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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11. Shaccara

Thursday, 15th July, 1976

Rain in London. After day upon day of hot sunshine, the rain is a novelty. The rain disturbs the grime that has been baked-on to almost every surface over the last three weeks. The more unpleasant varieties of grime become smelly when they are reconstituted by rain. But in cleaner zones, the rain makes things smell sweet and fresh. People try to find their mackintoshes and umbrellas. Some people, like Greg, discover holes in their shoes that they had been unaware of.

            And today is the Thurrock by-election. Thurrock is in Essex. In fact, it is so 'in' Essex, it has almost slipped into the Thames Estuary. Thurrock is grim, with cooling towers and grey council estates. But such things have to be put somewhere, they say. Obviously a Labour constituency, then. In the General Election Labour’s majority had been 19,080. But during today's by-election, in the rain, something strange happens. Labour's majority slips to 4839, squeezed hard by the Tories. The Liberals' vote collapses and they loose their deposit. The National Front do much better than expected, getting 3255 votes. The National Front, for heaven's sake, thinks Greg. 3255 racists in Thurrock; Greg finds this hard to believe. There are scarcely any black people to hate, there in Thurrock. The people of Thurrock have moved towards the Right. They are tiring of Labour, and have rejected David Steel's lot outright.

During that evening- that slow, balmy evening, a complacency comes over Greg. He sits alone in his room with his sash window wide open, allowing the warm south London air to waft in. Though alone, he is not lonely. He has friends- Olly, Bollocky And Zepp. He has money- enough to buy food whenever he is hungry. (May, 1976).

By the weekend of 17th and 18th July, it is fair to say that superficial contentedness that Greg had felt back in May has gone. Bitter reality has struck. Greg's feelings have become poised on a knife-edge. Losing his job, the deceit of Olly, the visit of his father, the disappearance of Leomi and his savings book, and his uncertainty over his friendship with Derrick, have all pushed him close to depression. But his tentative friendship with Shaccara (low-key as it is) and the hundred notes from AD help him to hangin there. Indeed, on Monday 19th July 1976, he receives a letter from AD saying that, not only do they love his piece about Bowie, but they want to meet him, to discuss the possibility of his writing longer pieces "...with a slant towards the radical social agenda that pre-occupies young people today. You are therefore cordially invited to meet with the editorial team at our offices in Long Acre at 11.00 am on 21st July. Feel free to bring a guest with you." Typical of AD, thinks Greg- its formal style tempered by a radical outlook. Who else would use the phrases "cordially" and "feel free" in the same breath?

            At this moment Greg regrets the dissolution of his relationship with Leomi. It would have been good for his right-on credentials to have rolled-up with a black chick on his arm. It is then that Greg has an idea: albeit an outrageous one- that of pursuading Shaccara to come to AD with him. Yes- she would really blow their socks off, he decides. Shaccara- brown enough to count as 'ethnic', beautiful enough to stun them.

            Ever since Shaccara called at Turbot on Wednesday, Greg has been in love with her. His love had probaby started before Wednesday: maybe it was the time she waved-back at him in the street. Or perhaps when he had seen her at Derrik’s party. Anyway, the feeling is clear now. It is similar to how he felt when he was seeing Nadia at lunch times, although this time it is a less one-sided love: she is the one seeking him-out, or so it seems to Greg.

 

Tuesday, 20th July 1976

Greg lurks around Turbot, hoping that Shaccara will turn-up. He has no other way of contacting her- he does not know her address or telephone number. If she does turn-up, he has planned what to say.

            At four o'clock, just when Greg has lost hope that she will show, he hears her voice calling from the hall in Turbot. Greg loves to hear her calling his name.

            Greg has decided that if he merely puts his request as a 'straight' proposition, she will decline: she will decide that it is too great a risk to trade for a modest prize- the 'privilege' of accompanying him to central London. But, if he can sell it to her as a package, then he may succeed. So Greg tells Shaccara that he is on the verge of a career in journalism. If he can get to work for AD, he will move-out of 'this hell hole' (i.e.Turbot), and get a nice pad north of the river. She can come with him if she likes. And this is the carrot: Greg is offering her an escape route from her life as a gangster's moll.

            She agrees!- not necessarily to elopement, but to come to AD with him. So, the following day they meet secretively at a rendezvous point, and this unlikely couple make their way towards Picadilly Circus.

