Friday, 27 August 2010

Joe VIII – The Big Frieze

‘So what happened? Why didn’t you get to college?’
I’ve relaxed a lot with this process now. I sit back and look at the ceiling before attempting an answer. ‘Maybe I had better things to do?’ I suggest.
‘Bullshit’ he offers, levelly and after some consideration. ‘You were scared. Tell me I’m wrong.’
It’s ok. I can take it. I think about it a bit more. ‘Scared of what?’
‘You’re stalling. You know what. At least be honest with yourself.’
‘Ok. Err...’ I stop again. I think he’s partly right but I don’t know what to say about it.
‘Ok’, he says. ‘You were afraid you’d try your hardest and fail. How’s that?’
‘I don’t think so’ I say. I sit and try and work out what it actually felt like to be in that situation. I think about what it was like when I had to try and find a job after I failed my exams – with all those adverts in the paper, all those forms they sent me. I couldn’t imagine what the employers wanted to read about me and anyway I knew what they would think of me even before I started. What was the point? It was just a waste of time.
‘I just couldn’t start – it was too complicated’ I say. ‘I didn’t know where to begin. It was like getting lost... or something like that.’ 
‘You were afraid of getting lost?’ He looks doubtful.
‘I think I’d have been ok if I thought I was heading in roughly in the right direction but it all felt so – I don’t know – muddled, like a big mess I didn’t know how to get through. It actually felt like, if I’d started something, and tried, even reasonably hard, and done ok, or even if I’d failed, it’d’ve been ok, but I couldn’t even start... do you see...what I all?’
‘Tell me something that feels like that – something you couldn’t start. No, forget that – is there something you did start, failed at and still felt ok with?’
‘That’s easy’ I say. ‘I was in this competition – they wanted a frieze for a doorway at a local community centre. They specified how big it had to be, colours, materials, cost. Only the subject matter was left up to us. I had this big idea for an underwater scene that fitted perfectly – it was down at the harbour, this building, the sea scouts and kayak club were going to use it. It was a bit of a dump but they were going to do it up. Anyway, I think my scheme was a bit dark for them. They wanted something sunny and bright – yachts, sunshine, mer-fucking-maids, whatever, but the sea there isn’t like that, it’s dark and encrusted and oily and rusty, not ugly, you know, but not pretty-pretty. Anyway – I had all that. I was going to use all these layers of colour – to get the depth of water – like glazes... anyway, they didn’t like it. I could see they wouldn’t get it, although – they had this local historian on the panel and he was really into it, really pushing for it, and I could see he really understood it....’
Joe is watching me, half smiling. ‘Go on’ he says.
‘The thing is, I was a bit pissed off, because I knew it was the best, and I knew these other judges were a bit, you know, tra-la-la, happy birds and flowers, but it didn’t matter. I’d done something I knew was good. It just didn’t appeal to them. But I had impressed the person I could respect. 'Course, I’d like to have won, and I could have done with the book tokens, but it was ok. I didn’t have to win. I was satisfied with my work. It was enough. So...’ I smile at the memory. It had been a good experience, frustrating, but good.
And Joe smiles too. ‘Ok. I get it’ he nods and looks at me. ‘So what did your family say?’
I look down at my feet. I’ve stopped wearing shoes. It’s not hot out, but it’s pleasant. I never wore shoes before if I didn’t have to. People were always going on at me “you’ll catch your death” or “you’ll run something through... don’t come running to me” but I never did. I’m not stupid.
‘I don’t think they were very interested really. Amelia liked it.’
‘Didn’t they talk about it? Didn’t you talk about it with them?’
‘I don’t think there’d have been much point.’
‘How old were you when all this happened?’
‘Fifteen, sixteen...’
‘So what did they say about it at school?’
‘It was the art teacher got us started on it – entered us in the competition.’
‘What did he say – she say about it?
‘She – she was cool, but the school wasn’t really very supportive – I think she was going to retire, and they all thought she was a bit weird...’
‘But you liked her?’
‘No, she was weird – probably should have retired ages ago. Hairy legs under her stockings.’ I shudder a little and Joe smiles. ‘I know, I know’ I say. ‘But it was a rough school.’ I feel a little guilty. I know they thought I was a weirdo too. ‘We should have stuck together, us weirdos, huh?’
‘I didn’t say that’ says Joe holding up his hands and feigning innocence, but I know he was thinking it.
‘But your parents didn’t know about this competition? Why not?’
‘They’d have just said something like “won’t get you a proper job”, or “what about your O levels?” They’d have agreed with the vicar.’
‘The vicar?’
‘He was on the panel.’
Joe smiles, and chuckles to himself and shakes his head. I think he’s laughing at me.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Oh...’ he looks around the room, thinking about how to put it. ‘It’s just... You seem very sure of yourself. No no, don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing.’
He studies me. I watch him.
‘It’s not a criticism – believe me. It’s just, given the rest of your story, you don’t seem to have had many doubts about your abilities, as an artist I mean. And I’ve no doubt your confidence was well-founded. That’s quite interesting don’t you think?’
I’d never really thought about it. It makes me feel quite proud. Joe looks very pleased anyway. Somehow I always knew I could paint. I wonder where that came from?
I also always knew it didn’t mean anything at all about my chances of success. To get on in life it’s more important to please people, say the right things, wear a tie. It has nothing to do with ability. If you want to be a ‘success’ it’s better to be mediocre, predictable, ordinary, inoffensive. Popular in other words.
He’s still watching me but now looks uncomfortable. ‘So what about your O levels?’ he says after a pause.
‘I did ok. Passed. It’s not exactly MENSA.’
‘And you went on to do A levels?’
‘Only person in my class to try. Headmaster didn’t like to take risks.’
‘What happened?’
‘Failed. Completely. Couldn’t even get a pass.’

