Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Its one of those Sundays isn't it? Class War stops for no rain...

I had every intention of going over to the allotment today, but it started chucking it down - Sophie came home drenched from a little sojourn with her mates just as I got dressed in suitable togs for the allotment. It's now stopped, but I have got into one of those somnolent moods that used to happen back in the old days when nothing was open on a Sunday. (I started writing this some weeks ago, had second thoughts about publishing it in a blog about gardening, but since changed my mind again, so here it is...)

Remember then? Not even the corner shop would be open, so if you had no potatoes for roasting of a lunch time you were stuffed... Once, living in Chatham, we had that very scenario on a Christmas Day can you believe. I went down the road to what was known colloquially as the "Paki Shop" and peered through the window. My old mucker, Mohamed, was tidying up and saw me. He opened up and gave me enough tats for our Christmas dinner - for it was that time of year. Suffice to say, Mohamed's shop was our favourite shop in the whole of Chatham, the beer was a touch more expensive, but that did not matter - we loved his shop.

This all brings to mind something I have noticed on the BBC recently, mostly on Radio 4. Where we first lived in Chatham - this was my first wife and family - was in an area one might describe as "working class". Mainly old dock worker's cottages, built in huge terraces up the Medway valley away from the river. And it is that evil word "class" that has reared it's ugly head on what has seemed to be every other programme over the past couple of weeks or so. 

Sheila Dillon, erstwhile Food Programme reporter, fronted a programme about grammar schools and secondary modern schools in the early 70s. David Davis took part in the programme, he went to a grammar school, Bec Grammar in Tooting (of course) and another participant, sorry can't remember her name went to a secondary modern. The premise of the programme was that grammar school kids were expected to go on to university in the early 70s, but secondary modern "graduates" didn't even hear the word mentioned whilst at school.

I beg to differ. I attended a secondary modern and was told continuously through out my "career" there, "Murray, if you play your cards right, work hard, knuckle down and get good 'O' and then 'A' levels you could go to university." Being the cantankerous little git I was, (some would say still am), I thought, "What if I don't want to go to university? What if I want to be a car mechanic or work down the mines?" (Mines? Ha! In Beckenham, Kent? I don't think so...)

Anyhow, my point is, our school had 10/12 boys go on to university every year, even back then, whilst the grammar down the road only had a half of that number do the same. University was a constant in our school lives and it had nothing to do with class, money or any such crap, most of the boys studied hard, the headmaster, Mr Locke, engendered an ethos of study and dedication. I, pillock, chose to drop out at age 14, so did not take that particular path. In 1973, when I left school, there were about 3 jobs for every school leaver, so it didn't matter that I got no 'O' levels (just 4 CSE's, TD, Civics, Maths and English). I was a fool, some may say still am.

The day I left school, a Thursday, I was actually told by the Deputy Head, Mr Parkinson to, "Just get out Murray. We don't want you here any more and what the hell are you still doing hanging round here anyway?" I had an interview on the Friday and started work on the Monday, as a trainee Quantity Surveyor, which I could not have hated more, but that is another story.

At school, there was a kid called Andrew Dalby. He was from a very well to do family, father a barrister, mother a doctor. Dalby was one of those kids who believed the hype about being good at everything - he wasn't. This is why he was at a secondary modern and not a grammar. His father was actually a decent bloke, a socialist of a kind, and would have sent him to our school anyway. It was just andrew's mother was a unbelievable, un-deconstructed snob of the worst kind. "Andrew is only here to better the surroundings," she used to laugh - knob head!

Andrew was in the year above us, played in the same football, rugby and basketball teams I was in (he lower 6th; me 5th year) and, this will make you laugh, went to the same Young Liberals parties I used to go to. I can justify the YL link here purely by the fact that they had the best looking girls and by far the best parties in Beckenham in 1973. Trust me they were incredible for someone like me, a total retard with girls, I would freeze if one ever looked in my direction AND if a girl ever deemed to talk to me I melted, or at least my tongue did.

The girls at the YL parties took pity on me and basically taught me how to kiss - remember the first time someone stuck their tongue in your mouth? Blimey!

Anyway, back to erstwhile snob Andrew Dalby. He had the sort of hair that belonged at Eton or Harrow in the late 19th century, a bit like that TV chef bloke, Ed Baines - basically, he made me feel sick...

When playing football I played right mid-field and he played behind me as right back, only he would storm up field screaming for the ball in his silly "posh" voice and expect me to cover for him. Thing was, Andrew was totally unfit and didn't get back to his position for about five minutes each time he ventured upfront like an erstwhile George Best - only thing was he was very rarely given the ball 'cos he was shit. He was in the team because his dad was a mate of the Deputy Head (I do believe there was some dodgy handshaking involved between them)  and he bought the kit for the school teams - I may have made that up but I'm sort of sure it's kinda true.

He once said to me, "If you don't cover me when I go forward, I'll make sure you never play for the school again." To say I found that funny would be akin to the statement, "Nigella Lawson hates licking her fingers in front of television cameras."

Speaking of La Lawson, here's another clue as to the looks of Dalby:

Oh it gives me the creeps. 

I think I have now set-up the state of our individual lives. Me working class scum and proud of it; Dalby, arsehole and probably proud of it too, 'cos he had money.

