Street Life (Part 3)

This is part three of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.

Koz rolled out of bed, and lit a cigarette. The girl next to him was still sleeping, but he would wake her up soon, and throw her out. He could hear the others moving around; using the toilet, and talking downstairs in the kitchen. The smell of something cooking wafted up, and made him realise he was hungry. It was dark outside. Checking his watch, he saw it read 21:28, and he hadn’t eaten much since breakfast. He looked around at his room. A mattress on the floor, some clothes on hangers around the door handle, and three pairs of trainers lined up against the wall. Not much, for twenty-nine years, but he was sure his time would come. Eat first, then head off into the city as usual.

Candy doubled back on herself, and crossed Waterloo Bridge from the western side. Heading down into the pedestrian subways, she could see Clinton on his BMX bike, silhouetted against the opening in the distance. When she got closer, he grinned, wide lips opening as it he was about to laugh. “Wassup, fine lady?” His accent was contrived of course. She knew full well he was a local boy, but he liked to sound Jamaican, made him feel tough. She opened her hand, showing the phone. “An i-phone 8, Clinton, must be worth ten rocks”. He sucked his teeth, and grinned again. “Y’know how many of those phones I have, girl? I will give you five”. Candy moved her hand, as if to put the phone in her shoulder bag. “OK fine lady, six. But that’s it. Y’get me?” She handed him the phone, and put her hand up to his mouth. He started to spit out the wraps one at a time, until she had six in her palm.
Back at the squat, she gave two to Tash, who had only just woken up. They fired them up, and drifted away, both sitting on the floor.

Jack was settling down earlier these days. He waited until the last few commuters had walked past on their way to the station, then dragged both his black bin bags from behind the industrial waste skip. The dustmen never took away anything that wasn’t in the wheeled skip, so it had been a stroke of genius to stash his gear right behind it. The rubber mat had been a great find earlier that year. Rolled up behind the camping gear shop in Covent Garden, he had just strolled past and scooped it up. Much better than relying on old cardboard for a base to sleep on. His sleeping bag had seen better days, but was still serviceable. A quick check that everything was still there, and he walked off with the bags in the direction of The Strand. Once the small Travel Agent office had closed, he knew he would be alright to bed down in their doorway until the morning.

Koz ate three of the big Polish sausages, much to the annoyance of his house mates. But they didn’t say anything. Best not to cross Koz. Five of them shared the small two-bed house in Willesden, and Koz was the only one who had his own room. He had been in London for almost three years now. Lots of people from his home town in Poland had come there to work. But unlike the others, Koz had come there not to work. There was money to be made in England from doing nothing, Pavel had told him a long time ago. Pavel was Russian, and knew his stuff. It had been easier than he expected. Hassle the street kids for the money they had begged for. Steal the drugs off the junkies after they had bought them, even get a few girls working the streets for him. He told them he would protect them, a big lad like him, tough as they come. Finding some others to help him was even easier. Plenty of unemployed ex-army guys around from Eastern Europe, happy to think of themselves being in a gang, headed up by Koz. But nobody could ever say his surname right, ever. So he settled for the first three letters, KOZ, and used that as his name.
He looked around at the others, squashed into the small living room that doubled as a bedroom for two of them. “Come on guys, finish up now. Time to get going.”

Candy felt pretty good when she woke up. Tash was still out of it, so she checked there was nobody in the bathroom, and had a shallow bath, as there wasn’t much hot water left. She went over her make-up, and after rummaging through the bag of clothes she called ‘almost clean’, picked out a plain black skirt and white blouse. Adding some thick stockings that held up just over her knees, she admired the result in the broken half of the big mirror propped up against the wall in Tash’s room. She looked like a schoolgirl alright, but a raunchy schoolgirl. The desired effect. It was too cold to go without any coat all night, so she took the red anorak off the nail in the door. They shared that coat, so Tash wouldn’t care. Walking back over the bridge, she found a good spot to hang around on, just where Burleigh Street joined The Strand. She stuck one leg forward, so it could be seen outside the coat, then put on her best sexy pout, and waited.

Toby had worked late again. He didn’t mind, as it was good to be seen not to rush home. If you wanted to earn the big money, you had to stick it out, and be seen to be a grafter. He had pulled down over one seven five K last year, and was hoping to break the two hundred barrier for the first time, by next April. Leaving the entrance to his office, he knew there was no point trying to get a cab opposite the station. There was bound to be a big queue at the rank inside too, so he stepped out east along The Strand, reckoning he would do better on the one way system at Aldwych. Close to Burleigh Street, he spotted a girl leaning against the corner, by Barclay’s Bank. As he got closer, she stretched out a black-stockinged leg, and shot him a surly look; face down, but eyes looking right at him. He carried on walking for a few steps, then stopped. Smiling to himself, he turned around.
Toby liked them young and slutty.