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Voyage XIII – Immigrants

Later on, Harry and Liz leave together. There appears to be some sort of quiet row going on between them. Ray and Solly smile knowingly at each other and then conspiratorially at me.
‘Slight marital contretemps I suspect’ he says in a nasal voice.
‘Never pretty’ says Ray, rearranging his latest hand.
‘Better out than in’ says Solly.
‘As the actress said to the bishop’ adds Ray burping. ‘I do beg your pardon’ he says to Brenda. She waves it away with her cigarette hand and looks at her cards.
On the odd occasion that Harry and Liz leave early the mood improves markedly. Brenda never says much usually but she can quite funny. She smokes long black cigarettes and waves them around while she thinks. We play for a while in silence.
‘You shouldn’t pay too much attention to Harry you know lad’ says Ray eventually. This is new, this camaraderie. I’m not used to it. What’s he up to?
‘He’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, that’s all.’
‘A bit?’ says Brenda ‘More like a whole fish supper if you ask me.’
‘He’s got a point though, don’t you think?’ says Ray, turning to me. ‘I mean, how would you feel – a whole lot of Pakkies move in next door? Now I’ve got nothing against coloureds. Perfectly fine...’
‘Decent...’ interjects Solly.
Ray nods. ‘Most of them, but...’
‘But’ says Solly, as if he’s made his point.
‘You wouldn’t want the whole lot of them moving in next door. Do you see where I’m coming from?’ I try to look neutral. I remember our neighbours back home. Not exactly shining examples of the British way of life. We’ve got an old lady one side can hardly get herself to the loo and doesn’t see her sons from one week to the next, and the other side is rented out to students and is slowly being allowed to fall apart by the absent landlord. My mum and dad are forever having to go round and help out. 
‘I don’t know really...’ I say vaguely.
‘Think about it’ says Solly. ‘Your average British family these days, it’s not two point four kids any more, more like two if your lucky. Some have three or more, but loads more have one or none at all.’
‘Got to allow for mortality too’ adds Ray.
‘Right, and infertility. Stands to reason. Everybody wants kids but nobody wants a load of them. We’re not replacing ourselves. Got an ageing population is what it is. Meanwhile, Abdul and all his mates are coming over here, families eleven, twelve...’
‘More’ says Brenda. ‘One lot near us had fifteen kids, I swear.’
‘Taking over. Can’t speak a word of English a lot of them either. Good workers mind, but I ask you, what’s this country going to look like in fifty years time?’
‘Well we did go there first’ I suggest without much confidence. ‘I don’t think...’
‘Listen’ says Brenda into my face. ‘Until the East India Company went over and sorted them out they were living in the Stone Age. We did them a favour.’
‘Railways, democracy...’ adds Ray.
‘But maybe that was how they wanted to live’ I mumble. ‘Wasn’t it up to them? I don’t think we had the right to...’ and I can hear this weak, pleading sort of sound in my voice as I say it, and I hate myself for it. Why can’t I just say what I mean, what I believe?
‘Progress. You can’t stop progress’ says Solly.
‘Well...’ I begin, but Brenda cuts me off.
‘Look, you want to live in filth, you live in filth’ she says. She’s suddenly really angry I realise. Is it my fault? I’m not sure.
‘That’s not what I meant really...’ says me, trying to be nice again. God I’m pathetic.
‘I like my comforts’ she says fiercely, in my face ‘and I’ve worked bloody hard for them, and I won’t let anyone...’ she jabs her finger at me ‘tell me...’
‘Let the boy talk Bren’ says Ray ‘Go on lad.’
