Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 3

Do you remember 1976? Madge does.

She was a 15 year-old school girl in that long, hot summer. She remembers the heatwave, the stand pipes in the streets, and the first strains of punk music from her transistor radio.

But she remembers it for another reason too.

For this was the year that her brother Greg disappeared, just five months after starting his new life in London.

Nearly 30 years later, Madge re-traces his steps, and tries to find-out what really happened to him.


7. A Meeting with Fierce Face

I find strange things in the London Evening Standard, too. In the personals I see, ‘Degma 6791 contact Box no 130’ and, the following night, ‘Megad 7919 contact Box no 130.’ By now, it is August. The schools where I work have all closed down. I have moved out of YMCA, to a large but rather run-down flat in Vauxhall. We are in the middle of the hottest summer since ’76. It brings-back a lot of memories. “’76 was hotter,” I tell people. But they just look at me with that ‘You must be very old then’ face. But I’m proud to be able to tell them about something that long ago. Most of my netball girls weren’t even born then. The flat is ok in this weather, but I think the central heating is bust, so I’m dreading the winter.

            “I guess that’s it ‘til September,” I say to the agency. “I suppose I’ll have to give you the car back, too [I’d been given a car to tour the schools with, on account of the equipment that I had to carry with me. This included life-size cardboard cut-outs of cars, lorries and other hazards]?”

            But the agency man just laughs. “Oh no,” he said, “you’ll be busier than ever in the summer! Think of all those play schemes run by the local authorities. Ken Livingstone is paying for you to visit every single one of them in London and give your presentation. And guess how many local authorities there are in London?” I shrug my shoulders. “Thirty-three,” he says.

            “Sometime this weekend, somewhere will experience 100° F,” gloats the weatherman on Friday night. I wonder what to do with my weekend: how best to enjoy the heatwave. I notice in the Evening Standard ‘Dameg 9176 contact Box no. 130.’ At this stage I will mention that I am holding a half-full cup of tea in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. This is the moment that it (finally) dawns upon me that all these weird messages (Edgam 1697, Gamed 1967, etc) over the last few months are anagrams of ‘Madge 1976.’ I sit there, transfixed. My grip on the tea cup has loosened and tea is pouring onto the kitchen table. I dare say my jaw is agape. All those messages were for me, I decide. Why didn’t I sus this earlier: it was so obvious? And why didn’t they just write ‘Madge 1976 contact Box no. 130,’ in the first place, instead of all those anagrams? I begin to mull-over this aspect in my head. Meanwhile, more tea is tipping unnoticed from my cup. And how do I contact a ‘Box no.?’


However much I think I’ve ‘moved-on’ or ‘got over it,’ one cannot destroy the past. It will always be there, prodding at the present, too persistent to ignore. So I end-up writing to Box no. 130, London Evening Standard, etc, quoting my contact details.


Thereafter, I wait on tenterhooks, until, after what seems an eternity (it is in fact only a week), I receive this reply:

            “Meet me at Diana Café at 6.15 pm this Thursday.” That is all it says. There is a Diana Café on Stockwell Road, not far from Stockwell Park. They must mean that one. But curses, I think- Thursday is netball day, I have a clash. But a look harder- 6.15 pm: netball will be finished by 6.00pm, and 15 minutes is exactly enough time to get changed and walk around the corner to Stockwell Road. I put an ad in the paper that says ‘Dameg 9176 says OK.’


From then until Thursday passes almost unbearably slowly. I just want it to be Thursday, to be in that café, seeing whoever it is, hearing what ever it is that they are going to say. I find it hard to concentrate on my work. In my weaker moments, I fantasize about finding Greg, and all the fun we would then have together. I try to douse such thoughts with large doses of pessimism, but it is impossible.

I feel myself watching the clock, wishing-away those minutes and seconds that are holding Thursday back. On Monday, I’m working at Camden, Tuesday way out east at Barking and Dagenham, Wednesday in Kensington and Chelsea (the Royal Borough of, no less, near my old stomping ground of Holland Park), and Thursday in Lambeth, nicely positioned for a quick getaway to netball at Stockwell.

