THE ALL SAINTS
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by MEI
Jimmy Bramble was pushing 8 when submitted to his first kiss. Alison Beaumont, a pretty 11 year old brunette, declared her mission and gave chase. Jimmy was fast and evaded capture effortlessly; anticipating direction, wrong footing every move. Exhausted he scoffed, hunched over, choking at failed attempts not figuring on, Katie Grimes, an undetected accomplice who, upon the next bout, caught him unawares and tripped him to the ground. Alison gleefully ran across, pinned him flat and restrained his arms. He struggled trying to dodge, darting his head this way and that. As she moved in, her long hair cascaded, shrouding his face from gathering onlookers. When completely dark she kissed him. It felt unusual, a primal rush unlike any other. In a blink she released him from grip. Jimmy had crossed over and glimpsed boyhood, an encounter foreshadowing manner and form.
Jimmy Bramble was an absurdly good-looking, tall and perfectly moulded young lad. He was one of three siblings, all of whom, by virtue of appearance, involuntarily ran against the grain. Fully grown; Christopher was the eldest; a charismatic leader with a loyal pack of followers, Laurie was the second eldest, a slender bespectacled intellectual and Jimmy the baby of the bunch. They were essentially West Indian, an ethnic cocktail of Madras mixed with a jigger of Chinese and Black. Shockingly his folks joked Jimmy, was a “Red Nigger” slang for an American Indian on account of his fair skin. He would aggressively beg to differ but truth be told he was more Sendhil Ramamurthy than Shemar Moore; a preteen’s dream complete with sky high cheekbones and blowout hair. His parents were from Guyana; he was, what is termed a second gener, the son of 1st generation immigrants. It was of little consequence in 1970’s Britain, either way he was in exile. A Londoner, not yet a Brit; a nomad circling seeking permission to land.
His parents were eager to adopt a British way of life; instinctively trying to shield them from the bigotry they encountered by helping them integrate. His Mum, Tamil adopted a British alias Doreen. As an inquisitive lad, Jimmy would ask her which was her real name and why she had two. She said her British name was Doreen and not to use the other as it would confuse people. When she signed cheques he noticed she used her real name. He was confused, why was she acting undercover? His Dad had a British name, Vincent but also had a second name, Sonny his friends used, although confusing, he found it agreeably less covert.
It was of little consequence as they were only kids; more soul surviving than soul searching. It wasn’t till he left school he started to seek answers to his childhood questions. Why did they eat Black Cake and not Sherry Trifle? Why did his school friends get the slipper and not the belt? Where did it all start and how did a Chinese man named Bramble wind up in Guyana?
His first day at Croyland Primary was a frightfully vicious introduction to school life. Quite grim looking idemise, Croyland was a collection of red brick Victorian buildings located in Lower Edmonton, North London. The corridors were cold and drab serviced by beige cast iron radiators deliberately switched off to save money. The windows were placed up high so they couldn’t see out of them and guarded by a wire mesh grill. It was a mixed school and contained both nursery and junior sections. On his first day he felt nervous and abandoned as does every kid, but unlike every kid Jimmy was black and ripe for the picking. At first break the older boys, a gang of three cornered Jimmy in a shady lean-to out of view of the teachers. They sneered and harangued; pushing and prodding, searching his pockets, stealing his things. It was the beginning of a terrifying ordeal. Every day they subjected him to sadistic humiliation, a sordid practice that would leave the most resilient suicidal. He would hide in fear when he saw them coming until one day he decided to fight back.
They gathered snarling, crowding him out concealing their vile behaviour. Before they could open their spiteful gobs he yelled;
“Get away from me, I’m warning you!”
They laughed, cueing Jimmy to pounce; lashing out twisted. They were startled; he could see the panic in their eyes. His arms flailed to create distance, then he grabbed them one by one. First he tore into the ring leader’s scrawny face with his nails and when prostrate gasping for air he grabbed the other one and shoved him down. The third denied involvement pleading
“It wasn’t me, they made me do it.” but he was and Jimmy beat him repeatedly
about the face. He lost it, he simply did not care anymore and that empowered him to do anything he wanted, revenge. The playground ground to a halt and a crowd gathered. He was so blind, when his teacher approached he hit him too. Thankfully he read the situation and backed off, pulled the crowd away and crept up slowly, arms outstretched, hands patting down, hushing him calm. He eased up and submitted.