My mind’s blank. I can’t remember what I wanted to say.
‘What I meant was...’ I say slowly, playing for time, but Solly takes over.
‘Thing is, you’ve got to be realistic. All through history, it’s the primitive have been subjugated by the more technologically advanced. It’s survival of the fittest.’
We leave it there. I shrug and head off. I know they’re wrong.
Later, in bed, I think of all the things I should have said, like, ‘I don’t care if a thousand ‘Pakkies’ do move in next door as long as they’re alright with us. And another thing – I bet the food would be better.’ But I know I never will.
It takes a while for me to get to sleep.
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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Journey VII – Caste

Considering the places a lot of the populace seem to tolerate living in I suppose I haven’t done too badly. My little chamber is at least fairly private. Although it has no door, hardly anyone ever finds their way this far through the tunnels so I have the place to myself. Or, rather, we have it to ourselves.

When I was arrested and taken to administration the only question they asked me was what use was I. I didn’t know what they meant at first but then the administrator, a tall, worried looking man in what appeared to be a suit made by someone who had not seen a suit for a very long time, gave me some examples – was I a cook? a leather worker? a musician? I told him I had been a student and hadn’t really had a job before, as such. ‘A student of what?’ he said irritably. I told him art and he tutted and wrote something down on the top sheet of a pile of papers. Then he used a rubber stamp in what I can only describe as a blur of rubber-stamping and I discovered he’d given me a cleaning job.

My job is to sweep and generally remove the clutter from a sector of the lower tunnels running underneath the main chambers. I don’t think there was anything personal about this choice for me. It was simply a matter of giving me whatever was next on the list. The tunnels in question are rather low ceilinged and are close to the main drain where it joins the river that runs under this place. It’s stinky and damp but relatively cool, and the residents are withdrawn to say the least. Nobody much bothers me down there.
In return I get this room and a few coins to spend on food and whatever. My room turns out to be one of the sheds I’d seen set into the hillside as I arrived but it’s more like a second world war bunker, made out of some sort of concrete. I’m told nobody else wanted it because it’s too cold in winter and plants and animals tend to creep in but I don’t mind. I’m used to that sort of thing. Mostly I’m glad of the seclusion and the fact that I can easily climb out onto the surface and look at the view, which is stupendous. Miranda comes and sits with me when we’re sure nobody’s looking and actually it’s quite nice. I like us here like this, sharing a place together. She seems more relaxed now but a little tetchy. Her wounds healed quickly and I’ve erected the tent on the floor of the chamber so she can move about in there without worrying about being seen. I still don’t know what’s going on with her. At first she seemed to think I’d settle here and she could move on and do whatever she had to do. I don’t think she was particularly looking forward to that but she wanted to ‘get it over with’. She seemed surprised at first when I told her there was no way I was going to be stopping here once the spring came. I think she’d assumed I’d be happy to stay anywhere if there were other people around, but after giving it some more thought she could see what I meant. In truth I think she was happy to have an excuse to postpone our parting a bit longer.

