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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16. Notting Hill Carnival

Early afternoon on Monday, 30th August 1976. A bank holiday. The crowds start to build in Notting Hill, that once-grand Victorian area of inner-West London, now decaying (quite badly). The heatwave is no longer with us (it had continued right up ‘til last Thursday). But it has left people feeling grumpy and edgy. White people creep like mice among the carnival crowds. By contrast, the blacks stroll magnificently through their manor, but their casual demeanour is betrayed by the glaring eyes of their young men, staring accusingly at the (white) policemen that have been sent to control them. [London’s only black policeman has been given the day off for his own safety]. White people sense that it is not safe for them to be here. But Greg would have been given no choice- his employers insisted he came here. AD always likes to look ahead, to see the Big Picture. So AD is already thinking about the post-punk world. And AD thinks that reggae will be the next ‘big’ thing.

Therefore, the young white kid with sticky-up hair is to be seen at the carnival trying to ‘get into’ reggae. He is conspicuous because all the other whites are skirting voyeuristically around the edges of the main action. By contrast, he stands near a sound system, and lets the basey vibration travel up through his shoes and tingle his spine. But he feels uncomfortable. He transfers his weight from foot to foot. He looks as though he is coaxing a stubborn fart out between his buttocks. At the front, right by the speakers, there are people really dancing: leaping from foot-to-foot, apparently oblivious to the world beyond the music. They are thoroughly enjoying it, notes our kid. Maybe AD is right, he thinks, maybe this is the future- a kind of music that people can really dance to, as opposed to that embarrassed shuffle that white people do in discos. He takes note of this too- AD will be interested! But AD will also want to know exactly what music is playing. He knows it will not be good enough to tell his bosses ‘Oh it was reggae.’

He asks a black man with a big afro what track is playing. He is bound to know, he thinks. The man just looks at him. Eventually, he says “reggae.” The music is very loud- he probably did not hear the question. He puts it again, this time shouting:

            “WHAT RECORD IS PLAYING?” The man wrinkles his nose and turns the other way. He catches the eye of another black guy standing nearby, and makes his ‘What was up with that fellow?’ face. But this guy says, aggressively,

            “If you don’t know what this music is man then you shouldn’t be here!” Suddenly there are four or five black youths around him, their voices and fingers raised at him. He walks away. He doesn’t want any more trouble in his life. But he realises he will never be able to find the identities of the DJs or the tracks they are playing in this kind of atmosphere. He will have to go for a general description, an overview, but AD will be disappointed, he senses.

Bank holidays – Sunday service only. Madge had not noticed this small print on her railway timetable. Even with lavish overtime rates and shift allowances, Britsh Rail cannot cajole its lazy staff to give any more than a Sunday service on bank holiday Monday. Eventually, a train grudgingly arrives at Bury station, and Madge boards. But she is late. She curses British Rail all the way to The Cross.

Disillusioned with his attempt to find out about reggae, our white boy with sticky-up hair visits a pub. He convinces himself that this will help him to research his piece for AD more effectively, but really it is just an excuse to drink beer. He orders a pint of bitter. The landlord pours the drink, passes it to him, and he starts to drink.

“That’s 50p please.” 50 pee!! He nearly chokes- the normal price would be 29 pee! “Carnival innit?” explains the landlord. He starts to fumble for the extra 21 pee.

“I’ll get this,”  says a familiar voice. His heart misses a beat.

“Derrick! What are you doing here man?”

“Same as you Greg. Sitting in a pub. Having a drink,” says Derrick in his slow, beautiful voice. Only this time, it is slower than ever. Derrick has been drinking. Now he notices Derrick’s eyes, how they are glazed-over and unable to focus on him. He has never seen Derrick like this before. Even at parties when drink is flowing freely, Derrick is not like this. He is about to say something to Derrick, but stops himself. He is scared of Derrick. He thinks of running out of the pub. Derrick, in his inebriated state, would be unable to catch him. But Derrick’s cronies are sitting nearby, so he decides against it. Rankin is there, and a couple of other guys that he recognises. In contrast to Derrick, they don’t look drunk. They look bored, only sitting in the pub because they have to. Derrick tells him to drag-up a stool. “You’re gonna have a drink with me Greg,” he says, “I’m gonna tell you a few things.” Again, he thinks of saying something, and then thinks better of it. Silently, he cusses himself. Why had he gone into the pub? Was it really so important for him to get a beer? Now he is trapped with these people, unable to roam the carnival streets to gather material for his article.

