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.


12. "There's going to be a wiot"

It is Sunday, 1st August. Greg is marking the occasion by starting a new diary. He is peeved at having to do this, at having lost or had-stolen his original diary, which is an irreplaceable record of accumulated memoires from the last year or so. But he has decided it is time to put this matter out of his mind, draw a line in the sand, let bygones be bygones, and stop crying after spilt milk (etc).

            Yesterday, the last day of July, had been the coolest for some time. Greg wonders if this is the herald of what is to come. He writes:

            "August: technically a summer month; but you can never tell with August. Some years, August continues the scorching of July, and is properly part of summer. But in other years, August is feeble and lurks under the shadow of autumn, struggling to excuse her ever-shortening days. This year is suggesting the latter kind of August. Sure, we had incredible heat in July, but that is over now. Yesterday was almost chilly."

            Making entries in a diary helps to keep Greg sane. He has few friends now. He has not seen his newest and shiniest friend, Shaccara, for almost a week. Zepp, the African Prince, is due to return to Botswana any day now. Greg is more-or-less on his own. His initial surge of success in London had filled him with false optimism. Now-  his situation is 'realistic' he thinks. If he'd had his head screwed-on back in Bury, when he was planning this jaunt, this is how he would have seen things ending-up. Lonely. In fact, very similar to how things were in Bury, except that now he has no job, either.

Greg asks Zepp if he is 'keen' to go back to Botswana. "Yeth. Keen," he replies. Greg is a little surprised. He thought Zepp liked being in England, and says so. But Zepp glances around Turbot, as if to highlight its poor condition. "In Botthwana we have a big-" he stretches his arms apart, like an angler describing the size of his catch- "a big wanch. And the weather ith alwayth good. In England itth alwayth cold." Always cold!! Greg cannot believe his ears! There has just been the most stunning heatwave anyone can remember, and... Greg smiles. Zepp looks guilty. "Don't be cwoth, Gweg. I wank England vewy highly- there are nithe people here- like you and your thithter. But there ith going to be twouble."


            "Yeth, twouble. I wath athked to be in a wiot."

            "A riot? Where?" Greg is upset that he has not been asked to be in a riot.

            "At the Oval. During one of thothe Tetht Matcheth you like."

On Monday Greg receives a letter from Shaccara. She has pleasing, girly handwriting, which is easy to read. Greg reads the letter. Its words make him realise that he will not be able to see her, at least, not for a while. Nevertheless, Greg likes what the letter says, and it even has her address on it. He smiles, and puts the letter back in its envelope, and tucks it in his diary.

A nice man at AD has offered Greg a room in his house in Wanstead. Greg has little idea about the geography of Greater London. As he travels out to the suburbs, he is surprised to see that London is not homogenous in its appearance. There are distinct areas with their own archituctural styles. As he approaches is Wanstead he notices how tidy and suburban it is. But these are quality suburbs, with matured gardens and surprisingly green lawns overlooked by bay windows: every home a little English castle.

            It is a large room with a double bed. Its furnishings are a lot better than at Turbot. There are curtains, for a start, and a carpet whose original colour is still discernable. It would be a nice place to live with Shaccara, thinks Greg. The room is in a large bay-windowed semi; the kind of house that were built in great numbers around the edges of cities between the Wars. It more closely resembles Greg's old home in Bury St Edmunds, than his current one in South London. To an extent this disappoints Greg; he still desires the street cred that he thinks the inner city gives him. Wanstead is bourgeoisie suburbia. But then again, its still London.

On Tuesday, 3rd August, it rains. Only a little bit of it over Stockwell, but rain nevertheless. It tends to support Greg’s theory that summer is over. And Zepp is leaving- Greg watches him as he traipses out of sight, away from Turbot, dragging-along a suitcase on little wobbly wheels. They’d had a drink together before he had left. Zepp had given Greg a bottle of gin as a present. “Gin is flavoured with the juniper bewie, you know,” Zepp had told him. Greg had not known that. But Greg insisted that that they try some, before Zepp left. And they managed to polish-off the bottle between them. It had made it possible for Greg to say goodbye to Zepp without feeling awkward. They had even hugged each other. Greg had never hugged a man before. As Zepp slips away, Greg thinks back to Zepp’s prediction- ‘I wonder if there really will be a riot, at the Oval?’