“What’s wrong Jimmy?” he whispered, looking him in the eye.
The ring leader got in first “He went mad and hit me for nothing Sir,”
The teacher knew it was totally out of character “Shut up Thompson”.
“What happened Jimmy, What did they do? It’s alright you can tell me, nothing will happen.”
Panting and exasperated he identified the creeps and blurted it all out. He felt relieved, a tremendous weight had been lifted. The secret was out and there was no going back. They were told to stay away or face the consequences. The bullying ceased and like the snivelling cowards they were, withdrew back to their lair. Jimmy was no fool. He knew they felt no guilt or remorse, only fear they would be outed to their parents. Afterwards they tried to worm their way back and make friends with him, they even tried to recruit him. In their twisted little minds that would have made it acceptable; he scoffed and abandoned them in disgust. They quickly went back to their old ways. Soon after, Jimmy saw them pick on another boy but their new target snitched to his parents and they were removed. Even though it was a triumph Jimmy felt numb as the scars were fresh and ran deep. He had a choice either wallow in self-pity or turn it round; the scales stood unevenly balanced waiting patiently to weigh the manner of the man.
Thankfully when Jimmy turned 8 his parents moved him from Croyland to another Junior School, All Saints. Despite the school having the same cold brick exterior it somehow felt warmer. On his first day he sensed his classmates were alright. It was quiet plain they weren’t the bulling type, just tough kids who liked to fight a lot. At first break they introduced themselves and to his shock a playground initiation ensued. He was to take on Prakesh (Pra), the boy he had just made friends with.
“Do him or we’ll do ya?” These lads were platinum persuaders. Reluctantly he went at it with a half-hearted tussle before the teacher stepped in. He got a ticking off for starting trouble, not a great impression to make on his first day, but like a good patsy, took the blame and kept his mouth shut. In the furore he could hear them say. ‘Yeah, the new boy’s alright, he’s with us now.” He emerged from the trial in disarray but happy to have earned his stripes and be accepted into the fold.
Jimmy was keen to keep in with his new friends. He willingly gave into peer pressure. Kael Stewart, a tall black dude and Simon Randall, a Welsh lad with a ginger bob and freckles congregated outside a targeted newsagents on their bikes after school. Jimmy felt uneasy as he knew they were up to no good. They cased the joint devising a strategic plan of attack.
“Jimmy, you wait here. You’re the lookout.” Ordered Kael.
His accomplices would wait for the right moment; say a crowded breakout of school kids and then go in. They eyed up the goods and placed their orders; Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, Milk Gums the stuff on open display, Cough Drops and Bonbons were a no go as they were kept in jars on shelves behind the counter. They chipped in to the whip; Simon and Kael walked in. They ordered a quart of Bulls Eyes from a jar on the high shelf behind. While server’s back was turned they stuffed their pockets with 1 penny chews. The theft window was short and if caught they would drop the loot and pretend to be tying shoelaces then scoop them up later on the way out. Jimmy’s heart pounded, why were the taking so long? He spotted potential trouble and rang his bike. With only seconds to spare they emerged flushed but jubilant. It was a rush but inside Jimmy was resenting his involvement. They went round the corner to divi up the spoils but he had changed his mind and passed. Simon kept shoving them in his face trying to tempt him.
“It’s alright Jimmy you don’t have to, leave him Si.”
Jimmy said he’d take the ones they paid for. Simon took one out, grinned,
popped it in his mouth and rode off;
“Never mind, you can have mine this time“ said Kael handing over the Bulls Eyes then rode off, chasing down Simon. From that day Jimmy followed Kael regardless.
They were caught for a minor altercation at school and both faced the cane. They stood in the Heads office; exhilaration turned to remorse as reprimand loomed. Mr. Nash, the Head was every bit the Shelly Menace; a dark shuffling zombie with dead eyes, you could almost see the bolt connectors on his neck. He flexed the birch as he lectured them on why they should behave. The stings from his imminent thrashing would have been Jimmy’s guess, it was all he could think about. When quizzed, Kael gallantly fessed up for initiating the incident. He knew it was his idea and he thought there was still hope for Jimmy. Mr. Nash put the cane back in his special hiding place, said that he did not want to see him again and turned his attention towards Kael. It wasn’t the first time he had been in this position and this time he was going to teach him well, instead of three lashes he would get ten.