To be continued…

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Retro Review: The Last Valley (1971)

***No spoilers***

Very few films have been set during the Thirty Years War that ravaged Europe from 1618-1648. I can only think of two, and this is one of them. But it is not really about that war, although it features a short battle scene. It is about what people will do survive, in a land ravaged by not only war, but the Black Death too. A time when wandering bands of fierce mercenaries were paid to fight for one religion or another, and would change sides for a better offer. It is also about the hypocrisy of religion, and how old beliefs and customs came to be associated with witchcraft, during an era dominated by opposing faiths.

Vogel, a wandering teacher, (Omar Sharif) is fleeing the pestilence and combat consuming the country. By chance, he discovers a fertile valley, and a village inhabited by prosperous and suspicious villagers with little knowledge of life outside their idyllic existence. Meanwhile, a mixed bag of mercenaries and deserters, led by a man known only as ‘The Captain’, (Michael Caine) is heading in the same direction, stopping on the way to kill, rape, and steal anything they can find. Vogel is taken in by the reluctant villagers, for fear he would tell on them if he was sent away.

When The Captain and his men finally stumble across the village, it seems the fate of everyone is sealed. But the clever Vogel steps in, persuading the village headman (Nigel Davenport) and The Captain to reach an agreement. The soldiers will protect the village from outsiders for the winter, and in return, they will supply women to service the sexual needs of the men, and provide adequate food and shelter for them all. An uneasy truce is declared, but tensions remain high, especially as summer approaches, and some of the soldiers feel they should return to the army.

This film shows its age now, but not in a bad way. Despite its ‘epic’ status, and big-name cast, it feels more like a Hammer film at times, especially during the parts concerning witchcraft. The supporting cast is on form too, with hunky Michael Gothard impressive as a baddie, and the scene-chewing Brain Blessed relishing an all-too short role. You also get the British actor Jack Shepherd, and the Greek actor Yorgo Voyagis as Pirelli. Throw in some more international stalwarts, and there is something for everyone, in a film destined to be shown all over the world. Female desire is dealt with by the inclusion of Florinda Bolkan, and Madeline Hinde. Direction and writing is in good hands too, with the experienced James Clavell.

One word of warning, and it’s not a spoiler. Michael Caine adopts a strange German accent throughout the film. Not his best choice, in my opinion.
That said, this is hugely enjoyable, and very different.
The trailer is almost as good as the film!

Retro Review: Brassed Off (1996)

***No real spoilers***

Sometimes, the ‘small’ films are the best. They may not create a storm on the international market, win awards, or plaudits for the cast. But they stay with you, enter your heart and soul, and strike a chord within you that can never be reached by the biggest blockbuster, or Oscar-winning classic. When the British make a very good film, few others can do it better. This is a fine example of just that, and one of the greatest little films I have ever seen.

The setting may be unfamiliar to those outside of Britain. Sorry about that, as it works so well, if you happen to be English. Ten years after the devastating miners’ strikes, mines are still closing. Private owners are taking over, and taking on the unions too. The Conservatives are still in power, and the traditional mining towns in the north of England are facing imminent disaster, with the closure of the last remaining pits. But they have hope, and a diversion too. That is supplied by their love of brass band music, traditionally associated with the different collieries around the UK. After a hard day at work, the band members will lose themselves in wonderful renditions of different styles of music, played on their beloved brass instruments. At weekends, they will compete against other northern brass bands, hopefully getting to the grand finals in London.

Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald looking very young and attractive) has been sent back to her (fictional) home town of Grimley, in the north of England. She is working undercover for the industry, seeking to establish whether the mine there should close, or remain open. She meets up with her former boyfriend, Andy, (Ewan McGregor) who is still working as a miner. He plays in the brass band, and Gloria auditions for a role too. Despite never having had a female member, the band are impressed with her undoubted talents, and she is accepted. Getting to know the rest of the miners, and becoming attached to Andy again makes her undercover job difficult, and her emotions are torn. The band leader, Danny, (a wonderful turn from Pete Postlethwaite) is struggling to keep his band motivated, and is also seriously ill.