Meanwhile Shaccara rides around South London in the back of a Mercedes. Rankin is with her at all times, except when he has to disappear into a shop or a small cafe to attend to some business. Even then she is guarded by one of Rankin’s mob. Surely life cannot be so dangerous, to need a bodyguard the whole time, she thinks. Certainly, its not fun anymore, being chaperoned all the while, while these dull men attend to their dull business. They cannot even be bothered to explain to her what they are doing. At least Greg explains things to her. But she does not tell Rankin she is bored: she knows what his temper can be like. Once, some time ago, she had given just the weeniest hint that she was bored and Rankin became very cross. “But we’re having fun! We ride around. We do shit. Its good!” he had insisted. She is glad she has written that letter to Greg.




















         3     4    5    6    7     8      9    10     11    12    13    August 1976

[Above is a temperature chart that I can't display in Movellas - sorry]


But Greg was wrong about summer being over. This graph shows what happened to the temperature in the south of England in early August, 1976. On the vertical axis is the maximum temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, on the horizontal axis is the date. The temperature rises steadily for the first few days of August, then on the 12th, the first day of the Test Match, POW! 80 degrees! Summer is back!


The Oval Test Match: for the West Indians living in South London, this is The Big One. The one in their manor- effectively a home game for West Indies. Swiftly followed by Notting Hill Carnival. So, a double-headed treat that only comes every four years. OK, some of the fun has been removed by the fact that the series has already been won by the West Indies. But its an opportunity for the West Indies to show their superiority over the English. It is almost impossible for the West Indies to lose here (the pitch is dead, a boring draw is likely). Bu with their superior bowlers, it is just possible that they might win again.

The Oval is the most famous of test match grounds. It is surrounded by grim tenements and gas holders that scream ‘Inner City’. Nevertheless, there is something beautiful about the Oval. Its homely wooden benches, its comforting egg shape, its size (being larger than most grounds): it is an oasis of green among grime. Except, this year it is not green: the grass is brown, just like all the grass in the United Kingdom in August ‘76. Even in a good year, the ‘soil’ on which the Oval sits is famous for being dead. In fact, its soil can scarcely be called ‘soil’ at all. Soil should be ‘alive’ with nutrients and worms and so forth, allowing fresh bouncy grass to grow. But the Oval’s grass is uninteresting to the bowler. It offers no deviation of the ball, no bumpers or seamers are possible here. Everything favours the batsmen at the Oval. And this syndrome is always magnified at the end of a long hot summer. Consequently, as batting is so easy at the Oval, neither side can bowl the other out, and a draw is likely. Certainly, Greg thinks it will be a draw this year. And for some reason, the last Test Match of the summer is always at the Oval. This is probably so that if England (somehow) get to the Oval with a one match advantage in the series, and with a draw virtually guaranteed, the series becomes theirs. But this year, against West Indies, it has not worked-out that way. England are already 2-0 down.


            “Even my Mum could bat on this pitch,” Greg says, to anyone who will listen. He has a nerve to enlist the help of his mother to support his argument! He has not spoken to his mother since he left Bury. He has been too preoccupied with working and writing and drinking and shagging, to bother to ring her, or to catch the train back to Bury.