Kael grinned at Jimmy and with his eyes pointing to the floor whispered “Look
Jimmy looked on in total disbelief as pee ran down his trousers and collected
into a pool at his feet; he moved away, nose sniggered at his riposte and left. Everyone was afraid of Nash but not Kael. It was the ultimate show of defiance. Jimmy gazed through the window as Nash put his back into it. He didn’t wince once but instead looked across and gently smiled achieving instant redemption and martyrdom.
Jimmy was 10 and experimenting, exercising his wild streak pushing the boundaries to see how far he could take it. If ever there was a moment that bought him back from the brink it was the intervention on Mr. Pringle, Geography teacher and clog wearing Monitor Appointer.
“We are going to make you a Monitor Jimmy,” he announced “Let me see your record—“ He looked at his report card “—You’ve been good lately, keeping out of trouble I see, well done,”
“Yes Sir, Thank you.”
Jimmy knew what they were doing and accepted the post only because it meant he could avoid assembly. He wore a badge and was assigned late duties (lates). His job was to note anyone who was late. Anyone late more than three times got detention.
He was on lates with Prakesh when Royston, a Yardie, strolled in. Royston had the face and the intelligence of a pack mule. He strutted pass without a care in world, blatantly ignoring them;
“Hold on, you’re late, you got to sign the book,” yelled Jimmy
Bearing in mind Royston’s hard man status there was little chance of compliance;
He sucked his equine teeth “Cha..If you book me we gon’ fight,”
Jimmy’s heart pounded but knew he couldn’t back down.
“Oi! Where you going, you deaf? I said sign the freakin’ book,”
Prakesh looked agog; he had delivered an unequivocal slap in the face;
“ Right, tomorrow after school down the brook- -” he paused “- -hold on I got
another fight then. We’ll do it Thursday mid-break.”
It was settled. “Mate you gonna fight a brother?” said Pra.
“Maybe he’s your brother but he ain’t mine,”
“He could have paid up?” Pra muttered. Jimmy and Pra often accepted bribes
to look the other way.
“Nah, he don’t deserve it,”
Pra shook his hand in reverence “Christ, Royston you got some bottle, good luck mate.”
The bout was due after English. It was uppermost in his mind. Everyone knew and mouths were chattering, Jimmy played it down and tried to hush them as it was adding to his anxiety. He made his way to the boys’ toilet, singularly focused on the job in hand. There was no backing down he had to go through with it or be labelled a chicken. Simon Randall held his jacket and he got into it straight away. To his surprise and relief, Royston despite his tough boy image was puny, he had nothing. Jimmy proceeded to toss him around like a rag doll; slamming his back on the sink and his head on the urinal. He actually held back as he did not want to seriously hurt him. That was a mistake. As he switched to defence mode Royston got a jab into his eye and a catty scratch or two. Jimmy may have looked the loser, but the verdict was unanimous. He was declared winner and achieved instant notoriety.
Students unknown to him, shook his hand. “Did you fight Royston? Well done man he’s a dick.” Royston gave him dagger stares after but Jimmy stared him down; if he wanted to go again he’d regret it Jimmy would make sure of that. He was beginning to believe in himself and stand strong.
Simon dropped round the Grocers Shop where Jimmy’s family lived. He’d stop on his bike and pop his head through the door whilst seated.
“Hi Mrs Bramble is Jimmy there?”
“How are you Simon?”
“Ok Mrs Bramble,”
“Jimmy it’s your friend,” she yelled
Jimmy would tumble down the stairs and manoeuver his bike out of the side entrance.
“Don’t stay out late,”
Jimmy was free and off again on another adventure; Simon on his red Chopper and Jimmy on an unsafe 3 speed Laurie nicknamed Mower Man, a sinister Steven King entity, evil with murderous intent. They raced up to Edmonton Green Shopping Center and powered up to the top of the NCP cark park.
Simon pointed to a couple, way into the distance, on the roof of the high rise flats opposite. “See over there? That’s where they’re doing it.”
Jimmy looked puzzled as he explained what “doing it” was. Jimmy knew he was a bit weird as he was into Siouxsie & the Banshees but this seemed nuts even for him.
Jimmy repeatedly shook his head “You’re mad, don’t be stupid.”
