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.


3. A Needle in a Haystack

We stroll down Euston Road. “Gotta get used to the lingo, innit?” says Tina, who completely fails to notice the glory of St Pancras on our right. She is such a Philistine! And then we’re in the Youth Hostel.

            Well! From school expeditions in the 1970s I remember Youth Hostels as damp, mucky old piles. But this Youth Hostel is gorgeous! Modern, clean, well organised, with a big canteen and lots of cute vending machines selling things like toothbrushes and shampoo. We sit on our bunks and smile at each other. It feels great – I haven’t felt this ‘free’ since I was a girl. But this perfection is shattered when some big Antipodean girls stride into our dorm talking loudly to each other. And they carry on talking loudly to each other even though we are there, as if we are not there. So we decide to talk loudly to each other too.

            “This hostel’s fine but not as good as the ones I stayed in when I went trecking in the Rocky Mountains,” Tina says. Now, I know full well that she has never done anything more adventurous than spend a fortnight in Benidorm. But to make matters worse, she is definitely impersonating the pompous voice of Ken, our boss’s boss. I can’t think of a funny voice, so in my East Anglian drawl I say that the finest hostels I’ve stayed in are in India.

            “One was a converted palace. Sumptuous! Private room with bath as big as a swimming pool. I think I had the Maharaja’s throne as my armchair. And there were gardens with fountains and peacocks and I even had my own servant boy. All for 2 rupees a night.”

            “How much is that in English money?” asks Tina, I think with genuine curiosity.


            The Antipodeans leave, and a few seconds after that, and I mean a few seconds – not enough for them to be out of earshot, we look at each other and burst into laughter. A when the laughter finally subsides, we look at each other again, and there is silence between us. It is as if our middle-aged sensibleness has caught-up with us, not permitting us to be childish for too long. Finally Tina says,

            “So, where do we begin?” A chill creeps through my bones as I realise I do not have a clue how to start our hunt for Greg.

            “In the pub,” I say eventually.š

It is now very late on Saturday afternoon. We are in a pub in Holborn, the only pub we can find that is not displaying the football scores on those tedious oversized TV screens in every corner. It seems an odd time of day to be drinking. Tina is at the bar, getting a round in. I sit at a table on my own, waiting. Suddenly, I feel strange. Not ill, but disorientated. I feel displaced, separated from my life in Bury St. Edmunds by a huge gulf. This morning feels like an aeon ago. I ask myself why we are in a pub. Is London simply too big for anyone to cope with? Thus we give-up and sedate ourselves with alcohol otherwise we should get scared and run away? Again, I think of how Greg must have felt when he first arrived at The Cross. And again I feel guilty: I have a friend with me– he was on his own. I have money – he scarcely had any. I am here as a tourist indulging a whim - his stay was real.

            “What’s the matter dear?” says Tina as she arrives with our drinks. I start to cry.

            “He only had a few pounds when he came here,” I sob. “Look at me, I have all this plastic. I can buy anything. He had so little. He didn’t even have a bank account [sob sob]. Just a Post Office account [sob]. He was so young. So vulnerable.”

            “There there,” says Tina. “Here, take a sip of this, you’ll feel better.”

            “Why did we ever let him come here?”

I sip, and start to feel better.

            “What we need to do,” says Tina as she flourishes a pen and a tiny notepad from her bag, “is make a list of things we can do to help us find Greg.” I take my Tesco notepad and pen out of my bag. We have what I believe is called a ‘brainstorming’ session. We end-up with a haphazard list of points, like this:

Visit Stockwell Park

Visit Stockwell Park and knock on doors

Drop leaflets through said doors

Go to the Archives section of the local authority

Put an advert in the newspaper asking if anyone remembers him

Put the same advert on the internet (somewhere, not sure where)

See if we can find someone who worked at Aural Digest

Generally, look things up on the internet

Go to the Police and ask them if they have found him yet AND if not, are they going to be any more helpful than they were in 1976

Get off with a policeman and then ask him to help us in return for sexual favours.

I must admit, when we thought this last one up, we were just ever so slightly drunk. I had never anticipated that I would start such a serious project under the influence of alcohol. It seems a bit disrespectful. Nevertheless, the brainstorming session feels constructive and my mood is good, verging on tipsy. We leave the pub, and make our way back towards the Youth Hostel. It is just starting to get dark. But on the way back, we hatch the plan of going ‘clubbing.’ I say to Tina “The last time I went clubbing, night clubs were called ‘discos’.” She says, “The last time I went to a night club, I was still a virgin!” “That must be a very long time ago,” I mock. “At least, I was a virgin when I walked into the club….” Says Tina. But its still too early to go clubbing. We see a pub called The Euston Flyer, and have more drinks.