Actually, I don’t mind the squashed, lightless, airless feeling of the main chambers either. I like the heat and the stench down there and the noise and the fact that there’s always something going on – maybe a fight or a show, or just somebody slaughtering a goat and dismantling it to sell the parts.
Occasionally a noisy and colourful entourage of people who seem to think themselves very important passes through and everybody does their best to make way although these dignitaries seem to take delight in deliberately veering off into the crowd so that, if they’re not quick enough, people get all their belongings trampled into the floor. I never saw anyone complain openly but quite frequently fights break out afterwards as everyone squabbles over the spoils. Everyone seems to carry a knife or a cudgel of some sort. I stay out of the way as best I can but the carnage sometimes is disturbing. There’s a lot of nasty wounds and sores about too I note, especially in the less salubrious precincts, which is interesting. I wonder how they got them. Fighting maybe.
There don’t seem to be any women about either. I wonder why.

It’s actually a fascinating place but I don’t know how they all tolerate living like this all the time. I have to go outside regularly even if there’s a frost or rain. The old chap in charge of the vegetable plot above my room is friendly enough but doesn’t say much. I share my beers with him sometimes and he offers me his pipe. I take it as I don’t want to be impolite and actually it’s quite nice but Miranda said ‘Don’t even think about taking that up as a hobby’ – like she’s my wife or something. She is funny.

It is an extraordinary place though, the whole settlement I mean. I commented on the amazing feat of tunnelling involved in making it to one of my colleagues (ostensibly my superior) and he told me rather tersely that the whole thing had been built, not tunnelled out. He told me this in a tone of voice that suggested that he thought the idea of hollowing out a hill would have been rather a primitive, vulgar thing to do, whereas erecting this, from scratch... well... I had to admit it was impressive. I asked about the building material and he told me it was all a kind of clay, collected from further up river and fired by building a pyre within each new chamber. Finally he told me that a whole new layer of chambers was going to be added to the western flank in the spring. He then gave me to understand that I should stop asking questions and get on with what I was supposed to be doing. I mused for a while on the structural implications of all that extra weight being added year after year and I wanted to ask how they worked it out and if there had been any major collapses but he was gone. He wouldn’t have been interested anyway probably. Nobody is much interested in talking about anything apparently. I imagine that everyone here must have come the way I did at some time, must have died and crossed the ocean and trailed all the way to this place, to make a settlement and... and then what? What comes next. This can’t be it, can it?
I asked Miranda about it and she asked me what I’d expected eternity to look like. The gardener told me, with some deep satisfaction that ‘Everybody here knows his place. It has always been this way’ and he implied I should not think of rocking the boat, or there would be dire consequences. He looked, on closer inspection (he pulled up his shirt and lifted his hat to show me the scars) as if he’d endured a few consequences himself in his time so I didn’t argue.

Come the spring the word went around that they’d be clearing the area for the new chambers to go in soon. They’d be needing a lot of labour and already, it was said, the more ‘purposeless’ citizens were being rounded up in case they made a run for it. I’d noticed there were a lot less down-and-outs in the usual places. I never found out where they’d been taken but I feared I might be next since I was so near the bottom of the heap, and the newest arrival too. I watched the barges drifting down river, laden with the clay and I couldn’t help notice the increased security on all the exits. It really felt like it might be a good time to move on and Miranda agreed. I looked at the tent. If I took it down someone might notice and would know I was intending to leave. Maybe I should leave it behind I thought. I looked at Miranda who looked back at me and we wondered what to do. I pointed out that surely she could leave whenever she wanted to but she just said no, that wasn’t going to happen and carried on with whatever she was doing.
A few days later a heavily armed ‘functionary’ delivered me a call-up notice.