Then Marvin Foulkes pulled up and corroborated the process; Jimmy now knew it had to be true as Marvin “never lied.” They knew its significance but it went over Jimmy’s head and he put it out of mind.
No one looked better in flares and platform shoes than Jimmy’s Jamaican friend Marvin Foulkes; they practically invented the seventies for him. Marvin was a stocky unusually muscular Jamaican with a larger than life attitude. His brother was a body builder and they often pumped weights together. He was a poser and would constantly preen himself in shop windows, picking and patting his Afro puffing his bulging physique under his skin tight chequered tank top.
Marvin lived in in a mid-terrace house in a run-down part of Lower Edmonton. It had a white washed exterior hiding a rather dank and dingy interior. Jimmy was round Marvin’s when Martin Crow, an All Saints’ expellant popped in. A shaft of sunlight spilled through the split in the curtains illuminating a stained paisley carpet. Martin sat on a plastic orange settee picking his soars as Jimmy entered. Martin was the crazy white kid everyone tried to avoid; a scraggy pint sized hoodlum with mousey blond hair. He’d strip off to his underpants and run to the school gate yelling “let me out” then battle the teachers as they dragged him back kicking and screaming. After he’d been suspended for striking a teacher he disappeared off the radar. No one knew what had become of him and now, there he was, measuring up Jimmy for size. His hoodlum status paled into insignificance next to his brother, Tel. Tel had left All Saints years ago but his rebellious behaviour became the stuff of urban myth. No one had seen him; some said he was doing bird others that he’d topped himself. Jimmy found Martin’s presence awkwardly unnerving but stayed; without fanfare a man entered.
Marvin shook his hand “Jimmy, this is Mart’s brother, Tel, Tel Jimmy,”
Tel, a pock-faced, scraggy looking creature sat next to Martin, looking on edge. Martin grinned, he enjoyed seeing Jimmy squirm, trying to control his panic.
“Alright Jimmy, so you go to All Saints? That’s my old school,” said Tel
“I know,” said Jimmy.
“Yeah, how do you know?”
Jimmy felt boxed in “I just heard about you,”
“Oh yeah, what did you hear?”
“Yeah, that’s right nothing. Look you seem alright Jimmy but I shouldn’t be here so keep shtum, right?”
Jimmy’s nerves had settled, he was happy to gain acceptance; he made his excuses and left. When the coast was clear he went back to see Marvin later. His Dad answered the door, a frail man with Parkinson’s disease, he felt uneasy and was unsure how to act. Marvin stepped in and helped his Dad to his seat. Although uncomfortable to watch, he now saw Marvin in a new mature light.
Marvin’s Dad stared him in the eye and spoke slowly “You stay away from those boys. They are no good and the older one just broke parole.”
He nodded emphatically “Yes Mr Foulkes,”
Marvin argued “They’re alright, don’t worry Jimmy, he don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Then it all kicked off. Funnily enough Jimmy now felt relaxed as they looked like a normal family arguing, shouting. Mr. Foulkes was still his father and to prove it got up and gave him a clip round the ear.
Kael was best friends with Marvin and although there was the odd challenge
from his lieutenant Kael remained Top dog. Jimmy didn’t know how he earned the crown but he must have made a legendary play for it. Marvin was rebellious to the end and the next day announced their encounter with Tel to Kael and the lads at school but no-one believed him but Jimmy had gained credibility. They looked at him for affirmation and he gave the nod. Everyone was in awe and they became the legends who met the myth. Days later Marvin’s Dad complained that his gold jewellery was missing; it accelerated his condition and he was admitted to intensive care.
His company and surroundings, toughened him, offered protection. The shy wimp was getting harder by the day, a quality that would serve him well in later life. Jimmy liked All Saints he stayed there until he moved to secondary school. His damaged crew of misfits stuck together and forged a bond.
Jimmy, nearly 11, knocked round for Kael on the way to All Saints. Kael would never be ready so his very accommodating teenage sister would offer him rice and peas while he casually got dressed. Even though they were running late he would stroll down and slowly munch breakfast pea by pea. Jimmy tried coming early to avoid the rush but to no avail. In the end he stopped coming round but Kael said his sister Sharon kept asking after him. He kept making excuses but eventually gave in. She must have had a heated word or two as from then onwards they were never late again. It was apparent Kael’s sister had more than passing affection for Jimmy. She hung around fussing unnecessarily and one day deliberately ignored Kael.