            At Camden, by the way, that creepy man was there again. Again he stared at me, and again I ignored him. I began to think that it was he who had placed those ads, and it was he who I was going to meet on Thursday. In fact, I’d become so certain of this, I had at one point decided to cancel the rendezvous. But, in the end, the temptation is too great – I decide to go ahead and make the rendezvous, in spite of my better judgement.

            Thursday is one of those days when everything is difficult- I can scarcely do the simplest things like buttoning my blouse or putting my shoes. My mind is only on my 6.15pm rendezvous. Time drags.

            At netball it is the same thing. I feel like I am playing with two left hands. Again, the time drags. Normally the hour flies by: it is my favourite time of the week. As usual Fierce Face (Marcia) is marking me. She seems to be puffing and grimacing and trying harder than ever this week. But there are no more of those ‘accidental’ collisions, I am pleased to say.

            At last, the netball is over. I run to the changing block, and slosh cold water over my hot sweaty head before I pull my clothes on. I notice Marcia is getting changed at the same time as me, but I don’t speak to her.

            At 6.09 pm I am striding down Stockwell Park, heading for Stockwell Road. My stomach is churning. I feel sick. As I turn into Stockwell Road, I can hear someone behind me. I turn my head- Marcia again.

            And now at 6.13 pm I am sitting the Diana Café on Stockwell Road. I am pretty sure this is the ‘Café Open’ that Greg used to go to – so called because there was always a sign lit-up in the window saying ‘café open’ – even when it was closed. I don’t know who I am to look out for, and it strikes me that he or she won’t know what I look like either. But there is no-one else here yet, so this shouldn’t pose a problem. I sit at one of the formica tables, order a tea (which I feel too sick to drink), and wait. I tell myself to ‘act cool.’

            But however cool I try to be, I’m now the original nervous wreck. And why shouldn’t I be? After twenty-seven years I am on the verge of finding-out what happened to Greg. I tell myself not to get too optimistic. But I can’t help it: twenty-seven years is too huge a weight of time to hold-back. I begin to speculate that Greg himself will walk through that door any moment, with his hair sticking up, and that confused look on his sweet face. Man! Greg coming through that door would be better than a personal visit from Jesus Christ!

            At 6.17 pm the café door opens. Uncoolly, my head shoots-up to see who it is. But it is not Greg. Nor even Lord Lucan, it is only Marcia. I feel cross with myself for even daring to hope that it might be Greg. Annoyingly, Marcia comes towards me.

            “Can I sit here?” she asks, indicating the seat opposite me. I snap at her:

            “I’m waiting for someone.”

            “I know,” she says calmly, and she sits down on the chair that I am saving for my mystery date. “Honey,” she explains in her rich West Indian accent, “you’re waiting for me.”


This takes a while to sink-in. Eventually I say:

            “You set this up? Is this some kind of joke?!” She gives me one of those fierce looks, and makes to get up. “Wait!” I say, “Please wait.” She sits again. I try to slow down and ‘do things properly.’ “Would you like a cup of tea?” I finally ask.

            And then we talk. But at no point in the conversation do I feel that Marcia is warming to me, or that we could ever become friends. Furthermore, she seems edgy, often glancing-up to check that no one is eavesdropping.

            “I know who you are and I know why you’re in London,” she says.

            “How do you know that?” I ask.

            “I wasn’t sure at first, but when I heard you tell the girls how old you were, I knew it was you.”

            “How did you know who I was?”

            “Never mind that,” she says. “I’ve seen you going up and down this street, asking for information. I know what you are looking for.”

            “I am looking for my brother,” I say.

            “What I have to tell you is…” she pauses. I think I’m going to burst with excitement. “…The information you seek is already in your grasp.” At this, she stands up, and is ready to leave the café. What does she mean? - None of the information I have unearthed sheds any light on the fate of my brother. I feel massively deflated.

            “Is that it? There must be more you can tell me? What do you mean ‘already in my grasp’?” As if as an afterthought she says:

            “Look hard again at the information you already have.” She looks annoyed at herself for saying this, as though she has said a little too much. And then she has gone.

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