Most of the film concerns the break up and reformation of the band, as they enter a regional competition to win a place in the Grand Finals in London. Gloria throws herself into helping them, as even though it seems the fate of the mine is sealed, they still have the desire to go out with a winning performance. This film works at almost every level imaginable. The locations are superb, the script sparing and sharp, and the political points are made, but not hammered home uncomfortably. Then there is the music of course, with the band’s performances supplied by a real mining band, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. It harps back to the golden age of British cinema, with often laugh out loud moments contrasted by genuinely powerful emotions, real warmth, and a cast of wonderful characters you will really care about.

As well as those already mentioned, acting talent in abundance is supplied by Jim Carter, Philip Jackson, Stephen Tompkinson, Melanie Hill, and Sue Johnston. One of the finest British films ever made.

In addition to the official trailer, I am including a clip of Gloria’s audition. Please watch that too, because the music in that is one of my favourite pieces, the Concerto D’Aranjuez, and it is fantastic.

Street Life (Part 2)

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1050 words.

Candy liked Jack, though not like that, but it was so obvious he had the hots for her. She knew what doorway he would be in, and also knew she could get some money off him easily. Let him think he had a chance, give him a good look up her skirt, and sit very close to him. Easy. She said she was going for coffee, but that was never going to happen. As she turned the corner, she looked at the coins in her hand. Almost six pounds, that was a start. She would wander up to Aldwych, and see if Darius had any customers in the hairdressers. If he wasn’t busy, he would usually buy her a coca-cola, and sometimes let her wash her hair too. Dragging up the shoulder of her waistcoat, she wrinkled her nose. It was really stinky, but she couldn’t afford to get it cleaned, so would have to spray some perfume on it. Diverting into the big branch of Boots, she hovered around the counter until nobody was looking, then snatched up two testers, as well as a couple of eye liners. Bending down as if to lace up her Converse, she slipped them into the shoulder bag, turned around, and walked back out onto the street.

Playing the little lost girl had worked out fine at first. Sitting on a bench crying, someone would come over. Usually a concerned older couple, the woman feeling maternal, the man awkward. She would say that she had lost her train fare home after coming to London with friends. Scared to tell her mum, but twenty pounds would get her home. Lots of them fell for it at first, but others got wise. Offered to take her to a police station, or go with her to the train station, and buy the ticket. She couldn’t keep up the phony accent either. One minute she was putting on as if she was from Liverpool, the next it sounded Scottish. And they all thought she was a kid, even Jack. The joke was on them. She could be home in east London in twenty minutes on a bus, and she was almost eighteen, though she knew she looked much younger. Saying she was only sixteen made it seem as if she was pretending. Candy was a good name to choose too. It suited her, and made her sound silly and girly.

Mum treated her like an unpaid baby sitter. Knocking out kids with different blokes every couple of years, falling for all their sweet talk, and then they were off. Candy had stopped going to school, told her doctor she was depressed, and told her mum what she could do with her shitty flat, and four kids. She shacked up with Sammi and her boyfriend for a while, then headed off into the West End to earn some money. Looking sorry for herself had worked at the start. Jack had certainly fallen for it, though she had to be careful who she tried it on with. Then she met a girl who was clipping. Tash told her what to do. Hang about looking sexy, and wait for some bloke to ask her how much. Give him a price, and tell him “Money first”, then he could take her into Brewer Street car park and do what he wanted. Soon as you had your hand on the money, run away as fast as you could. If he chased you, shout “Help! Rape!”, and keep running. Chances are someone would stop him, or he would be too embarrassed. Not likely to tell the police either, as he wouldn’t want to admit to asking an under age girl for sex, even though she wasn’t actually under age. That worked out well for a while too. She could often get over a hundred a day, sometimes a lot more.

Tash was a good mate. She could doss down on her sofa most nights, in the squat where she lived near Waterloo. She taught Candy how to pinch stuff too, and helped with her new look. “Sassy and sexy, girl”, Tash called it. Except for the Converse of course, but she needed them for running. Trouble was Tash did like her crack, and it wasn’t long before Candy was on it too. Now she needed that hundred a day just to stay straight, and that took time, and work. Candy was on the go from morning ’til night. Cadging, fleecing, conning, pinching, anything to get money, or something she could sell or trade. If she had a slow day, Tash would help her with a couple of rocks, but she expected the same in return. So far, Candy had been lucky. Chased out of shops a few times, and spotted by people when she tried to nick their phone or wallet as they sat at a cafe, or waited to cross a busy street. But no arrests, not yet. A few talking-tos from some local policemen, but she copped an attitude, and they had to let her go.