            The offices of AD are not at all like Greg imagined. Inside they are cheap and modern, unlike than grand old-fashioned newspaper that emanates from them. There are strip lights and shoulder-high boards which partition-off small teams of people who all hammer-away feverishly on typewriters, and pause only to drag at cigarettes. Most of these teams, Greg learns, sell advertising space in the paper. Only one teams does music journalism.            “That’s Babylon for you,” says one of the AD girls. Greg doesn’t understand what this means. Shaccara and Greg have been seated in a waiting area with low bench-seats upholstered in bright orange fabric. Greg is edgy. He asks Shaccara snappishly "Is my hair sticking up?"

            "I thought you liked it sticking up?" she says.

            "Yes that's what I mean- is it still sticking up?"

            "Yes. Greg, you are a real Punk," she replies calmly. That’s it! Greg hadn't realised before- he is a Punk! He does not have the torn clothes and rude T-shirts that the bands have, but he carries with him the radical spirit of the new age, and the right hair. And he has the right kind of girl with him. Thus he goes into the 'meeting' with punky confidence.

            In fact the ‘meeting’ is a job interview.

            The three men they meet do not seem as interested in Shaccara as Greg hoped they would be. Instead, they are intensely interested in Greg. They lean forwards towards him and ask lots of questions. They listen carefully to his answers. Greg feels under pressure. His veneer of confidence becomes brittle.

            "What do you think about the situation in Uganda?” What’s that got to do with music thinks Greg. “Don't you think Britain should step-in and topple Amin? He's a monster, isn't he?" A trap! supposes Greg. They are trying to trick him into slating the Africans, he decides. Recently, Amin's gang had kidnapped Mrs Bloch, an elderly lady with a joint British-Israeli passport. Unfortunately, Greg has not kept-up with the news- he does not know that Mrs Bloch has now been killed, probably by Amin's 'security' forces.

            "Idi is a monster of our own creation. You cannot blame the Africans," states Greg. "The Europeans went in there, created artificial boundaries around their colonies bearing no local significance [one of the interviewers begins to look uneasy at Greg's answer]...then they pull-out suddenly leaving things in a mess." The interviewer looks appalled.

            "Greg," he says, "this man has just murdered an innocent old lady. I expected you to condemn him more roundly than that." Greg realises he is out of his depth on Uganda. He has failed to keep-pace with the Mrs Bloch story; indeed, he only knows one fact about Idi Amin, which he decides to use now:

            "I can’t condemn a man who's testicles are the size of water melons." The interviewer's jaw drops. There is silence. Greg tries to size-up the magnitude of his misjudgment. His last article (on Bowie) will be his last article, he thinks. But one of the other interviewers makes that nasal hiss that indicates suppressed laughter. The third interviewer chips-in:

            "Irreverence. Very good. Irreverence," and makes a note on his pad. At this, the sniggering interviewer breaks into open laughter. Then Shaccara starts laughing. This is fun, she thinks- she never has laughs like this with Rankin. He is always talking about boring business and people that ‘need sorting out.’ Soon, they are all laughing, and the rest of the ‘meeting’ goes well.

 

On Thursday, 22nd July 1976, there is a knock at the door of Turbot. This is unusual, as most visitors walk straight in as they know the lock is broken. Greg, who was working on a piece for AD, answers the door.

            It is the Police. Greg thinks they may be here to raid Olly's room. What if they raid his room by mistake, and found Nadia's panties? AND THE TYPEWRITER, which is not his? Greg shuffles uncomfortably. The policeman blinks when he sees Greg's hair. The policeman ascertains Greg's identity, and then announces "We have come across an item that we believe is yours. We are wondering whether you can come to the Station to help us identify it." Greg agrees, and climbs-into the panda car. He is hoping that the Police have found his diary or his savings book.

At the station, Greg is made to sit in a small office. Across the desk from him is a police officer. Several other officers hang-around in the background, seemingly quite keen to hear what is going-on.

            "We have reason to believe that you are no longer in possession of your Post Office savings book." Greg nods. "Furthermore, we understand you are a friend of a young woman." Greg wonders why everything has to be added-to and complicated-by other stuff- can't they just give him his book back? He decides not to give any more away at this point. "A black woman," continues the officer. Greg assumes he means Leomi. "One Oluremi Owodunni." The officer has read the name carefully from a typed note. Greg says:

            "What?" and makes the officer show him the piece of paper with her name on it. "That's not her. She's called 'Leomi'."

            "I'm not surprised you call her 'Leomi', you try saying that!." He points at the piece of paper. The other officers laugh. "Its a Nigerian name," he adds, smuggly.

            "No. Its a Ghanaian name. Leomi comes from Ghana, she told me herself. Maybe you have the wrong person." The officer gives a  drawn-out sigh, and makes one of those 'oh dear I see this will take a lot longer than it needs to' expressions.