I should consider myself relatively lucky I suppose. I only had to work part time. They said they needed me to carry on with my normal duties while the construction work went on, but I was told I’d have to get them done in the afternoon because I’d be labouring every morning. Even that didn’t sound too bad – my normal duties were fairly minimal and I was usually finished by early afternoon (Some of the other cleaners seemed to take a very long time indeed over their chores). Nobody ever checked up on me.
Nevertheless, emerging into the early sunshine that first morning on site, the prospect was not encouraging. All over the hillside, people were milling about with spades and picks, baskets and barrows, carting soil from where it was being stripped, onto a gigantic pile to one side, ready to be put back once the work was completed. Allotments and dwellings were being cleared away and the bare superstructure underneath opened up and emptied. In some places it looked as if people had been taken by surprise and not had time to pack their belongings. ‘The purposeless are always getting in the way’ said one of the men in my group, a tall, muscle-bound and intensely grimy man who was obviously used to this sort of thing and rather enjoyed it. ‘They never learn’ he added contemptuously as a small woman in her nightgown stumbled past, clutching a picture and a pot plant and a bundle of clothes to her chest. I learned that the women were all kept hidden in their chambers ‘until required’. I never did find out what they were ‘required’ for. Here and there stood the tall, bulky security men in their black body armour and with their batons at the ready. A cordon of them stood at the perimeter. Clearly nobody was getting out unless they said so.
Finally, after much standing around, a functionary came up and indicated we should head off up the slope. Another man pointed to some baskets and directed us to go further along. Once we were there an obese man in nothing but a pair of shorts but with a big stick in his hand shoved and tugged us into position and then, with a signal, baskets full of soil and rocks and weeds began to be passed along to us, and our empty baskets were passed back to be filled. We did that more or less all morning without a pause. I couldn’t believe it. Why did everyone put up with this? I looked around at the workers on either side of me in the chain with an ironic, disbelieving expression on my face, hoping for a little acknowledgement of the absurdity and injustice of the situation but all I got for my trouble was a sneer and a slap.
When I left early to begin my cleaning shift I was tripped and spat on by some of the others. They didn’t like part-timers.

I put up with this for about a week I suppose. I was sick of being literally pushed around. I didn’t understand why our supervisor had to physically push and pull us about instead of opening his mouth and just speaking to us. What was wrong with him? It wasn’t like he was any better than us. He was on the same pay and the same hours. It was just that he’d been given a big stick. Everybody hated him but secretly coveted his job. I just wanted to get out.

On the third day I sustained a deep cut in my hand from a carelessly wielded spade and Miranda bathed and wrapped it for me. I wasn’t allowed to take any time off but already I’d become worried by of the number of injuries that were being inflicted daily up there. Nobody seemed to be being very careful and in fact it often seemed like some of the ‘more experienced’ workers were deliberately taking their frustrations out on the rest of us. And frustrations there were. Without much in the way of shelter or breaks, everybody was short tempered and clumsy by midday. ‘Accidents’ happened all the time and new labourers had to be drafted in continuously. Whilst going about my cleaning duties, patrolling the normally crowded lower tunnels with my barrow and shovel it was obvious that the place was already a lot quieter than usual. I wondered how many inhabitants the colony housed all told. It had to be thousands – tens of thousands. There was no way of telling. I kept my head down and got on with my job.