“So what are you going to tell me Derrick?” he asks, using as unprovocative a tone of voice as possible.

“You owe my book-making friend £100!” Derrick pauses for a moment to allow Greg’s face to drop, then he says “No you don’t!!”

“Why not?” he says, confused.

“Because you owe ME £100, not my friend!” He pauses again. “And do you want to know why you owe ME a £100, not my friend?”

“Yes,” he says- he thinks it is best to humour him.

“Because I own his betting shop!” Another pause. His hand unsuccessfully fumbles for his drink. “Where’s my drink?” he asks his friends. His friends look uneasy. He returns to his conversation. “And do you want to know what else I own?”

Now he hesitates. “Your flat?” he replies, eventually. This answer seems to disrupt Derrick’s thought pattern. After some thought he says, crossly,

“Of course I own my fucking flat! But what else do you think I own?” Now he regrets his answer.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“You’re fucking house!”

What does he mean? Is Derrick just spouting drunken nonsense, or does he really own the house in Wanstead that Greg moved to? No, how can he?- he does not even know that he moved there. He must mean Turbot.

“You own Turbot?”

“Well, shall we say I did own Turbot. Now I just own a plot of land with a few charred remains. You don’t know anything about that fire, do you Greg?” He says he does not.

“But Mr Zabbah is the landlord, not you,” he says.

“Well, you see, I bought it off Mr Zabbah in June. Needed a good place to store some gear.”

“So why didn’t you collect any rent of me, if you were my landlord?” he asks.

“I ain’t in the landlordin’ and tenantin’ game, Greg. I’m in the retailin’ game. We sell gear. In the landlordin’ game, you may get a fiver or a tenner a week from your tenants. Small potatoes. But in my game Greg, you get hundreds every week. In fact, I’m going to let you off that £100 you owe me!”

“Why is that?” he asks, suspecting a catch.

“Because you have been working for me!”

“How so?”

“You been lookin’ after our gear for us! See, wid you in dat house, everyting look fine. Just another crumblin’ old bedsit house with rubbish tenants. Scuse me. No suspicion, nutting is wrong.” The more Derrick talks, the more Wst Indian his accent becomes. And the clearer the circumstances of his residency at Turbot become. “You see, me an my man over there,” (Derrick directs his gaze towards Rankin, who becomes increasingly agitated at each new revelation) “we were happy for you to live there. We would have paid you if we could!” (he laughs) “It was perfect! An that little scotch boy could run in an out and pick up thi gear f’us. Everyting was sweet.”

By now, Rankin has come over to Derrick’s bar stool. “That’s enough info now, man,” he says to Derrick. But Derrick is warming to his task. “Sit down man. I have some more tings to say to our likkle fren here!” Reluctantly, Rankin sits down again. Derrick continues- “Yes, everyting was sweet. But you got yourself a bit curious, din you? Got you fixed-up wid dat African girl, tought she’d keep you quiet. But you started sniffin’ around our good stuff.” Shaccara, he realises, is the ‘good stuff’.

“Nothing happened between us,” he pleads.

            “Don tell me- she said she wanna run away wid you?” Derrick laughs. “She say dat to everyone! See, it her likkle game. But see, the only ting that’ll make her run anywhere is dis,” (Derrick flashes a wad of notes) “I got a lotta dis, an’ you ain’t!”

Our boy starts to relax, just a little bit- afterall, the conversation seems harmless enough, Derrick is just drunk, Rankin and the other cronies just want Derrick to shut up so that they can go home. But Derrick continues, “but then tings start to go wrong, Greg. The police start sniffin’ aroun’ da house. Dat girl get chopped up......” Suddenly Derrick smashes his fist down on the bar, making him jump. He shouts, “den da house get burn down!! I ain pleased bout dat!!! Did you you burn our fuckin’ house down Greg???” Derrick’s formerly glazed-over eyes are now glaring at Greg. “An’ dat scotch boy- he’s gone!!! Do you know where he’s gone, Greg???”

Rankin has lost his patience. He says to Derrick:

            “You told him too much man! I told you to shut up.”

            “I’m just tryin’ to find out what happen’ man,” says Derrick.

            “I told you before, this boy din know nothin’ ‘bout that. But now you told him all our stuff. Now we gonna have t’ kill ‘im!!!”

Our boy does not like the sound of this at all. He is hoping that Derrick will save him, like he had saved Greg back in May when he was being chased by the New Model Pickets. But Derrick is now a different man to the gentleman he was then. He just shrugs his shoulders as if to say ‘whatever.’