“He will be a while, would you like some juice Jimmy?”
“Just water please,”
She rushed to the kitchen and hurried back looking round to make sure the coast was clear. She undid a button on her white blouse on the way back and leant over, bearing all as she placed the glass down on the side table.
“Do you like me Jimmy?”
Jimmy palpitated, his eyes popping. Before he could reply she tilted his face up with her long red nails and stole a kiss, feeding her lips and tongue. When Kael came down he quickly wiped the oily slick onto his blazer hurriedly concealing the thrill.
“Bye Jimmy, see you tomorrow,”
She shoot a naughty glance as he left; it remained a one-off, his cheeky little secret filed away for future reference. They all acted like model school boys when it suited but were as thick as thieves when out of sight. They hid their secret behaviour; no-one ever knew what they got up to and that’s the way they liked it.
It was a blistering hot summer’s day in 1976. Jimmy ventured in his crisp new uniform for his first day at Rowntree, a modern comprehensive in Upper Edmonton. Parents pulled up in cars, groups of kids came in together but Jimmy arrived alone. The building was a 1960’s rectangular block edifice, practical with no redeeming features. His classroom was a flimsy unit part of a row of blue and white pre-fab huts originally intended as a temporary extension. It was the link school for All Saints; Prakesh, Kael, Simon and Marvin had made it across. Jimmy was relieved to see his crew and they immediately congregated together awaiting instructions.
They were on their best behaviour wanting to make a good impression. Unfortunately Ian Michaels had other ideas. Ian, a short stumpy white kid, at first break was blocking the exit and tripped up Kael on his way out.
Kael got up, Ian smirked “Wog-a-matter?”
Kael decked him with an instant bust to the chops, no thinking time required. It was beautiful, blood oozed from his disrespectful mouth. Now Jimmy was smirking. About five of Ian’s friends rushed in and squared up to them. The lines had been drawn they didn’t have to pretend. They were All Saints boys; deprived working class lads with an immovable sense of pride, if they wanted to play rough it would be at their peril.
Having comprehensively removed the Welcome mat from under their feet it was now being used to beat them about the face with. This was the wog-hating 70’s born out of Enoch Powell’s xenophobic rhetoric. Having refused to buy into the positive show reels of politely spoken immigrants from the SS Windrush, lines were instead drawn, riots ensued and rot set in. Ten years of prejudice proudly passed down from one generation to the next leaving Jimmy an innocent casualty of an unheralded racial war. The All Saints boys were as tough as nails conditioned by preceding circumstance and resignation. The time to preach ethics had gone, that was someone else’s battle; all that mattered was the fight, the win.
Jimmy’s folks were quite progressive and open minded; they would catch a little of the Al Johnson-esque golliwogs dance and sing on the Black and White Minstrel Show . His folks couldn’t believe the bear faced cheek of the BBC. For racist whites it was righteous celebration and put the wog in his place. For moderates it was at the very least a guilty pleasure. Jimmy’s folks would spy on the show to ‘see what they were up to.’ Doreen would let slip a cheeky laugh and say she didn’t know how they got away with it adding
“They (whites) love this one you know; it’s pure wickedness.”
His parents were tolerant and even though it was unacceptable they put up with it. However, they drew the line at Alf Garnett’s social commentary Till Death Us Do Part; that show was different, altogether a more visceral attack. In one episode Alf declared that Blacks were in “Africa swinging from the bleeding trees” the following day it was repeated at school ad infinitum but the kids were not to blame they picked it up from the BBC; the leading bastion of Britishness, racism had become institutional. Love Thy Neighbour, Jim Davidson’s offensive “Chalky” it was shameful hypocrisy; a charade dressed as a parody, solely to feed blood hungry bigots and up the ratings.
Jimmy had developed a defence system second to none, bold and cuttingly sarcastic. It disarmed all but the most determined
“Oi jungle bunny!”
“Is that it? Is that all you got. How about Wog, why don’t you try that instead?” Jimmy would shock, drawing them in then flip the bird adding “You fuckin’ tossers?” willing them on, inviting them to strike.