            "Lets go through the facts," he says, with mock weariness. "Oluremi Owodunni. Age twenty-five. About five foot eleven tall [one of the other policeman whistles sarcastically when his colleague announces her height]. Black. Rents a flat in Shakespeare Road, Brixton." Greg acknowledges that this may fit her description (though he had not realised that she was as old as twenty-five- indeed, he had never really thought about her age), and then says,

            "But what's it got to do with me?"

            "She borrowed your savings book, didn't she?"

            "She might have. But if she had- so what? Isn't it up to me whether I want to make something of it?"

            "Just supposing," says the officer, slowly, "that she has perpetrated some crime- something more serious than borrowing your savings book. And just say, hypothetically, that you are her boyfriend. Hypothetically, this might make you an accessory to the more serious crime." He says the word 'accessory' very slowly. "Your reluctance to report the missing savings book to the Police may be seen as a sign of this."

            Greg is dumbfounded. He makes all sorts of faces to show how preposterous this is. But he can only think of saying "That's bollocks!" which he does, and then folds his arms and bows his head.

            At this point the interview ends. But the officer tells him he must wait in the station. So he waits, and waits. He does not know why he has to wait. He has not been told that he is 'under arrest', though there is a strategically-placed officer near the exit who could prevent him leaving. Greg notices the big old-fashioned clock on the wall. It makes a satisfying clonk every thirty seconds. It serves to emphasise the slow passage of time. Greg goes-through phases: anger, boredom, and, eventually, a sullen acceptance of his situation. It is warm in the Police Station. He can hear a voice drifting out of a room in the back. It does not sound like a policeman. It sounds like the rich Hampshire voice of John Arlott, the veteran BBC sports commentator:

            "Greig then it is to Fredricks from the Football Stand End comes in bowls to him and he slash drives that down to third man and takes the single for his century and Greig leads the applause Fredricks one hundred West Indies a hundred and seventy two for no wicket....."  Of course, the Fourth Test started today, at Leeds, remembers Greg. Greg had been so pre-occupied with his interview at AD that he had forgotten about it. Now he resents being stuck in the Police Station even more; he could be watching the match on his telly. The telly that Madge gave him. A little later he hears the plummy tones of Brian Johnson:

            "Its Underwood round the wicket from the Football End coming in to bowl to Greenidge. Greenidge sweeps that one- cheeky I should say- from about middle and leg it goes down to long leg and Ward runs round from in front of the pavilion and that is two runs to Greenidge and it is his hundred."

            Greg reflects that he is getting a raw deal from the blacks, this summer. Leomi (or whatever her name really is) has lifted his savings book but he is the one stuck in the Police Station as a result; meanwhile, his West Indian friends are beating his country in the Tests.

            Eventually, the warmth causes Greg to doze. He wakes-up when a policeman prods him: "Come into the office please sir." Greg wonders whether he is about to receive a South African-style police beating. In the office, Greg is asked to take a seat, and the police show him a black and white photograph of Leomi. "Is that her?" one of them asks. Greg nods. "Pretty little thing, ain't she," says the policeman sarcastically.

            "Shut up," says Greg.

            "Pardon?"

            "Shall we all bring-in photographs of our girlfriends- then we can decide who's is the ugliest?" continues Greg. "What's she supposed to have done, anyway?"

            "Wanted on suspicion of fraudulent activities and unlawful residence in the United Kingdom." Then the policeman adds speculatively, "You don't happen to know where she is, do you?"

            "No," says Greg.

            "Come now sir, don't be shy!"

            "I last saw her the night my savings book went missing. Not seen her since. I went round her flat the other day to find her and there was a decorator who said she'd gone away."

            "Yeah yeah. Oh, and you better have this." The policeman hands him his savings book. Greg opens it, and sees that all the money has been withdrawn; all that is, except five and a half pee.

            "My money's gone," says Greg. The policeman says nothing and keeps a poker-face. “You mean I've been in the poxy cop shop all afternoon for the sake of five and a half pee?"

            "Maybe, sir, if you had been able to help us locate your friend, we would be able to investigate the matter further." Greg shakes his head in disbelief. The policeman adds- "But possibly, sir, your balance will have accumulated some interest in the time you have been in here [the other policemen laugh]. Now sir, as we say in our trade, 'opppit son. And don't spend that money all at once."