At the end of the first week (although time was not measured in weeks – it just trailed on and on) I told Miranda I had a plan and she said ‘Oh thank goodness for that.’
There was no time to waste. I collected all our belongings together in my rucksack, keeping her safe in my overall pocket and hid everything in my barrow under a lot of trash and with my broom and shovel on top. I took it down by my usual route to the lower tunnels and stood there beside the river, looking as if I was starting work.
Once my supervisor had wandered off I put the pack on my back, grabbed the shovel and dropped off the edge into the water.
It was as simple as that.
I kept the shovel because I thought I might need a weapon or a tool. I expected at least some sort of guard at the outflow and at least some bars or a grating. If that was the case I wasn’t sure a shovel would be much use but I thought, well, what else have I got? I’d tried to take a pickaxe off site but they made me leave it behind.
As it was there was no guard and no grating. The river flowed, dark and malodorous out into the valley unimpeded and we drifted, underwater (since we didn’t need to breathe) out into the countryside once more.
A little further on, when we were out of sight I hauled us out onto a muddy slope and we sat and looked about for a moment, checking to see if we’d been followed, or if maybe there was a patrol out here or something. Miranda jumped out and pointed out that there were other fresh footprints in the mud. Somebody else had had the same idea apparently. Well good for them. Perhaps we’d meet up with them later on. I felt amazingly elated. It had been so easy. Why hadn’t everyone done the same? And why weren’t any of the guards coming after us? How stupid were these people?
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Monday, 9 August 2010

Voyage XII – White meat

I’m sitting with the bloody Rat Pack again. Ray pulled me, literally, by the elbow over to their table – on the face of it affable, full of bon-homie, full of whiskey (why does alcohol still work on these people? Maybe it’s just the way they are). I know my face betrays my irritation – I have gathered the courage at last to not try to appear pleased to see them, but they don’t notice, or at least, it doesn’t change their behaviour. Harry looks at me with total... What’s the word? I need the noun of ‘to despise’. Despision? Despisity? I like ‘despision’ – it sounds like a cross between suspicion and derision, which is exactly right in this situation. Harry looks at me with total despision. With Ray, the words that spring to mind are obsequious and condescending. Solly I don’t know what to make of, but I know I don’t feel comfortable around him. These days I notice he’s always watching me, like he’s expecting me to do something wrong, like he doesn’t trust me. Actually I get that from all of them to some extent, like there’s something they expect from me and never get. The other day, we’d been sitting around for a while, playing cards, as usual and Harry said ‘Don’t say much do you.’
Obviously I didn’t reply. He looked at me, apparently waiting.
‘Doesn’t say much does he’ he said to Ray, as if I couldn’t hear him. Uncle Len used to say that to me – ‘Not got much to say for yourself have you.’

Anyway today I am going to try to work out why they are so keen to have me around. I don’t think it’s sexual, whatever Joe says, but it is a bit sleazy. It makes me squirm, and it disturbs the other people around us. What is it?
Just after that last session with Joe I actually came out with it and asked them, straight up, why they want me along and Solly’s face just changed completely. I’ve always felt that, of all of them, he was the one I could talk to, if it came to it. But he put his face right up to mine – he’s quite a bit shorter than me – I hadn’t noticed before, and says ‘Nobody’s forcing you.’ and he looks really angry, jutting his jaw and clenching his teeth. He breaths it in my face, through his teeth. ‘Nobody’s forcing you son’ he says and then steps back, still tense, like he’s ready for a fight. I say nothing. I’m shocked. Ray breaks the tension with a jovial hug ‘Don’t be daft son’ he says. ‘We like you. You make us laugh, doesn’t he Sol...’ and Solly’s face just as suddenly goes back to being his usual cheeky self. Ray puts his arm around my shoulder and steers me back to ‘our favourite table’ and orders champagne, like we’ve got something to celebrate. For a moment I’m flattered – they like having me around. You can’t believe how stupid happy that makes me, but not for long. Soon I sit and wait for it all to change again.

What was that about? I ask myself later. Nobody is forcing me, it’s true. Once again, as usual, it’s because I don’t want to make a scene, don’t want to cause a fuss or embarrass anybody. Ok, that’s not very manly of me, but the fact is, they might well make a scene, it’s quite likely, or who knows what they’d do. They might do anything. They scare me. What they might do scares me. We’re all stuck here on this boat together for I don’t know how long, and I can’t hide in my room the whole voyage. So I go along with it, for a quiet er... after life.