Puzzled by Jimmy’s mixed looks the taunters didn’t know what to call him; so they called him everything under the sun. Prakesh and Jimmy often compared field notes rating the slurs out of 10. Nig-nog or sambo was a 2 at best. Pickaninny, although technically not a slur was a 10 along with Nigger. Spear Chucker in particular was brutally snappy, very ‘National Front’ a fine weapon of choice. It possessed a quality all the others lacked, striking visuals; no need to close your eyes to imagine that one; the phrase practically screamed the bush.
“Yeah, coon gets on my wick, Can you believe Alf Garnet. Where did he come from?”
“Yeah, if words can’t hurt try coon on for size and tell me how you feel now?” said Prakesh.
“Yeah, that’s a hard 10.”
The All Saints lads took no-nonsense. Jimmy and Pra compared battle tactics;
“Trouble is the comebacks are lame, I mean what is there, Honky?”
“Have you tried using snowflake or whitey?” mocked Jimmy
“Yeah I know, you may as well give them a hug,”
Jimmy nodded in agreement. “True, true,”
“Just do what I do, you can’t fight fire with fire, it makes you one of them,”
“So what else?”
“You got to be smarter, hit them with the truth, the truth hurts,”
“You lost me,”
“Dave Warren called me a monkey.
“What did you do?
“Held my nose, said at least I don’t smell like one, Every one fell about,”
“Shame,” Jimmy mocked
“Point is, it shut him up because it’s true. Anyway he lunged at me. I smacked him down cold, ain’t seen him since.”
Jimmy knew he had the moxy he had been there before but Pra’s advice gave him agency, the confidence to try. In the days that followed Jimmy took Pra’s lead and changed his caveman approach; his aim was to outwit and destroy them psychologically. Given the climate it wouldn’t be long before he was tested. Keith White and his latest squeeze Kelly were blocking the corridor.
Keith sniffed barged pass. “ ’Cor, what’s that stink? ”Jimmy clenched his fist, a reflex but was unexpectedly gifted an own goal “Fucking puh-puh-paki” Keith stuttered.
Spit flew covering Kelly; rather than hit out he gave Kelly his monogrammed hanky. She accepted and smiled.
“What are you doing you coon?”
“Leave it Keith,” said Kelly
Jimmy had heard enough “Make your mind up, which am I, Coon or puh-puh Paki?” He started his assault.
“It’s a nasty habit you got there kuh-kuh-Keith. Can you give us some warning next time?”
“Fuck off you Wog,”
A crowd of spectators gathered.
“Behave yourself Keith or I’ll have to tell your Mum….I mean I would tell your Dad but visiting hours clash?”
The crowd erupted hysterically, Keith was on the ropes looking to strike.
Jimmy was more than happy to oblige. Kael stepped in offering support “Yeah he’s banged up isn’t he?”
“He’s out,” said Keith, as if that were some form of defence.
“Great I’ll just wait till he comes round for the bins then. Wednesday is it?” Jimmy stepped forward eager to smash his face in but Keith thought better of it, outnumbered and outwitted he backed off.
“Shame” said Marvin. “You got roasted.”
Keith grabbed Kelly but she wouldn’t budge, his humiliation was complete. Mackey the Head came along and the crowd quickly dispersed.
Jimmy was enthralled; he dear not speak to Kelly before now. Her smile drove him to distraction, he ran the moment over and over in his head. She customised her uniform using ribbons, scarves and badges; a wild untamed extrovert. You could quiet easily imagine her as a pop singer or actress hosting her own show. Jimmy didn’t understand the attraction to Keith but the mystery seeped into every pore, intoxicating his uncomplicated brain. Her father owned a printing firm and was loaded; he dropped her off in his Merc every morning. She was smart; excelled in English Literature and took a keen interest in the Arts.
He confided in Pra;
“What does she see in that buffoon anyway? He’s one ugly git. I guess if you’re white you’re right?”
Jimmy and Pra had a severe inferiority complex but not wanting to appear weak, hid it well. It was hard to feel on top when you were constantly put down and told to stay back. They felt that if they were white all their problems would disappear. In an effort to supress his blackness Jimmy would hold his fat lips, when around girls. Pra wore heavy deodorant to mask any traces of curry on his clothing and constantly popped breath mints to obscure hints of garlic breath even though he had neither. The pressure to fit in was immense; with Teen angst atop of racial prejudice the cards were stacked against them. Every unstable reject took aim; all their insecurities channelled and directed toward them. The blacks were the cause of all their problems. The reason why their parents split, why they were failing in class; why they got beaten indoors. The times produced a second generation breed of hardened survivors, some with shoulder chips others, like The All Saints, rose and left it behind.
