|Publisher:||Five Leaves Publications|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
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"It's all a lot of nonsense!" Mr Cage said, beaming at me from across the shop. "You'll have to buck your ideas up, John."
For the twenty years he'd been manager, every shop 'boy' had been given the name John.
"Because if you don't it's going to affect your work, and Down and Company wouldn't be very pleased about that, would they?" I carried on brushing the hat, pretending not to have heard him.
"Well, would they?" His voice a little louder this time.
"No, sir, they wouldn't, I suppose."
"Then, get all this tommy-rot out of your head. Soon you'll be bringing all those spirits into the shop with you, and then what would we do?" Annoyed at my silence, he added: "I'm sure you want to make this shop into a seance-room, like the ones you visit every night. I'm seriously concerned about you, John. It's not right for a young lad of your age to go on like this. I'll have to bring you a copy of the Bible to read. That's the best thing for you."
As he was talking, a customer came into the shop, and I felt relieved to get away from him for a few minutes. After I'd served the customer I thought that would be the end to our conversation. But no. He came over, his huge frame towering above me, and his small pink eyes looking as friendly as they could. He started again. "I don't want to lecture you, but it's for your own good I'm telling you this. Take up some healthy interests, like other fellows of your age. Join a youth club and mix with youngsters like yourself, instead of all those neurotic old fogeys at this Spiritualist Society of yours. Believe me, my boy, you'll be as mad as they are before long."
He knew I wasn't taking any notice of him so he turned offensive again. "Well, make sure it doesn't affect your work," he roared, "or I shall have to report you to Head Office, and you know what that'll mean!"
At last five-thirty came. I felt like a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis. Freedom at last. I hurriedly left the shop, wearing the dark grey hat I was forced to wear like all the other employees of Down & Co. As soon as I was out of hat-spotting distance, I took it off and carried it like I always did. Being only sixteen years of age I was selfconscious about it and knew that I looked stupid. Mr Cage had the same opinion, but it was one of the many rules of Down and Co.
At the bus stop the same old faces were queueing up. The same old faces, waiting for the same old bus, in the same old street, every day. To make it more sickening they were happy faces, too. They looked as if they felt privileged to work in dreary shops like the one I worked in. I tried to blot them all out of my mind. I wanted to forget, just for a few hours, that I was part of them. To kick them clean out of the old thinking box — pretending to myself that they had nothing to do with me.
"Good day at work?" I heard a voice behind me say.
"Oh, it's you," I said to a future zombie, that was about my own age, and worked in the tailor's shop next to the bakers.
"What's the matter with you? You look as though you've just been given the sack," he said with a bloody stupid grin all over his bloody stupid face.
"I wish I had," was my reply.
"You'd never get another job like that one if you had. Down and Company's one of the best firms you can work for. They're established, they are, and don't forget their pension scheme. It's one of the best in the country."
"Fuck their pension scheme!"
He looked shocked. His beady eyes glanced away from me, and he nervously fumbled with the button on his very square D.B. suit. Peasant's variety. "You don't have to swear," he said in a poofish voice, "If you don't like selling, why stick at it? Your old man has his own painting and decorating business, hasn't he? Why not work for him?" "What's the difference? Selling hats in a morgue of a shop, or being lumbered with your old man climbing ladders all day? It's all the same to me."
The bus arrived and I made it very sharpish up the stairs to try and dodge this moron that was dragging me down double quick. But there was no escape. He planted himself on the seat next to me.
"Didn't your old man want you to work for him?" he whined on.
"Yes, he did," I heard myself saying. "But after a few thousand rows and arguments I had my own way. My own way! I told him I wanted to sell. I'd be the world's best salesman, travelling the globe for some super American company. I sold all right. In a poxy suburban branch of a hat company!"
The poor unfortunate youth sitting next to me tried to sound sympathetic. "Don't let it get you down. It's useless carrying on the way you are. I'll tell you what. Why not come to the Palais with us tonight? There's a crowd of us going. Lots of girls get there — we'll have some fun."
The Palais! An evening of quick-quick-slow and music to match. Of looking for that fabulous chick that you never find. Of 'the boys' talking about football and work and the current pop singers and their imaginary sex life.
"It's Tuesday," I said. "The night for our developing circle. I shan't be able to make the Palais."
"Do you still go to those Spiritualist meetings? You're a strange one. It's all a load of rubbish if you ask me."
"I'm not asking you!" I snapped back at him.
"All right — all right ..."
"I thank God there is Spiritualism. If it wasn't for that and Jazz I wouldn't know what to do. While your old man forces you to go to church, I go on my own accord. I've been given proof of survival, while you just sit there in that crazy pew of yours and be told you must accept, without the slightest bit of proof, mind you, whatever that old Bible Basher tells you. Man, you're way out of line."