Darius had a customer, but he gave her a wave through the window. Candy crossed the road, and branched left in the direction of the University. Under the big sign that read LSE, she saw a chubby guy texting into a phone. looked like he might be Indian, or something like that. Screwing up her face, she jogged up to him, arriving breathless and looking as worried as she could manage. She put on her posh voice, sounding like she came from Surrey, or some place like it. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to ask you, but do you think I could use your phone please? I got separated from my college group, and I’m scared I will miss the bus back, if I don’t contact them”. She finished with her sweetest smile, noting his eyes wandering up from her tiny skirt, to the fishnet top with no bra underneath. He grinned back, all white teeth and pink tongue. “Sure”. As he extended his hand, she grabbed the phone, and ran off at speed, with the dumb bloke just standing there, as if he expected her to turn around and bring the phone back.

To be continued…

Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

What’s O’Clock?

This is a rather ancient expression for asking the time. You might see it in a Shakespeare play.
I woke up thinking about Time this morning, specifically how to tell the time.

When I was young, I was taught to say “Do you have the time please?” when enquiring of an adult. Telling the time was something I remember learning from a very young age. A wooden clock face, with moving hands, and coloured numbers. My Mum asking me constantly, “If the big hand is on-, and the small hand is on-, what time is it? She would place the hands close together around the dial, explaining “This is a quarter-past, this is half-past”, and so on.

By the time I was in the ‘big school’, (juniors) it was taken for granted that I could tell the time. Every classroom had a big clock on the wall, as well as one in every corridor, and in the school entrance. Time was important of course. We had to be in school by a certain time, go for breaks and lunch at other times, and we all soon learned the time that school finished for the day. I was too young to be given a watch. Rough play and football games would almost certainly have resulted in it being damaged or destroyed, and watches were expensive, in 1959.

In central London, there was no shortage of clocks to see what the time was. Many churches had four clock faces, as did the local Town Hall, most other public buildings, and lots of shops, who used the clocks outside to double as advertising their name. Between my school and home, I could probably have seen the time easily, at least five or six times. Once at secondary school, I got a watch, given as a treasured present for a birthday, or perhaps at Christmas. It was mechanical of course, with an audible tick, and it had to be wound up every night, when I went to bed. Later on, I was given a more stylish example, with a date function visible under a magnified section of the glass face.

By the time I was 15, I had to get two trains to go to school, so time became more important than ever. I was bought an alarm clock, to make sure I got up in time; it had an incredibly loud tick, luminous numbers and hands, and two jangling bells on top. Once washed and dressed, on went the wristwatch, checking that I was in time for the train. As I approached the station, the large platform clock became visible, and I would check my watch against it, in case there was a minute or two difference. When I left school and started work, that routine continued for a while, as I soon discovered than employers do not like their staff turning up late. Technology was moving on with me, and watches now had batteries, and no longer needed to be wound up. But I liked my old watch, so kept winding it happily.

Not long after that, I saw my first digital watch. A clunky, black-plastic affair made by Casio, with red numbers telling the time. I thought it looked awful, and stuck with my conventional leather-strap watch. Those new digital watches soon became so common, they were giving them away at petrol stations if you filled up, or you could buy them for next to nothing, even in street markets. But I saw a real issue. They had no hands. You looked at the red or blue numbers, and they showed the time in a digital format, such as 3:10. You could press a button on the side, and the date would appear, usually the wrong (American) way round, like 11/23.

Much later, I realised the full impact of this change. Young people were no longer learning how to tell the time. The big clocks on public buildings and shops were not corrected anymore, and many were left showing the same time forever. Clocks in schools and offices were changed to digital displays in the main, and not long after, the station clocks were replaced with digital alternatives too. But all this was nothing, once the mobile phone achieved its modern popularity. All phones can be set to show the time, in a digital format. Watches became redundant, for those with phones. Car clocks became linked to DAB radios, and no longer had hands either. With the exception of the iconic clock known as Big Ben, there were hardly any hands on anything that told the correct time. Digital time-keeping had arrived, on everything from a microwave oven, to the central heating controller.

Generations of people have grown up not knowing something as simple as how to tell the time by looking at a clock face.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s very sad.

Street Life (Part 1)

This is part one of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.

He watched her walking in his direction. Made him smile every time. Peroxide hair sticking up all over, leather waistcoat over a fishnet vest, and a skirt so short passing traffic almost always had a near miss, as the drivers ogled her legs. She sat down in the doorway next to him, noisily chewing the gum in her mouth. Jack nodded, but she didn’t look at him, or say anything. He let her be, allowed her to take her time. Candy was that sort of girl.
“Good day so far?” He knew what she meant, as she nodded at the collection box between his feet.
“Not bad. Nineteen quid already. One guy gave me a tenner.”
She sniffed. “Must’ve been able to afford it”.

