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.


8. Breakthrough

For several days after that meeting in the Diana Café, I could not decide whether it took me nearer to Greg, or further away. The meeting suggested no new avenue, except revisiting the unpromising research already undertaken. Yet clearly this woman knew something about Greg. It did not help that I was barely on speaking terms with her. I decide that all I can do is wait until next Thursday’s netball and ask her again.

But waiting is not easy. I am constantly nervous. My appetite disappears and I start to lose weight. I go over and over various scenarios in my head, to the extent that I cannot concentrate on my job. And sleeping is almost impossible. I swear that I fell asleep only twice the whole week, and both occasions my sleep was taken-over by appalling dreams. In one of the dreams, I was walking down the aisle in a beautiful bridal dress. My husband-to-be was….Greg! And guess what? I’m as happy as can be! And in the second dream, Greg is standing in front of me with his back to me, a few yards away. He turns around, and smiles a calm, kind smile. But I can tell from his smile that he is in fact Jesus – although he is Greg at the same time.

Meanwhile, in real life, the heatwave continues. In Gravesend on Sunday, it reaches 100.6 °F. The parallels with 1976 are portentous. It is as though Greg is only millimetres away: hidden from me by a paper-thin yet impenetrable barrier.

Eventually, Thursday comes around again. This time I am prepared. I have all my questions for Marcia memorised word-perfect, so that I can reel them out at the briefest opportunity. I have also decided to humour Marcia by letting her get the better of me at netball. But to my horror, she is not there. “Where’s Marcia” I ask the other girls.

            “We think she’s ill this week,” they tell me.

            “Does anyone know where she lives?” I ask. But no one really knows. Then one of the girls says,   

            “Round here somewhere, I think.” As she says this, I think she glances in the direction of the tall tower block in the near distance. Another girl chips-in:

            “We don’t really know where she’s from. She’s been coming here for the last 30 years to play. She’s like part of the scenery: like these changing rooms, or something.”

            “Does anyone have her ‘phone number?” I ask. One of the girls says she’s got it. She begins to interrogate her mobile ‘phone, but its taking a long time.

            “Come on Leah!” They want to play, and I don’t get Marcia’s number.


After the match, I feel low. I shower slowly, in no hurry to go back to my empty flat in Vauxhall. As I shower, my eyes gaze at the walls of the changing rooms around me. They are finished in that faux granite that would be too expensive to build a public utility with these days. They look familiar to me, I decide. They must me like the ones we had when I was at school. I don’t even bother to dry myself after the shower. I put my clothes over my wet body, and the heat outside dries me off.

On my way home, I wander past the Diana Café, hoping to bump in to Marcia. No sign of her. Then I walk past the tower block where I suspect she lives. I try to imagine how many flats there are there, how many doors to knock-on, in order to find Marcia. The prospect is too daunting to face. Perhaps, then, I have to take Marcia’s advice – look again at the information I already have.

Marcia is “like part of the scenery: like these changing rooms, or something.” Not a brilliant analogy, but one that is sticking in my mind, for some reason.

That night I ‘phone Tina. She picks-up and answers in her friendly tone:


            “Hi Tina, its Madge,” I say, perhaps over-cheerfully. It feels like a long silence. It reminded me of the time when Greg rang my Dad up, and after a pause, my Dad simply returned the ‘phone to its receiver. But Tina doesn’t hang up. Eventually she says rather flatly,

            “Oh hi, Madge, how’s it going?”

            “Tina, I’m going to cut to the chase. When we went up and down Stockwell Park, knocking on all those doors, did we see anyone who said anything unusual?” Again, she hesitates.                       

“No,” she says, “no, nothing. No one knew anything.”

            “OK,” I say: I sense that she does not want to talk to me. I prepare to wind-up the conversation.

            “Apart from that mad old lady who said those changing rooms had ‘always been there’.”

            “That’s it!!!” I scream. “I love you!!! I’ll ring you back soon!”

So, that old lady wasn’t mad after all. The changing rooms are quite old, I can see that now. Maybe 1950s, or even older. They could not have been built on the sight of TurbotTurbot was only destroyed in 1976. The changing rooms had always been there – the old lady was right. That is why that Ken at the local council looked confused when I told him that the changing rooms were on the site of the burnt-down house. It all starts to make sense.

            So, if the changing rooms is not the sight of Turbot, then somewhere else must be. But it must be very near the changing rooms, as I distinctly remember the netball courts being opposite to Turbot. My energy has returned. I dash out of the flat, dive in tube, and back to Stockwell.

            By the time I get to Stockwell Park, it is dark. The nights draw-in quite early in mid-August. But its still very warm. I stroll confidently back towards Turbot. I think I may have been whistling.

I have reached the changing rooms in Stockwell Park. To the right of the changing rooms, is a small house, tacked-on to a larger one next door. The small house is in a different style to the larger one. The larger one has the Regency look shared with most of the other houses in the vicinity. The small tacked-on house, to be honest, doesn’t really have an architectural style. It is one of those nondescript efforts that we see so many of, built anytime from the 1950s through to the present day. In the gloom of the street lamp, it is hard to pick-out the details, but the brickwork still looks quite new compared with the other houses- this could easily be a house built in the late 1970s. In other words, this is where Turbot was, not (as I had thought), on the site of the changing rooms.

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