out from this hidey-hole, with only one eye. And he sees Olly standing there, striking his usual street-wise pose, stooping slightly forwards, with his hands buried deep in the denim's pockets, as if it is January in Chicago. 

            Eventually the electric train from Royston pulls-in. A fair number of passengers get off. They look happy. Maybe they are happy to get out of the stuffy carriage, or perhaps they are just excited at being in the capital on such a nice day.

            Greg peeps again. For a moment he is distracted from watching Olly by the crowd. After all, here are girls in summer-gear! One girl catches his eye- in a bright orange top- mainly because of the vivid colour of her garment, but also because she is quite nice, and looks vaguely familiar to Greg.

            'Damn!' thinks Greg, 'where's Olly?' But he soon sees him again, his faded denim effortlessly drifting down the platform (despite going against the flow of people), and making  a beeline for the girl in the orange top. Greg looks again at the girl. Suddenly Greg recognises her:

            “Madge!!” Greg shouts, but she does not hear him. What on earth is his sister doing here? Greg starts to run towards her. He had not recognised her at first, she looks so grown-up and her arms and face are tanned. Then he stops himself. Conflicting thoughts fly through his mind. He gets the bizarre idea that Olly and his sister are, somehow, dating, and he should not disturb them. Then Greg tells himself not to be so stupid! How on earth could they know each other? Anyway, she is his sister, damn it- he has every right to go up to his own sister! And she is only fifteen: what is a dodgy geezer like Olly doing dating a respectable fifteen year old girl? Greg sets-off down the platform as fast as he can, occasionally colliding with alighted passengers as they come towards him.

            Meanwhile Olly approaches Madge, homing-in on the bright orange garment. She is carrying a large heavy parcel which has made her fall to the back of the throng who have got off the train.

            “Are you Madge?” says Olly. Madge is surprised to be greeted my a man she does not know, but says “yes” anyway. Olly continues in his best Scots:

            “Grigg's asked me to come and meet you because he's got held-up back at the house. He said y'd be wearing something orange so he could see you in the crowd.” Madge is on the verge of accepting this explanation, when she hears her brother shouting “Madge!” in the distance.

            “Madge, what are you doing in London?” gasps Greg. Madge looks across to Olly, but he has vanished.

            “You told me to come today in your letter. Where's that man gone?”

            “Letter?!!!!” exclaims Greg.

            “The one you wrote, on your typewriter.”

            “Typewriter?!!! I haven't got a typewriter!” Greg realises that Olly must have typed the letter. “Something very strange is going on here, Madge.” Then Madge hugs Greg, and cries. She cries because she had began to think that she would never see him again. But she also cries because something confusing has just happened. But eventually, she recovers her composure and says:

            “I've got you a present.”

            “What is it?”

            “Open it when we get to your house. Can you carry it for me though- its heavy?” Greg is worried about taking his sister to Turbot, because his distrust of Olly is now complete. But this is tempered by Olly's propensity to disappear at the first sign of conflict. Greg figures that if Olly tries another trick it will be a subtle one, sometime in the future, and that there is no immediate threat to his sister.

As they descend into the sweltering tube, Greg asks Madge,

            “You ready for some heat?” She says “Yep” and Greg says “OK! Sarf London here we come!”

Madge is wide-eyed as she walks through the streets nearTurbot. She had not realised that there was another England besides her suburban one with its semis, front lawns, and grass verges. Here, in Stockwell, it is OK to throw litter in the street. Madge chucks a chewing gum wrapper on the floor. Yeah!- its very liberating! And there are slogans sprayed on walls. Most of them mean nothing to anyone except the people who sprayed them, but occasionally one will be understood by a wider public, like "Vote NF" or “Punk is Shit.” Greg tells Madge that he painted the punk one. She does not believe him. Then she sees “Punk Rules.” Greg says he did this one too. Madge thinks this is very funny. But above-all she likes the mix of people: West Indians with their bouncy hair, and the young whites, some with sticky-up hair like Greg's. Madge tells Greg that she likes his hair, and this makes him smile and walk with a swagger.

            They turn the corner into Stockwell Park. To an extent, 'normality' is resumed here. With its old red brick town houses, it has the potential to revert to a respectable street. But many of the houses are in disrepair, and are occupied by tenants who have no interest in their up-keep.

            “Its not very posh in here,” warns Greg, as they go in to Turbot.

            “What is a Turbot, anyway?” asks Madge.

            “Dunno,” shrugs Greg. But Madge likes Turbot . She likes the fact that it is the lads' own place: they can put posters up and not do the dishes. Their parents are not around to tell them what to do.