By contrast to the West Indies' lightening progress, England's innings grinds-along grimly in a typical grim English way. It carries-on through most of Friday, and most of Saturday. The best stand is between the captain, Tony Greig, and the impish wicket-keeper, Alan Knott. Greig reaches his century first. He gets there after attempting a risky single that almost has Knott run out. But the throw is wild and the ball rolls all the way to the opposite boundary for four. A small boy in a bright T-shirt runs on to the pitch to congratulate Greig. The rest of the crowd give him warm applause. Even the West Indians who are encamped near the scoreboard applaud him, Greg notices. Greg is surprised that a man (apparently) so hated by the West Indians should receive applause from them. And  he can see why they might hate Tony Greig: a tall, aloof Aryan with a very South African accent. Before the Test series he had told the press that he was going to make the West Indies 'grovel'. Reportedly, at that point, he collapsed to his knees in front of the pressmen, in order to demonstrate what this groveling would be like. But it hadn't worked-out that way, particularly in Manchester. But here in Leeds England are fighting-back. And the West Indians in Leeds are magnanimous enough to acknowledge Greig's century.

            Curiously, Knott and Greig both end-up with the same score: 116 apiece. England's innings ends just 63 runs behind the West Indies' score. In with a sniff, thinks Greg. And now its Saturday evening all over again. Two weeks ago England had been on the receiving end of a Saturday evening bombardment: now Greg hopes it is the West Indies' turn to face the music. And this time England have their fastest bowlers in the team: Bob Willis, Alan Ward and John Snow . But these are the same bowlers who took a pasting from the West Indies' batsmen in the first innings: how could they do any better this time?

            The ages of Willis, Ward and Snow are 27, 28 and 34 respectively. The ages of Roberts, Holding and Daniel are 25, 22 and 20 respectively. At this point in the summer, the West Indians are beginning to look invincible; all is in their favour. Man-for-man they are younger, stronger, and more skilful the English.

            But, somehow, that Saturday night, Snow defies his thirty-four years. He generates a burst of speed that blasts through Roy Fredrick's shot, smashing his stumps apart. The middle stump cartwheels spectacularly towards the slips. Greg punches the air and yelps when he sees this. Soon after, Ward traps Greenidge lbw, and West Indies are 23-2. However, the West Indies improve their score to 56-2 by the end of the day.

Late that evening, in Turbot, Greg makes Zepp 'be' Roy Fredricks. Greg 'is' John Snow. On the landing, floodlit by a weak bulb, Greg bowls at Zepp with an old tennis ball. Zepp does not know anything about batting- nevertheless he agrees to participate- he is in a good mood after finishing his exams. Greg stares at Zepp and declares:

            "Its Snow, coming-in from the Football Stand End, no doubt irritated by all the stoppages..." After a drastically shortened  ‘run-up,’ Greg flings the tennis ball as hard as he can at Zepp's 'bat' (a small brush from the kitchen), from a distance of six yards. Zepp, understandably, misses the ball, and Greg screams: "...he's bowled him! Stumps all over the place!" Zepp, generously, agrees to try again. This time, Greg tries to talk like John Arlott, but bowl like Alan Ward:

 "Ward now coming-in down the slope from the Kirkstall Lane End..." The word 'Kirkstall' sounds particularly appealing in a rich Hampshire accent. This time Greg chucks the ball at Zepp's feet, hitting him on the toe. "...LBW!!!!...Twenty-three for two! West Indies are in tatters!" Zepp says:

            "Should't that be the Wetht Indieth 'ith in tatterth,' not 'are in tatterth,' ath 'Wetht Indieth' ith a thingular noun?" Greg shrugs his shoulders. He wishes he had been bowling at Derrick, not Zepp. "And how ith it that you have Thnow in the thummer in England?"

 

Tuesday, 27th July 1976

The last day of the Fourth Test.

            England have all day to score just 114. Another 114 runs, and the series is level. The West Indies have scored their runs too quickly, leaving England time to amble to the target. The only snag is that they have already lost five wickets. But Greig is still there, and Knott is yet to bat. It is eleven in the morning. Greg is poised by his little telly with a coffee in one hand. He believes. Up and down the country, schoolboys on holiday tune-in. They believe. 'Workers' on sickies or on strike tune-in. They believe. Why any of these people believe that England can win is difficult to ascertain- England always loses in these situations. And they do. Very soon Underwood is out, then Knott, then Snow, then Ward, and then Willis. Tony Greig, the captain of England is left stranded at the other end of the pitch. His side is defeated. Again. England are 2-0 down in the series, with only one match left. West Indies have won the series. Greg wanders down the creaky stairs of Turbot, shaking his head. He goes into the kitchen and flings his empty coffee mug into the sink, without bothering to wash it.

