An Evening in The Garibaldi
Every night for half a century the women of Green Street gathered in
the Snug of "The Garibaldi". It was a time of intimacy and relaxation, a
time for gossip and scandal. But it became something else too. It became
a time for self-justification against the outside world: among the peeling
brown paint and the stained wooden tables, their conversation evolved into
a declaration of faith in themselves and the standards by which they lived.
They talk of sex crimes reported in the newspapers. Mrs. Plackett is
the most shrill-tongued of all.
"Yer kids ain't safe, are they, wi' people like that allowed to go roamin'
the streets. " They believed that their children were the chosen prey of
the millions of sexual deviationists they imagined peopled the outside world.
Leaning forward confidentially. Poll Davies whispers hoarsely, "If it's
them sort o' things you want you don't need to goo lookin' in the noospapers.
Their heads close over the table like the petals of a flower at the approach
of rain. "Oodjer mean ? Not... ?"
"Yis. Marlene Smith. " She looks round in order to ascertain that nobody
is listening. "Mrs. Murwell told me she was gooin' past the bus shelter
last night, and she just 'appened to glance in.... And there were Marlene
Smith.... " She pauses dramatically, and looks from one to the other; "...
with 'er skirt right up over 'er 'ead. " The petals separate as
the sun comes out, and they nod to each other.
"Oo was she with, then ?"
" 'E was a lorry driver. "
"I 'spect she could tell that an' all by just lookin' in the bus shelter".
Poll says firmly, " 'Is lorry were parked not twenty yards away. She's
man-mad, that girl. Man-mad. "
One of the women is puzzled. "She can't be all there... I mean... to
stop a lorry just like that.... She wouldn't even know wot 'e was like.
Poll throws back her head and closes one eye. She speaks again with insight
and authority, as one to whom no extreme of human conduct is in any way
mysterious. "That sort don't.... Still she comes from a very funny family.
'Er mother's brother, look at 'im for a start. 'E 'ad a kink. 'E used to
sit down be the Mill as they used for a bathing place till little Wendy
Merton were drownded there, an' 'e useder be there from one end o' the summer
to the other.... Just near where the kids useder get undressed. "
"Still you've only gotter look at that Marlene's mother. She's only ninepence
in the shillin'. "
"Well, there you are, then, " says Poll, by way of explanation. 'Er ole
woman was the same, she acted as if she'd bin put in wi' the bread and pulled
out wi' the cakes. She was that damn mean she wouldn't give the drippin's
of 'er nose away on a frosty morning !"
"Peuh, " snorts Poll contemptuously, "She wun't get no sympathy out o'
me. She spoke as if the world were full of a dangerous and implacable kind
of enemy who sought to make your sympathy flow like blood.
As the oldest one present, Ellen Youl knows it is her turn to give them
the benefit of her eighty-six years' experience of life in Green Street.
"I can truthfully say I'm never bin be'olden to nobody all me life long....
I'm never expected nothin' of other people and I'm never wanted 'em to expect
nothin' o' me.... I'm kep' meself to meself and I'm never owed nobody 'alfpenny....
I'm never done nobody a bad turn and there ain't nobody on this earth I
can't look straight in the eye.... An' if a foo more people could say as
much, the world would be a damn sight 'appier place.... "
They murmur their agreement, and all the negatives in her bleak view
of the world go unnoticed.
Everybody felt constrained to make her life appear identical with everybody
else's. There was no differentiation in the way they spoke, in their ideas
and beliefs and attitudes, whether it was the communal prejudice about the
blacks or the Jews or the petrified wisdom that fell like pebbles from their
mouths as they gathered every morning outside the general store. Their conversation
consisted of identical expressions and idioms, and even the voice inflexions
did not vary as they talked in the same sepulchral way about the death of
a neighbour or the rise in price of some indispensable commodity, as if
both of these phenomena had a shared and equally incomprehensible origin.
They always appeared downtrodden and oppressed, and as they spoke disaster
always appeared imminent, death, privation and want lay permanently in wait.
In the corner Granny Bray is crying silently into the dregs of her beer,
and no one pays any attention to her because they think she is drunk. But
she is crying because she remembers a Sunday afternoon in July that seemed
to last for ever, cool beer in an enamel jug, the rickety wooden chair on
the hot pavement, a ham tea and the voices of children. She cries not because
she regrets it, but for no other reason than that she remembers; it may
be the smell of the beer that releases it, and it rises up in her like a
strong choking vapour, forcing the present into oblivion.
From The Unprivileged by Jeremy Seabrook, published by