            In Greg's room, he is pleased to rest the heavy parcel on the bed. Madge implores him to open it. Greg agrees with mock bashfulness. He is surprised to find it is a telly! It is only a portable black and white one, but a telly nevertheless! Greg is delighted- there was no telly in Turbot- not until today.

            “How could you afford to buy a telly?” Greg asks. “Did Mum and Dad pay for it?”

            “I paid for it; I've been saving-up. And I've being doing a paper round. Its only second hand. But it works,” she says proudly.

            “Its brilliant!” says Greg, gobsmacked.

            They do not spend long in the house. He and Madge have serious stuff to talk about, and Greg does not want to risk Olly listening-in on their conversation. Greg finds Zepp and introduces him to his sister. Then Greg tells him that his sister has left her belongings in Greg's room, and Zepp must guard them while they are out.

            “Don't let anyone into my room. Its your job,” he says. Zepp agrees. Greg knows he will comply, because Zepp has become a jibbering, lisping wreck in the presence of his sister.

            Greg and Madge sit in the middle of the park, so that they can be certain there is no-one in earshot. Madge wears a sun hat, but Greg has none, so he sweats and his sticky-up hair wilts in the heat.

            Greg confirms to Madge that he did not write to her: he was only in the vicinity of The Cross by coincidence. Then he had seen Olly and followed him to there out of curiosity. Suddenly, Madge says:

            “What's Olly's surname?”

            “Deere. Why?”

            “Oh dear.” 

            “What do you mean, oh dear?” asks Greg.

            “Olly Deere. O. Deere. As in 'Oh Dear'. Don't you think that's suspicious?”

            “I’ve mistrusted him for ages,” says Greg. “Once, just after I first met him, we were in a shop. He nicked a sandwich, one of those pre-packed ones.”

            “So? That’s not so terrible.”

            “Outside the shop, he started to eat it. Then he suddenly spat it out. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked him. He shouted ‘Fucking cucumber! Some fucking c**t has put cucumber in my fucking sandwich! I heeet cucumber!’”

            “And?” Says Madge. Greg realises his anecdote is weak. “Its just the viciousness with which he said the word ‘cucumber’,” he explains. “It sounds especially effective in broad Glaswegian. From that day I never really trusted him.”

            “So why did you stay friends with him?” Greg ponders this question for a while, but cannot think of an answer. Then Madge says: “I think we're in trouble.”

            “Why?” asks Greg.

            “He tricked me into meeting him. Who knows what he had in store for me? But it is probably his way of getting at you, screwing things up for you. Have you fallen-out with him over something?”

            “Not as far as I know. We had a little argument over whether to go to a party or not, once. But it was nothing really. Its just that every time I see him in the street, he looks furtive and then disappears. Did you see how he disappeared at The Cross?”

            “No.”

            “Exactly. He's very slippery. He's good at nicking stuff too, and hiding it in the pockets of his denim. He's always meeting people in the streets or in cafes and....well, he reminds me of those kids in the school playground who flog fags to the other kids who are too young to buy them in the shop. He just looks furtive.”

            “That's it!” declares Madge. “He's a dealer. He sells drugs to people. That's why he wears a jacket in the blazing heat, so he can carry his gear in the pockets! He probably thinks you've rumbled him. In his mind, you could split on him to the police at any moment. So he's decided to make your life so awkward that you move-out and get off his case." Madge laughs, "Or maybe he's an nutter who's formed an irrational hatred of you! And how did he find out about me?”

            Greg ponders this, then offers: “Before I began to mistrust him, I may have told him I had a sister.” Then Greg remembers his diary. “Must be Olly who nicked my diary! He must've got your name and address from it- it went missing a few weeks back.” Greg pauses as more thoughts come into his mind. The loss of his diary coincided with his sacking from Mark Loan and his attempted eviction. “Maybe he wrote something about me to Mr Markarian.” Madge looks confused. “Mr Markarian: he's my boss- I mean , he was my boss. But I can't see how it connects to the eviction.”

            Greg explains to Madge about being unemployed, and the attempted eviction. "That's why I was in King's Cross this morning- I was off to the Claimants' Union. They help you with stuff like that."

            "I'm sorry to mess-up your day," says Madge.

            "Don't be silly. It was nothing urgent, anyway."

            "You need a secret password when you write to me," says Madge, "so I can be sure its not a forgery. What's it to be?"

            Greg looks around the park to check that no-one else is near enough to hear. "Derrick," he says.

            The siblings sit on the brown grass and swop news. Madge's brown eyes peep-out from under her sun hat. She looks very pretty and grown-up. And she looks cool and mediterranean in the heat. By contrast, Greg is dissolving.

            "Have you died your hair?" Greg asks suddenly.