Next we go back to the Youth Hostel to tart ourselves up. We must be quite drunk, because we get dirty looks from the staff at the desk. Then we’re off to the club. Of course, we don’t know where the club is or what it is called. And but for the drink we would feel too self-conscious as 40-somethings to go into a club. We wander past Kings Cross station, hoping to stumble upon a club. And then we see it….La Scala. We queue outside for fifteen minutes, chatting to other people in the queue, and feeling pleased that the other women in the queue do not seem quite as young and glamorous as we had feared. It is only when someone asks us how long we have been ‘together,’ that it dawns on us that we are queuing for a gay club.

            Next we try Piccadilly, but (of course) not before more drinks. I remember thinking how unglamorous central London is late on a Saturday evening. We were in a crummy bar, drinking, trying to get drunk enough to be in the right mood for ‘clubbing.’ It is coming up to eleven p.m., and already this bar is empty, apart from a few old blokes who look too sad to go clubbing, and us. We choose not to aknowledge that we are equally sad. Finally, we go for it. We soon find-out that clubbing has its own two-tier class system. We are deterred from First Class by the prices, the long queues, and the half-naked teenage girls making us look like grannies. Effectively we are too ‘sad’ for First Class. So we end-up in Second Class. Here, the queue is less, and it is ‘only’ a tenner to get in. They play songs we know like ‘Its Raining Men’ and ‘Dancing Queen’. The low lighting hides our wrinkles and grey hairs. We think we look OK in our sparkly tops which are just loose-enough to hide our middle-age bulges. We start to like it here, so we dance. Men come and dance near us, and we feel flattered, even though they are not the young buff ones we had hoped for. When we get tired, we go for more drinks, which are hideously expensive. Then we go dancing again, though the whole evening is becoming a bit of a blur for me and that disorientated feeling that I had earlier has returned.

            Then I remember a tall bloke trying to talk to me on the dancefloor. I think he was black, but I was so drunk by then, I am not even sure of this. But I must have considered him to be of the young, buff variety, because he easily persuaded me to leave the dancefloor, and follow him to another part of the club where (he said) it will be quieter. There, he stood very near me and spoke to me, though I still could not understand what he said. He had a serious expression on his face. He looked disappointed in me. His hand moved towards me for a moment, and then he was gone. A second later, Tina was screaming at me:

            “Your phone! He took your phone!” I looked in my pocket, but my phone was still there. “Your purse! He must have your purse!” Tina screamed. But my purse was still there. “The money in your purse!” She grabbed my purse and opened it, but the money was still inside, as well as the credit cards. But she was still cross with me- “Don’t ever let anyone do that to you again,” she said. Do what?, I thought, but I was too drunk to argue with her. She dragged me out of the club, and we took a taxi back to the Youth Hostel.

šIf you throw a pebble into a puddle, the ripples emanate from the splash, and the whole puddle is effected. But if you were to throw the same pebble into the sea, no-one will notice the splash, and the ripples are instantly lost in the waves. Madge is a pebble, but London is a sea. She is hoping that somehow, against all the odds, somebody will notice the ripples despite all the waves and currents and tides.


Day 2 in London

The next morning, we are obliged to leave the Saint Pancras Youth Hostel. The Antipodeans have complained about being woken-up at 3.00 am by my drunken stumbling around the dorm. And my inappropriate vomiting. And, when I had finally settled-down, they didn’t like being kept awake by my snoring. To out mis-behave the Aussies is a feat indeed. If I didn’t feel so ill, I would feel proud of myself. We head-out on the Circle Line towards Holland Park – there is another Youth Hostel there. I feel sh*t on this train. It surges forward and then shudders to a halt every few yards. In turns I have hot flushes, cold shudders, nausea and throbbing head. Yet despite my illness, I can detect that Tina is not here normal self. Perhaps she is hungover too. Eventually, when we are sitting in the café in Holland Park, I am well enough to ask her how she is.

            “So, how are you?” I ask.

            “OK,” she replies.

            “Have you a hangover too?” I probe.

            “Not really,” she says.

            “You don’t seem your normal self,” I say.

            “Remember, I’ve had no sleep, looking after you all night,” she says, crossly.

            “Sorry,” I say, “I won’t do it again.”

We discuss checking into Holland Park Youth Hostel. Tina says we are barred from all youth hostels. I say “That’s bollocks.” I regret my choice of words. But I am right, in that we are admitted. “Listen,” I say to Tina later, “I know I caused you a lot of hassle last night, and I thank God you were there to get me home. But I’ve already said sorry for that, so what’s up?”

            “You’ve got to be careful who you talk to when you’re drunk,” snaps Tina.

            “Oh that guy in the club? Nothing happened,” I protest.

            “I’m sure he had his hand on your ‘phone. He could have robbed you, anything could have happened,” says.

            “Darling,” I say, “has it not occurred to you that he simply might have fancied me?”

            “Fancied you! [Tina laughs]. He fancied your purse dear! Do you really think that a young bloke like that would fancy someone of our age?!”

            “You’re jealous!” I accuse.

The whole day feels like a waste of time. I am too ill to think constructive thoughts. All we have managed today is an unnecessary house move and an argument. In fact, I think I am suffering from depression.

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