Later that day, Greg stares out of the window onto the street. He is looking-out for Shaccara. His attire includes his best shirt (the one with the restrained design of little brown flower-like shapes...the one he wore the night he lost his virginity), and socks. The weather is not quite as hot as it was a couple of weeks ago, so Greg can wear socks without getting sweaty feet. Unable to afford deodorant, he has washed in a very soap-intensive way to make himself smell OK. The trouble is, Greg does not know when Shaccara will come, so the effect of the soap may wear-off before she arrives. Her timing depends on when she can break-away from Rankin without raising his suspicion. Some days she cannot come to Turbot at all. During one of her visits, Greg had asked Shaccara what Rankin would do if (hypothetically) she told him she did not want to go out with him any more.

"He would kill me," she had replied calmly.

            Shaccara does not come to Turbot that day. Greg is disappointed at this, but not alarmed. But when she does not come on Wednesday, either, he begins to worry. His anxiety is increased because he has no other means of contacting her. He thinks Derrick may know how to contact her- he seemed to know her when she was at his party, but........Greg thinks of the repercussions: if any hint of his friendship with Shaccara should get back to Rankin, or his cronies, things could get very nasty. So he can’t risk involving Derrick. No, the only way for Greg to find where Shaccara lives would be by his own hard work: by walking around and looking.

            So Greg walks to Brixton. He plans a big loop around the town: up Brixton Hill for a way, cutting across to Dulwich Road until he reaches the top of Railton Road, and then down the entire length of Railton Road back to the centre of Brixton. This route takes him near Leomi's flat, but he decides not to call-in. When he used to come to Brixton, to see Leomi, he never felt in any danger. But this evening, he feels edgy. A boy comes up to him in Railton Road and asks him if he would like some 'kally.' So?- thinks Greg, the boy was only asking, but it is the way in which the question is posed: it is not exactly how your Mum would ask you if would like a cup of tea. Greg wonders what will happen if he says 'no'. Indeed, he does say 'no', and nothing happens, but he remains apprehensive all the same.

            Proximity to Leomi's pad turns his mind to the topic of sex. He has scarcely thought about sex since he had stopped seeing her. Greg loves thinking about Shaccara, but he does not think of sex with her. Instead, he thinks of the things she has said, and the things which made her laugh. He thinks of fantasies- like marrying her in front of a huge congregation in Bury St Edmunds cathedral. He does not think of her panties. Occasionally, though, he will take Nadia's panties out of his drawer, and admire them: noting how small they are, and the pretty little pattern on the fabric.

            "Hey Greg!" It is a West Indian woman's voice. Greg spins-around, startled to hear his name called. It is the woman he had been talking to at Derrick's party, before he had become drunk. It takes him a few moments to recall her name.

            "Marcia?" Greg attempts to swop pleasantries, but Marcia is not keen on idle chatter: her tone is strict, like a school ma'am.

            "I saw you wit dat browning!" she accuses. Greg is confused. What does she mean? He makes his Confused face. "I saw you wit Rankin's girl! I tell you: stear clear of Rankin's girl! Don’t ever speak to her again. Cos if you do you're sure to be dead as quick as a wink!" And then she marches-off. Greg still feels confused, though her meaning is now clear.  Why was it so dangerous? Why is Marcia cross with him? Why won't she stop and chat for a while? He calls-out:

            "Marcia," but she bustles away. Now Greg starts to feel angry. That was very rude of her, he thinks, to walk off like that. And why shouldn't he see Shaccara, if he wants? Greg continues with his route, but now walking more quickly, and chanting to himself: "I shall see Shaccara. I shall see Shaccara. I shall see Shaccara...."

            Whack! He collides with someone in the street: a tall West Indian youth. Greg hadn't seen him. Greg starts to apologise. Suddenly there are several similar youths around him, jostling him. The youth he has collided with adopts an 'affronted' posture, and re-adjusts his jacket with exaggerated care. It is a brown corduroy jacket- Greg notices the fabric- it is funny how little things stick in your mind from the moment before you get pummeled. The other youths look vexed- though Greg can't see why- there is no way his puny frame could have hurt their friend. They block his path, and say things that he does not understand. "Honkey on the front line!" Greg becomes very frightened, and remembers the incident with white thugs outside Derrick's flat. Finally, he discerns the word 'wallet'. So, this must be a mugging, realises Greg. He looks-down at his nylon trousers, and remembers that he does not have a wallet with him. In fact, he has no loose change either, no cigarettes, no house keys- not even as much as a handkerchief. He turns his pockets inside-out to demonstrate this. In truth, he is little more than a tramp. “He’s got jack shit man!” exclaims one of the gang, perplexed that a honkey could be so impoverished. Most of the gang look angry, but the largest of them throws his head back and laughs, and this is signal for them to walk away empty-handed.

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