At that moment there is a loud crash against the pub window. The window cracks, but does not shatter entirely. A brick or some other heavy object has been thrown at the outside of the window. It becomes apparent to those inside the pub that there is some kind of commotion in the street. Derrick and his cronies are momentarily distracted, so the boy with sticky-up hair leaps from his stool and dashes out of the pub. Derrick tries to follow, but crashes to the floor. Rankin and the others give more effective chase.

 

šMadge has never been to Notting Hill Carnival, or anything like it, before. She had not guessed that it would be such a large affair. How would she ever find Greg here? She has become disorientated by the maze of streets, the noise, the tides of people surging through the thoroughfares, and the acrid smoke from the jerk chicken stalls. When she was sitting on the train, she had imagined that she would enjoy the Carnival, but now she is here she realises that she does not. She detects a faint malevolence in the air. Is it the way that the boys shove when the crowd gets squeezed? Or maybe its do with the groups of cops that stand at each street corner, arms folded, glaring into the crowd?

She thinks, and thinks. She thinks harder than she ever has done before. Where would Greg be? He has come here to research a piece for AD, she knows that (from his letter). So she thinks he will be near a sound system. He has come to find out about reggae, she knows that too. So, he will be near a sound system playing reggae. But there are lots of sound systems playing reggae. So she resolves to tour them all. In these crowds, it is difficult to move around quickly, so it will be a long task, but at least a possible task, rather than the impossible one it had at first seemed.

            Then she has a brainwave. Greg has developed a liking for beer since he moved to London. She has gathered that much. Therefore, if she looks in any pub that is near a reggae sound system, she might find him.

            On Ladbroke Grove, she tries to enter the Elgin pub. A heavy at the door bars her. She assumes she looks too young, or too poor, or too white to be admitted. But it doesn’t matter- from the door she can see what she wanted to see: a boy with sticky-up hair, sitting at the bar, hemmed-in by four black guys. She cannot see his face, but it must be Greg, because the man talking to him called him ‘Greg.’ And she does not like the look of what she sees. These black guys look moody, serious. The one who is speaking to Greg is starting to raise his voice.

In Ladbroke Grove, the pushing in the crowd gets worse. Some people tumble to the floor. Other people turn around to remonstrate with the people behind them who are pushing. But when they turn around, they see where the pushing is coming from. A posse of policemen are moving through the packed crowd, their dark blue helmets bobbing up and down above the general level of heads. Then, someone lobs a single coke tin gently through the air. It emerges anonymously from the broad mass of people, and heads towards the policemen. It is not thrown hard or with special malice, it is almost playful in the way it drifts and spins through the air. Nevertheless, it collides with one of the helmets. Madge watches this. It all happens in slow motion. Suddenly, there is a hail of coke cans, all aimed at the helmets. The crowd near the policemen scatters, and the fine line between order and disorder has been crossed. More policemen appear in The Grove, whilst the black boys scrabble with their hands on the floor for cans, stones, bricks or sticks- anything that can become a missile or a weapon. A coke can lands with a thud near Madge’s feet. It is a full one. That would have hurt! Her instinct is to flee. But she picks it up from the ground and flings it as hard as she can at the window of the pub. It makes a satisfying ‘crack’ on the window pane.

            Moments later, she sees the boy with sticky-up hair dashing out of the pub, chased by three black guys. It is a fleeting glimpse. “Greg! Greg!” she shouts, but her voice cannot be heard above the mayhem. She watches him sprint up The Grove, and stumble on some debris from the rioting. He regains his balance, but his pursuers have all but caught him. He darts round a corner into Elgin Crescent. Madge tries to follow. In Elgin Crescent, there is another posse of policemen readying themselves for battle. He runs straight into them, almost immediately followed by his three pursuers. The police let him pass-by, but they start clouting the three black men with their truncheons. They clout efficiently and mercilessly, their arms moving like pistons. Very quickly the three black men are on the ground, and the police drag them into their van and lock the door.