A young postman walked past, blatantly looking at the view up Candy’s skirt, and not trying to hide the fact. She yelled at the top of her voice. “Like what you see up there, postie?” He hurried away, pushing the large red cart in front of him. She stood up, and looking down on him asked, “Wanna coffee, Jack?”. He nodded, and she held out a hand for the money. Candy never had money. Ever. He gave her some coins, and she took off toward The Strand, in the direction of McDonald’s.

Three hours later, and she hadn’t come back with the coffee. Jack smiled inside. It was so typical of Candy. But he couldn’t refuse her, even though he knew what she was like. He fancied her so much, he couldn’t hide it. She knew it too, and used that to get around him. Others on the street might not be so kind to her, so she had picked her mark well. Not that he had ever tried anything on with her. For one thing, he didn’t believe she was sixteen. She told anyone who asked that she was, and rattled off her pretend date of birth so convincingly too. Jack reckoned she was a couple of years younger, perhaps fourteen at most. It was also unlikely that her name was Candy, he knew that as well. Somewhere, some people would be looking for her, posting pictures of a missing girl on lamp-posts, hoping to hear the good news that she had been found alive. Not my business, Jack had told himself. Keep away from the Cops, no good comes from dealing with them.

Jack had seen her around since April. Hiding from the rain in his usual doorway, when he turned up early one morning. She had asked to share his blanket, and he could feel her shivering for a long time after she sat down. She didn’t say much, and he didn’t ask anything. She seemed to trust him, perhaps because he was older. Old enough to be her dad, he had guessed back then. The next time he saw her, she had the spiky blonde hair, black eye make up, and funky clothes. Probably made her think she looked older. But it didn’t work. She looked like a kid made up to look older, like in a fancy dress contest or something. She had asked him for some money, and he handed it over with a smile. In return he got a kiss on the head; soft lips, and a body smelling of unwashed clothes. It hadn’t taken her very long to get some street knowledge, and a lot of confidence. He tried to place her accent, but it kept changing. Not local, for sure. Not a Londoner.

Then again, neither was Jack. Almost four years in the city, and he hardly ever left the centre. Despite all the other beggars, winos, tramps, and chancers, there was still money to be made in the capital. Most days, he never got less than forty quid, and on a good day, as much as ninety. It all seemed a long time ago now. Coming down to London for a job that didn’t last, a flat share he couldn’t afford. Bridges burned back home, no life to go back to in the West. A few nights on benches one summer had turned into a way of life, and he had managed to disappear off the radar of society. He started to learn who to avoid, who not to upset, and how to keep clear of the authorities. Cool spots for the summer, and warm places inside during the winter. He would walk up to Ironmonger Row, and use the public swimming baths to take a shower. For a couple of quid he could use most of the facilities, and it was a nice place to spend some time on a wet day. He claimed the unemployed entrance fee, and nobody ever asked to see proof. They only had to look at him.

Washing clothes was harder than he had expected. After a few tries at washing them in toilet sinks, and trying to dry them, he gave up bothering. When what he was wearing got too dirty or uncomfortable, he jumped the bus up to Camden, and bought replacements from the charity shops there. Food was the easiest. Discarded grub outside the KFC or any burger bar. Some cafe owners who took pity on you, and gave you the out of date stuff when they were locking up. Jack wasn’t proud, and he got enough to eat. Unlike most of the others around, in fact every other person he had met on the street, he hadn’t turned to drink or drugs to get by. He sat in his doorway with the sign, and was usually reading a book, easy enough to pinch one from Waterstone’s when they were busy. He never asked anyone for money, just sat still, and hoped they would drop some in. And they did, every day since, and not one day had he ever got nothing at all.

It was getting darker. He would give it two more hours, then go and grab his latest good spot, before someone else discovered it. He had to avoid Koz tonight. That bastard was always trying to rile him, asking for money to buy booze, or crack. Jack had started to stash any notes he got in the ventilation vanes behind the bank. Then if Koz and his mates decided to rough him up, all they would find was some small change. He stretched out his legs, and waggled his feet to keep the circulation going. Looking up and down the street, he was hoping to see Candy. He worried she was alright.

To be continued…

Looking for some colour

It is nice to live here, and to be able to walk in the countryside every day. The trouble is, it’s all very green. Lots of shades of green, from pale mint, to emerald, to almost black. But still green. I tried hard to find some colour over on Hoe Rough yesterday, but it was in short supply. (Other than green)

(All photos can be enlarged, for detail.)

Some nice colourful Foxgloves.

Delicate yellow buttercups, surrounded by green things.

At least Ollie is a different colour, brown. But he was seeking shade in the river, and wouldn’t come out!