            "Yes, two shades darker. A lot of girls at school are doing it now. You should have seen  Mum's face!"

            Greg tells his sister about Leomi.

            "Are you going to tell Mum and Dad I have a girlfriend?" he asks.

            "Maybe."

            "Are you going to tell them I have a black girlfriend?"

            "That depends whether you write it in a letter to me," says Madge.

            "Why?"

            "Because they don't know I'm here! They think I'm off shopping in Cambridge! I better go back soon."

            "Let's go back to the house then. I'm wilting out here, anyway."

They walk across the park, back towards Turbot. As they go, Madge says that she is worried that Olly will try and find her. "...afterall, he has my address." Greg tells Madge that Olly is motivated by expedience- he only does what is neccessary to achieve his aim. Furthermore, says Greg, Olly is adverse to risk-taking. He is unlikely to go to a strange town on a spurious venture. This appears to satisfy Madge, but secretly Greg is worried. Today, Greg's mental image of Olly has regressed from the vaguely unpleasant, to the downright creepy.

Later that afternoon, Greg goes back to The Cross with Madge.

            "If you write to Mum and Dad, don't mention the telly. That's a secret too," she says.

            Fortunately, there is still no sign of Olly, and Greg sees Madge safely onto the train. They hug goodbye at Platform 9. Greg had never hugged his sister until today. Today, he sees his sister as a fellow adult, rather than that annoying little girl who used to 'creep' on him to his parents. And, Greg realises, she has been daring (to come to London when it has not been 'allowed' by their parents), generous (to give him a telly that she, a school pupil, has bought with her own money), and brave (in not being phased by Olly's unsettling ruse). Greg resolves that he must try harder in future to stay in contact with her. He realises, for once, that she loves him.

When he gets back to Turbot, Greg thanks Zepp for looking after his room. He tells Zepp that his sister had said that he's a 'really cute guy'. This seems to please him. Then Greg asks Zepp where Olly is. To Greg's surprise, Zepp says that Olly has moved-out. He says he has found somewhere else to live, in Brixton, apparently, and that Olly's room is therefore empty. There is no sign of Bollocky, either, though Zepp is not sure whether he has moved-out as well. Greg is startled by this news. Startled, but pleased. Over the past few months Olly had changed from a friend into a minor psychopath. But Zepp sees little significance in this news: he is more interested in the fact that Greg's sister thinks he is a 'really cute guy'. Zepp wanders-off to his room in a daze.

            Greg is contented too. His meeting with his sister was satisfying, though fortuitous (that the meeting had occurred). Perhaps it has been more satisfying than seeing Leomi, despite the sex that Leomi can give him.

            Greg does not see Leomi that night. He is not accustomed to seeing her every night, in any case, so there is nothing of significance to be read into this. Instead. he goes to his room, and plugs-in his telly. It works! The reception is poor at first, but by manipulating the little aerial on top of the set, the picture is tolerable. He feels calm, relaxed, and pleased with his lot in life. There are many things that he wants to do in life- many things that he should do, for that matter- but that which has bugged him for the last few weeks- Olly- has gone. There is a dusty old Watney's 'Party Seven' in the corner of Greg's bedroom. He had bought it a while ago, when he was still working. He'd had a vague notion of throwing a party at Turbot, but this had never happened. Instead, the unopened tin has sat in his room, becoming an occasional table. Greg decides it is a good time to drink it, to celebrate getting rid of Olly from Turbot. Greg hacks-open the tin with his penknife, and quite a lot of the hot beer sprays around his room, before he can organise his coffee cup underneath the geyser. Then, he starts to drink.

            After a while, the booze begins to kick-in. His brain starts to think things that it would not normally think. His judgement, if not 'impaired' is, well, 'altered'. In particular, he decides that it is a good idea to write a letter to his parents, telling them all about his life in London. He tells them that he is unemployed. But, he says, that is not such a bad thing- he can at least get on with his writing, which is going well (this is an exaggeration: Greg has not submitted anything to AD for several weeks). He tells them about Leomi, describing her as his 'African Princess', and gets as close as he can to telling them that he has fucked her, without actually saying so. He signs the letter, pops it in an envelope, which he addresses and stamps. In his beery frame of mind, he feels that his parents will be proud to learn that their son is (nearly) a famous author, who is shagging a black girl. Then Greg writes a letter to Madge. He remembers to “Derrick” it, and remembers to thank her for the telly. But its main purpose is to authenticate the other letter- by telling Madge he has also written to their parents, she will know that their letter is really from him, not another hoax. He then pops Madge's letter in an envelope, addresses it, and stamps it. Without further thought, he picks up both letters, strides out of Turbot, and drops them in the nearest pillar box.

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