Prakesh was confident; even at 13 he had charisma. He was quiet debonair but aloof. The girls seemed to like his mystery and he certainly had no lack of admirers. Jimmy choose to rebel against the system; he had the smarts but opted out of the race, it just wasn’t his bag. He rapidly slipped down from the top set through to the middle then further through boredom to the bottom set, where all the trash were written off. Jimmy was at least top of the bottom; no mean achievement considering Russell Burkett, the best hope before Jimmy, scored minus 10 for misspelling his own name and as a consequence known as Roosell from that day onwards.
The teachers were biased and taught the upper set keenly but behaved more like animal tamers when teaching the rest. They virtually told Jimmy’s parents he would amount to nothing suggesting he ‘take a course in metalwork.’ The school moto was ‘Non nobis solum,’’ “Not for ourselves alone” but it may well have been ‘Everyman for himself’ as far as Jimmy felt. They seemed to have a chip on their shoulder; typical stereo types that couldn’t hack in the real world and had to settle for second best. Jimmy knew he could beat the odds. His parents trusted him, they had a hands off approach and led by action; it just remained for him to follow.
The school yard was buzzing with talk. Prakesh grabbed Jimmy and rushed him into the yard.
“Hey Simon, tell him about Marvin,”
“Don’t you know? There’s a fight, Marvin and Keith after school.”
“What, why’s that?” asked Jimmy.
“Apparently Kelly switched sides. Seems she has a preference for bronze biceps.”
“What Marvin is with Kelly?” exclaimed Jimmy mortified.
“Apparently she ditched Keith after your little display a chivalry, Jimmy.”
“So there together ‘cause of me?”
“Nah, don’t flatter yourself mate,” said Simon
“That’s like claiming to E=mc² because you lent Einstein your pen.” Pra scotched
“How many run-ins you had with Keith?” asked Pra
“Well you should have cashed in. You got to be quick Jimmy. Oh you don’t know Si Jimmy’s got the hots or Kelly.”
“No I don’t, ignore him Si,” denied Jimmy trying to brush it off.
“Too slow Jimmy. I don’t blame you, she’s a bit out of your league though mate,” said Simon.
“I told you I ain’t interested,”
“She’s just a flirt mate you’re best of out of it,” consoled Simon.
Jimmy buried his feelings, this was real, if it went off with Keith’s lot he would have to dive in.
Keith had it coming; his dad was doing a stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure for beating a black outside a taxi rank after spitting on his wife. To his detriment he had picked on a Congolese diplomat outside the consulate. As far as Keith was concerned all Blacks were scum.
Keith was no match for Marvin, he was a feeble 4ft nothing with attitude; not enough to win against musclebound Marvin, it was going to be a blood bath. A long tangled noisy procession trailed from the school exit to Bush Hill Park, a brick enclosure with boutique flower beds and pruned rose bushes. They congregated under the ivy trestle a welcomed shield from the searing heat. Most of the noise was coming from the girls; ‘Don’t do it, it’s not worth it.’
The lads were busy running a book on who would win. This was more than a playground scrap but a clash of ideals, a matter of principal. The entire school had come to witness the final act in the racial war. When they got to the park there was a lot of posturing and fighting talking but little action.
Jimmy yelled “Go on then, hit him.” and shoved Marvin forward.
It all went off and in the confusion Jimmy got a clout or two himself. The crowd grouped around the pair, swaying this way and that to avoid a whack. Marvin was playing with Keith dancing around him in circles, jabbing him turning to the girls and winking. Keith was getting creamed, then out of nowhere he pulled a blade. Everyone pulled away;
“Behave yourself I’m warning you,” said Marvin.
“Fuck off you prick.”
Keith ran at Marvin, Kael stuck his foot out and tripped him. Keith’s mob were lying in wait and went to rush Marvin and the boys. Then the cavalry arrived in the form of Deputy Head, Mr. Todd who quickly broke it up. Keith was suspended then expelled a week later. Kael had the final word, protecting his brethren with the slickest of moves before recess.