So today I’ll try to work out what’s going on. I’ve never done this before – never tried to think about why other people behave the way they do, or myself for that matter, but since I’ve been going to Joe, well, it’s interesting - human behaviour. Normally, when things got weird before I’d just retreat to my room, go do something on my own. Can’t do that here can I?
I get myself a glass of bubbly – I rather enjoyed it that last time, never had it before.
‘Oh God look at it’ says Harry when he sees my glass, and slaps his cards face down on the table and leans back. ‘Will you have a word with him?’ he says to Liz. He’s using his jolly man-about-town face today. Liz demurs.
‘It’s what he wanted’ says Sol, winking at me. Harry picks his cards up again and begins sorting them. ‘Might as well deal him in’ he says, indicating me, and Ray shuffles and deals.
‘Fucking wogs’ll ruin everything anyway’ says Harry to his cards. I start at the word, but nobody else reacts. I think I missed the first part of the conversation.
‘Well, like I said’ says Solly ‘they’re making a rod for their own backs, fucking Nelson wotsisname. They deserve everything they get.’ and lays his cards down. Everybody huffs and tuts and throws their hands in. Solly picks up all the bottle tops. I put my cards in the pile too. I don’t even know what they were. ‘Your deal’ says Ray to me, chewing his matchstick as usual. Who does he think he is? I take a moment to register. ‘Me?’ I say. Ray passes the deck to me, deliberately roughly, so I drop some.
I pick them up and shuffle them. It’s something I actually can do quite well because I used to do card tricks. This skill, I think, pisses them off more than my incompetence. At any rate, after a few sarcastic comments the first time, they ignore it. I try not to do anything flash, but it’s a habit.
‘Doreen’s their house keeper anyway’ continues Solly. ‘Says this way everybody’s happy.’
‘Course she’s happy. Knows her place.’ says Harry, nodding.
‘She don’t want change. Mol treats them very fair. More than she should, truth be told, but she’s always been like that.’
‘Too soft?’
‘Soft as a brush, but, well, decent, I’d say.’
Harry looks at him sceptically, a little cruelly maybe. I still don’t really know what they’re talking about. He shakes his head and studies his hand.
‘Could happen though’ adds Ray. ‘Look at India.’
‘And what a fucking balls up they made of that’ says Harry. ‘Now look what we’ve got’ and he turns to me, leaning far too close again. ‘I’m from fucking Croydon me, born and bred. Now look at it.’
I haven’t been to Croydon. I don’t know what he means. Am I stupid? I don’t know. Should I understand? What do they mean?
‘What are you looking at?’ he says suddenly to me and shakes his head exasperatedly. ‘What have you got?’ he says impatiently. I look blank. I don’t know what he means. He tips my cards ‘Your cards. What have you got in your hand? Gawd luvvus. Are you with us for fuck’s sake?’
I try to concentrate. I sort my hand, although he must have seen it. I have nothing. ‘I don’t really know Croydon’ I say, randomly rearranging my hand ‘What’s happened to it?’
He looks at me and smiles oddly. ‘I expect your sort’d like it’ he says. ‘Shh’ says Liz and pats his arm weakly.
‘Don’t you shh me. The boy doesn’t know. I’m telling him.’ Liz looks doubtful but accepts it. She can’t do anything anyway. Useless cow. Suddenly I hate her more than any of them, for being so weak, after what he did...
‘Do you eat white meat?’ Says Harry suddenly, his little blue eyes sparking at me from deep among the folds of his raw, bristly skin.
‘Simple question lad’ he says. ‘Do you, or do you not eat white meat?’ Solly smirks. Ray doesn’t react. Liz appears to be weeping a little. Brenda is looking at her cards.
‘What, like pork or chicken?’
‘Of course. What did you think I meant?’
‘Leave the boy alone Harry’ says Ray. ‘Lets play. Your turn’ he says to Liz and the game continues. I am completely baffled.

A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.