Greg watches the first two of days of the match on the telly Madge bought him. As usual, the West Indies win the toss, and, understandably, they choose to bat first. By Friday evening, they have scored 687. 687 - in less than two days! It is the highest score Greg has ever seen. Viv Richards alone has scored 291. Derrick Underwood has had to bowl 60 overs. By the end of Friday’s play England are in bat and have scored 34-0. Dennis Amiss (the player who, back in May, had his head cut open by Michael Holding) is already on 22. Greg is impressed, but not surprised, with West Indies’ good score. Unsurprised, because (after all) even Greg’s Mum could bat on this pitch. On Friday evening, when the day’s play is over, Greg goes to the pub. He has some money to spend. He has just had another article published by AD, a piece contrasting punk with roots reggae, the two ‘happening’ strands of contemporary pop music.

There is a curious atmosphere in the pub, that evening. Greg thinks it is getting dark early. Well of course it is getting dark, it is mid-August, summer is almost over, remembers Greg. But it is more than that. There is a stale weariness in the air. People are refusing to be jolly simply because the weather is warm. In fact, the prolonged hot weather seems to have tired people, made them less patient, and more desirous of instant gratification.

Greg has arranged to meet Derrick, who seems more sociable towards Greg than in recent times. After about three pints of beer, Greg declares that the Test Match will be a draw.   “What?” says Derrick. “We got 687! Of course we’ll win!” The argument continues. Greg’s main point is that the wicket is so easy to bat on, even the inferior England will be able to bat long enough to force a draw. “I’d put money on it,” adds Greg. But Derrick calls-over a bookmaker, a friend of Rankin’s, who happens to be in the pub. “I have here my English friend who is convinced that his English team can escape with a draw at their beloved Oval. As a professional, what are the chances of that?” The bookie thinks for a moment, and then says:

            “As a bookmaker, I favour a West Indies win.” Greg hears this, and then repeats his point about the placid wicket.

            “Even my Mum could bat on there,” he says. The bookie says,

            “In our trade, we note that the West Indies already have the runs in the bag. A bird in the hand and all that. But normally bookies aren’t interested in giving prices on games like this: there’s only two possible outcomes- a West Indies win or a draw, nothing much we can offer the punters. But as you’re Derrick’s mate I’ll give you a special price. Two-to-one the draw. You really think England can get out of this? Why not put your money where your mouth is? Wanna bet?” He looks at Greg with big inviting eyes.

Two-to-one the draw….

Now, Derrick is in an awkward predicament. He thinks he has cornered his bookmaking friend into giving over-generous odds to Greg. Perhaps he should feel happy for Greg, for he’s getting a bargain- but his main loyalty is towards his bookmaking friend. Derrick’s heart tells him that West Indies can win it. But the West Indies had not achieved the expected break-through that evening. England is intact for Saturday morning and are 34 runs to the good. And there are only three days of the Test Match to go. On reflection, it seems a fairly good bet for Greg, at two-to-one. Ladbrokes would never give two-to-one on that. Derrick hopes Greg will not bet too much money.

            “OK, I’ll put a wunner on that,” says Greg calmly.

            “A wunner?” says the bookie, raising his eyebrows a little.

            “Yeah, a wunner. A hundred notes on the draw.” Derrick blinks but says nothing.

            “OK,” says the bookie, trying to conceal his surprise. “Let’s see your money.”

            “Obviously I haven’t got it on me now,” says Greg, in a bored tone.

            “OK. Let’s shake on it. In front of Derrick. Once we shake on it, it’s a deal. If its a draw, I give you a hundred. If West Indies win, you give me a hundred. Agreed?” Greg nods and they shake on it, in front of Derrick. As they shake, the bookie warns, “No shit, man.”

            Greg goes to the toilet, mumbling the phrase ‘no shit’ to himself and smirking as he does so. While he is gone, Derrick says to the bookie “Are you sure that’s wise?” The bookie says, “Believe me man, by tomorrow evening England will be mincemeat.”

            “But what about the trouble?” says Derrick.

            “Nah, no self-respecting West Indian will riot while we got the honkeys are on the rack!”  The two men laugh while Greg is in the toilet. Then the bookie says, “Besides, if it is a draw, you don’t seriously think I’m going to pay that little....”

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