"I think it's just your yearning for unconventional things that attracts you to it."
The bus arrived at Drayton's Garage, where we hopped off, leaving us a ten minute walk up the Drayton Avenue, the place I knew I could shake off the menace that was with me, as he lived in a turning off before I did.
It wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't kept rabbiting so much. I'm not kidding, he went on and on, like those dreary houses and front gardens went on and on. He was going to France for his holidays, he told me. Fuck him and France, I felt like saying. He never gave me a minute's peace. The local youth club was having their annual dance next week, at the tin hut they call a dance hall, why not come? he asked me.
"I hate the youth club," I told him.
"What don't you hate?" he asked, with an "I-hate-you" sound in his voice.
"I don't hate freedom," I answered. "I don't hate truth or people that live their own lives, and I don't hate people like my sister Liz, who are so weak they can do bugger all about it. I don't hate you because you're one of those — I just feel sorry for you."
The poor fellow just didn't know what to say — you could see that from the expression on his face. He walked along, with his going-greasy mac, with all the buttons done up on, showing his highly starched white collar, that pulled so tight around his neck that I thought it was going to choke him any minute; his face was red from embarrassment, too. "I don't need any of your sympathy, thank you very much," he managed to get out. "It's right what Young George said. You're the original crazy mixedup kid!"
"Not for long, don't you worry. I'll escape from this stagnated cesspool they call the suburbs! I'll ride out one day — and when I do, nothing will give me greater pleasure than to leave you and Young George behind, to your unreal life of television and peeping behind the curtains and your suburban respectability!" "I think you're trying to be rude," he answered back in a small voice.
I couldn't stand any more of this idiot. "You bet I am! Why don't you wake up? You're dead before you've ever lived! You've had it, matey. And like the stupid fucker you are, you don't care. The suburb's bug will bite you if you don't watch out — and you're bit, boy! You've caught an incurable dose! But not me — oh no! Me? Never! I've had my inoculation against it! And I'll get away from this disease-infested land before long — so help me, I will!"
After reaching my old rambling homestead, I went straight up to the bathroom to make myself beautiful, which consisted of not only having a good wash to make the Down and Co aura scarper, but my weekly shave, which I carried out like some serious religious ceremony. Then I splattered myself with some of my dad's aftershave which someone had given him for Christmas but which he never used, and I tried not to notice the packet of contraceptives that he always keeps hidden behind his tin of constipation salts, because they always made me blush. Then, after putting on my non-working suit, I made it down to dinner.
My mum was in the kitchen — real busy she was, flying around the place in a double hurry, all hands and steamy face, no time and powdered nose. "Dinner won't be two ticks. I'm just waiting for the greens," she said, putting the plates in the oven to warm up. "Wish your father would turn us electric — can't stand these gas cookers." She poked down the bubbling greens with a fork, then went to a pile of ironing that was on the fridge and started to hunt through it.
"They say that the great advantage with a gas cooker —" I said, sampling one of her famous rock cakes, "— is that you can see the heat."
"Everyone's going electric these days. Even that scruffy Mrs Walsh up the road's got one. I saw a beauty on the tele — it had a posh glass door that you can see through as well."
"Watcher looking for?" I asked.
"Your father's underpants. Got to get them aired for the morning. Where can they ... ah, here they are!" She then displayed a pair of men's underpants that came straight from the penny-loaf-and-twopenny-packet-of-fags era. They weren't just the woolly, dung-coloured, long-legged variety — they had a frayed hole by the left kneecap and bell-bottoms as well.
"Don't tell me he still wears those ankle-length, itchmaking, monstrosities?" asked I, who is very broadminded, but was unable to accept that even my old dad was that square.
"You know that he catches cold easily. Why, only yesterday —"
"But we're in the middle of summer. It's June not January."
"He can't take any chances with his fibrositis ..."
"Fibrositis? It's a wonder he hasn't got prickly heat or whatever they call it, with those things on."
My big sister, Liz (who is ten inches shorter than me), came down from her room, looking as if she hadn't had a good dinner for months. She looked straight through me and said to our parent, "Dinner ready yet, Mum?"
Her mother wasn't pleased with this rather easily answered question. "You can see it's not! I've been put behind with your washing. I'll tell you one thing, my girl. If you think I'm going to wash your smalls as well, you've got another think coming! It's disgusting, it really is!"
Liz did a wise thing. She escaped into the dining-room.
I should have done the very same thing, because my mother then said, "I've got the tickets for the local rate-payers' concert on Saturday. Front row, as well." I was so taken aback that the rock cake nearly choked me.