            Madge can still see the boy with sticky-up hair. He is barely a hundred yards from her. But those yards are a battle ground. Bricks are flying through the air. The police fend them off with dustbin lids. Whenever the police can get near enough to a black kid, they lash out at him with their truncheons. But they are quickly driven-back by a fresh hail of bricks. A Hillman Hunter has been set-alight: the owner perhaps regretting excluding that fire damage option from his car insurance. Shop windows are being smashed. It is a riot. Madge cannot reach Greg. She does not shout out, either, afraid of drawing attention to Greg, should there be more pursuers she has not seen. So she contents herself with watching him saunter casually away down Elgin Crescent. At one point (she thinks) she sees him look around. Did he see her? She waves and jumps up and down, but when she catches her next glimpse of him, his head is turned and he is getting further away. It is too dangerous to stay now. She fears the crowd may turn-on any white people, not just the police. So she makes her escape, in the opposite direction. She had fancied joining-in with the riot, but this is not a white riot.

            Madge skips away from The Grove as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. Her trainers pick their way nimbly through the debris of beer and coke cans, chicken bones, and bricks. Each step is a step nearer safety. She does not know exactly where she is going, but she senses she is heading eastwards, towards The Cross, towards a part of the city that has yet to be overtaken by madness. She hopes Greg is heading for safety too, to his secret address in Wanstead. He is obviously in quite a bit of trouble, but those guys that were chasing him do not know his address in Wanstead, she assumes. Looking at things from a positive angle, it could turn-out to be the most important day of Greg’s life. Being caught in a riot may have felt like a nightmare, but it could turn-out to be the best gift God could give to Greg. He will have some great material for his piece on the Carnival! Imagine a riot! No, she can’t imagine that. Riots happen in Paris- not in England, with its front gardens, afternoon teas, and vicars on bicycles. But there it was, it did happen, and it is still happening, because away behind her she hears sirens as more policemen arrive in Notting Hill. She starts to regret not calling after Greg some more- she wishes he had seen her. Well, perhaps he did. They could have walked away from it together. Maybe Greg would have come to The Cross with her. And maybe he would have come back to Bury?

 

Madge can’t wait to see Greg’s piece on the carnival, so she buys the next issue of AD. She is sure it will be fantastic. But there is no article by ‘A.T. Tude’ (Greg’s nom de plume). She buys it the following week too, and again there is nothing by ‘A.T. Tude.’ In fact, she buys it for the next four weeks: the same thing. She starts to get worried.

            Meanwhile, on 5th September 1976, a mini heatwave begins, which lasts for four days. It is not as serious as the heatwaves back in July and August; nevertheless it reminds Madge of her first visit to London to see Greg. Then, London had felt exciting, full of new things. Now, when she thinks of London, she breaks into a cold sweat.

September ‘76 passes. Madge receives no letter from Greg. Her anxiety has become almost unbearable. By mid-October, there is still no letter. Now she has reached breaking point. It is time to tell their parents everything. She confesses that she has been to London twice to see him without telling them. Her father at first seems too feeble to comprehend what Madge is saying. Then he tries to be angry and gets up out of his chair to shout. But he coughs and splutters and has to sit down again. For some days after that, he is in denial- denying there is a problem, denying that it is his problem, denying that his son has anything to do with him. But finally, he agrees to contact the police. The family take a train to London, and visit the nearest police station to the burnt remains of Turbot. Madge’s mother is horrified that the house Greg lived in is burnt to a cinder. Madge explains that she has seen Greg after the fire, nevertheless her mother is plagued by visions of her son burning to death. She would have been even more horrified if she had seen Turbot before it was destroyed, thinks Madge.

The police patiently explain to Madge and her parents that to disappear is not a crime- so there is nothing for them to investigate. If he had been kidnapped or murdered, or received grievous bodily harm, or had his cheque book stolen, that would be a different matter, they say. Did they know who had lived at Turbot before it had burnt down, asks Greg’s Mum of the police. No, they reply, but maybe the local authority might know.

So they visit the council’s rating department. The council official tells them that a Mr Zabbah owned Turbot until June and thereafter it was owned by a guy called Derrick Simpson. “Are these the people that you think lived there?” asks Madge. No, not necessarily- says the official- they are the owners of the property, who may live elsewhere. Tenants may have been living there, but he has no record of that, he says.

Later, the three of them sit in the Cafe Open to discuss tactics. Madge knows that this is the cafe where Greg used to go, but she decides not to tell her parents this, in case it upsets them. “Please, please PLEASE can we go to Wanstead?” she pleads. But her parents have run-out of energy, both emotional and physical, and Madge is out-voted.

So they go back to Bury, and wait to hear from Greg. They wait. And wait. They wait a week. They wait a month. They wait a year. They wait a decade. They wait two decades………..but they never hear from Greg.

 

FIND OUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO GREG IN "GROVEL GREG, GROVEL, PART 3". ON MOVELLAS FROM 14th NOVEMBER.

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