The scene is thus, Saturday night, Young Liberals Barn Dance, venue a school somewhere in Bromley, Kent. I spend the whole evening dancing with a very delightful girl called Sandie. We had met about a month before at another outrageous YL party and indulged in some very heavy - and I mean VERY - snogging and groping (first time I had touched a naked breast, oh my god, nipple too!) I was 15, she was 17, it could not have gotten any better than that - well it probably could have but, well you know...

Sandie and I were stalked by Dalby that night at the barn dance. Every time I looked up he was there, staring. My mate Graham, whose dad was giving me a lift home, had left early, so I had no way of getting back to Penge, but what did I care? Sandie was there and I was happy to fling her around the dance floor. She was happy too. Dalby was glowering most of the time.

At one point he came over to me while I was getting drinks.

"You are not going home with her Murray," he hissed. "There is no way THAT is going to happen!"

"OK," I laughed.

"I am serious, she is a doctor's daughter and you are the son of a nobody."

"OK," I laughed again and walked away.

The barn dance ended, Sandie and I snogged, she went off to get her coat and Dalby reappeared, leaning against the corner of a long corridor. I think he was trying to intimidate me, a bit like Lee Marvin in The Killers. I leant on the wall a bit like Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou - sans horse of course.

I was knackered from the dosey doing. Sandie returned and said, "It's nice you boys know each other."

"Is it," spat Dalby.

She grabbed us both by the arms and walked us out of the building. Her father was waiting. Oh well, come si come sa. We kissed again, this time not a snog, for obvious reasons and she said to Dalby,

"Perhaps see you at the get together next weekend?" And off she went, into the light of the dark dark night.

"See ya," I said to Dalby.

"What way are you walking Murray?"

"To Beckenham and then on to Penge of course," I strode off hoping that that was the end of our acquaintance. After 11.30 back in 1972 there were no buses and the thought of being able to get a cab was just not even an option.

The 227 bus - oh beateous thing!
"I'll come with you."

My heart sank. I would have to listen to the bastard's boasting again. Dalby boasted about his dad's money and his mother's inheritance constantly. He claimed he would never, "...really have to work as the folks have so much money..." I truly hated him.

It was four miles from Bromley to home in Avenue Road, Penge and Dalby would be with me for about three of those miles.

By the time we got to the Beckenham Regal, a truly wonderous building full of so many happy memories...

...I seriously wanted to kill Andrew Dalby. The conversation, although 40 years ago, is still very fresh in even my poor old brain.

"So, Murray, what exactly does your father do?"

"Ice cream buyer for Sainsbury," I replied

"Ice cream?" he said as if I had told him dad was a child vivi-sectionist.

"Yeah, ice cream."

"But, ice cream."

"Yes, someone has to buy it and that's what my dad does, he buys ice cream for Sainsbury," I tried to keep control of my working class urge to smack him one.

"I suppose you wondered what Sandie meant about see me next weekend?" Dalby spat "me" like he was shooting a shotgun.

"No," I said, calmly - I knew I would never see her again and I had got my first feel of a naked breast and it was a lovely (mammary) memory to have.

"Our families are very close. Her father is a doctor and her mother a barrister, which is somewhat ironic as my parents are the other way round," he snorted, he actually snorted like some upper crust twat from a rubbish period piece on Radio 4.

"You said," I tried desperately hard to be cool, but it was becoming increasingly difficult.

"Oh did I?" before I could answer he continued in an ever increasingly obnoxious voice and manner, "Yar, anyway, it's probably no time at all until we're shagging," he stared at me defiantly, almost saying, "HA!"

"Good for you. Do you fancy a run?"

I knew he wouldn't, he was a lazy sod, so I knew he would struggle to keep up with me. I ran up Westmoreland Road like I had never run before. Sure enough the lard-arse was left trailing. I stopped after about five minutes, sighed heavily in remembrance of the lovely Sandie and proceeded to almost skip down Hayes Lane and on to Wickham Road. To my utter despair I heard heavy breathing and laboured footsteps approaching. It was he!

"Good idea," he paused, taking sharp breaths, "that'll cut a bit of time off our walk."

Our walk? All of a sudden it was "Our Walk".

We parted at The Regal roundabout. His home was in Queens Road and he stupidly, yet thankfully, thought it was quicker to get there via Croydon Road - it wasn't. I saw Dalby only once or twice over the next few months - praise be! - but the last time he spoke to me he claimed he had, "...done the deed..." with Sandie. He even claimed to have "...popped her cherry." The language of teenage boys is just too repulsive, isn't it?

The funny thing is, he never did. I found out years later that Sandie's family had moved quite suddenly in early Spring 1973, her father taking on a country practice somewhere in Dorset. They had never seen each other again after the "weekend get together" after the barn dance.

I don't know who's better, class wise. Money can't buy you it; it can't buy love either. Yes, I wish I had more of it, but I have something it really can't buy, memories of a lovely working class family from The Elephant and Castle. A family who struggled; a family that didn't have shoes; a family that took a lot of stick in the 1920s just 'cos they had a jewish name. And I tell you this, I for one, am very proud of it!

Happy gardening?