I tried to figure out quickly how to inform my mother that yours truly would rather attend two dozen performances of Chu Chin Chow than to be an onlooker to that mission of boredom. I'd had it all before, that was another thing: yes, me! I'd actually paid admission to witness this ratepayers' command performance in the past. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's not good value. Quite the opposite if you wanted a good giggle and managed to get a seat at the back so that your Michael-taking laughter couldn't be heard too much. They've been having the same performance for three years, maybe longer because I can't remember before that. There's always Mrs Burk, the woman that goes on the knocker for national savings, singing an aria from Madame Butterfly — you know, the famous one when the heroine is doing her nut because she thinks that she can see her old man's ship on the horizon, so she gets herself worked up into a right old state because she knows damn well that if it is, they'll have a ball and do the town that night. Well now, Mrs Burk is hardly the typical oriental heroine type. So she's goofed before she's started. She looks and sounds more like a pregnant gorilla who's due for a caesarean birth.
Then old Mr Goatly, the cat who dishes out the chickens' grub at the church hall every Sunday morning, gives forth with his mangy monologue, all about this greeneyed monster from foreign parts. The man in charge of the lights really goes to town on him because he shines a weird green spot right in the middle of his eye; and the kids scream, and if the censor were about he'd most certainly give it an X certificate. I think I've told you enough.
I braced myself for her reaction from the words I was about to say, which were: "I may not be able to go this year. Not till the second half, anyway."
She didn't take this too badly at all. "What a pity. Young George is doing his violin solo in the first half, and you'll miss it."
I couldn't keep a serious face. My cheerful chuckle could be no longer kept to myself; I had to share it with the world.
"And what are you laughing at, young man?" the woman that gave me life said to me.
"I can just see Young George fiddling with his Stradivarius now! He'll look a bigger poof than he usually does!" My dear old mum put the brakes on and stood staring at me, her face a little whiter than usual. "What did you say then?" the words rolled out menacingly.
"I just said that he'll look a bigger poof than he usually does."
That's what I thought you said," she said in a louder than soft tone. "I won't have you swearing in my house, do you understand?"
Not having an earthly what she was rabbiting about, I decided to make some enquiries in that direction. "What do you mean — swearing? I haven't said a word!"
"Poof! That's what you said! I heard you with my own two ears!"
"But poof isn't a swearword, Mum. Why, poor Young George can't help it — he was born like it — I could have been born the same ..."
"Don't say that swearword in my house, I tell you. And stop giving me a volley of abuse!"
She then departed into the garden to hang our Liz's smalls up, but before doing so, with a well-practised action she slipped the hair-net off her head because she couldn't be seen in the garden by the neighbours with it on, which would have been an impossibility anyway without the aid of a lunar telescope.
I decided to cool it in the dining-room. As I was putting a very swinging disc of the Bird's on to aid my digestion, my father looked up from his writing desk and said (I knew what he was going to say before he got a word out), "Do we have to have that noise on at mealtimes?"
"Yes, we do, my very square father," came my reply. "It's the only time I get to listen to some music on your splendid radiogram."
"You can't call Jazz music! It all sounds the same to me."
"That's because, unlike mine, your parents were too mean to give you a proper musical education."
He smiled and went back to the very complicated business of working out how much profit his paint brushes had earned him that week. He got as much of a kick from those books as I did from the sounds I was listening to.
Work, money and television: that's what my dear old Pater had a ball on. But the fellow who'd really wise me up on the old man was my Uncle Jim, the communist. Least I think he's a communist because he wears a red tie and keeps talking about the workers and has one of those communist things that you cut grass with hung up on his wall. As I was saying, he told me volumes about his brother, naughty things, too: like him being a right bastard in his young days before they moved out to the suburbs. Come to think of it, I don't think the suburbs were even invented then. Used to knock my mum from pillar to post, he did, according to my Uncle Jim. And the women ran after him like mad, and he didn't complain, and he managed to get a couple in the family way. He must have been a handsome bastard, too, by the look of that photo he has of himself taken when he was about twenty. Sharp as a pin he looked in that Roman jacket, crazy cumberbund and stupid spats. Something like a middle-aged Teddy-boy. We liked each other though — probably the love thing came in it as well — but I don't think so. There was something missing, see. I'm talking about the real closeness that fathers and sons are supposed to have. You know what I mean, you've seen it on the pictures. The son going to his father's study and pouring his heart out to him, and ending up both crying on one another's shoulders.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Baron's Court, All Change"
Copyright © 2011 Terry Taylor.
Excerpted by permission of Five Leaves Publications.
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