As the years drifted Kael was less the subversive dissident and more the bullish deviant. The straight and dependable friend Jimmy knew was changing. They used to bunk school together and listen to his jazz funk collection; Morrissey Mullen, Roy Ayers and Thelonious Monk.
“Cool stuff ah?”
“Where did you get this stuff?”
“It’s my dad’s, he was in a band,”
“You must be proud?” He remained silent.
The All Saints crew looked up to him but he started drifting, smoking with the drop outs round the bike sheds, experimenting with chemicals. He planted a half used packet of Benson’s and a pipe in Jimmy’s jacket. That evening Jimmy’s mum spotted them and thought the worst. It was pretty condemning evidence. He had been framed for a crime he didn’t commit; the injustice burnt him, he was seething.
Jimmy didn’t understand the betrayal and offered a truce a chance to thrash it
out. They chatted as they made their way to the chip shop in Edmonton Green, making small talk, ignoring the neon elephant up on its haunches. Jimmy was about to turn the subject onto recent events when they got pulled aside by the Police for a stop and search. They singled Kael out and let Jimmy be. Jimmy looked on in disbelief as they rifled through his pockets and possession. He had nothing, just a snotty handkerchief and some pens. He said they stopped him all the time for no reason,
Jimmy felt affronted. “Why don’t you pipe up?”
“You don’t know what it’s like. Look sorry about your Mum and that, I will tell her it was me. I panicked when the teachers came, I knew they would not suspect you.”
“Don’t worry about that. Why didn’t you tell me about the sus”
“You don’t know man. If I complain they get heavy, there’s no point. You can’t win it’s just the way it is.”
Jimmy now understood his dysfunction and felt empathy. It was his first case of institutional racism he had witnessed. Nothing more was said; he regained respect for Kael and forgave past transgressions.
“It’s just noise Kael, the best thing you can do to fight it is to win, shove it in their face.”
Jimmy was brought up in Seymour Road, Haringey in a mid-terrace Victorian house. It had stain glass windows and a basement with a coal shoot used to collect fuel for the wrought iron fire steads. His family was decidedly working class in a fanciful middle class area with pleasant neighbours and good schools. Whilst his Dad was out to work Mum would stitch leather car seat covers to make some extra cash. His earliest memory was of trying to block his baby brother, Josh from the old black Singer as his Mum pumped the pedals, marshalling him above the din.
His Dad had a Super 8 mm camera and would hold movie screenings. He’d darken the room and project the reels onto a large white screen. They laughed and joked as the images revived precious memories. His Mum shot the one where Dad was swirling figure of eights on a sandy beach in their spruce green Zodiac. They clapped as it seemed incredibly rebellious to see his Dad creating such juvenile havoc. Their parents worked hard but always found time for the kids. Entertainment was a spontaneous and simple pleasure. Dad would let out the budgie and they’d chase it round the room. Laurie would grab the tortoise from Dad’s prized compost heap, set it down and if he didn’t move Mum would plant some lettuce away from him so he’d have to crawl over to eat it; they’d complain. “Mum can we get a rabbit? This tortoise is rubbish, it don’t do nothin’.”
They’d take turns steering the car round the parking lot at the Ally Pally. Poised on his lap Jimmy would steer whilst Dad controlled the pedals. He would speed up and at the very last second stop short of cliff hanging danger, eliciting exhilarated cheers and screams. On Saturday they’d be summoned to the front room to DJ. Dad would fire up the gram and Mum would tell them what to play. Jimmy would stack up the records and they would drop and play one by one. The Leader of the Pack was a favourite. They’d repeatedly rein-act the line “look out look out” when the lovers Bike crashed and erupt into fits of laughter screeching “Quick put it on again, just that bit.” These memories helped define Jimmy; the pet budgie escaping out the window, sneaking downstairs to spy on his parents late night parties, Grandma smuggling homemade pine tarts to him in the kitchen.
Jimmy was uprooted from the middle class civility of Haringey to the harsh streets of Edmonton. His parents had bought a grocer’s shop and named it Mini Market. It was a pragmatic move and meant his Mum could look after the kids whilst earning a few quid running the shop. Jimmy found his new surroundings exciting, he had no idea they had moved down market. Nothing important had changed, they were the same family merely in a different location.
The shop was part of a three story end a terrace building at the top end of Market Parade; a row of ten shops. His dad built a bathroom on the ground floor and they were two to a bed upstairs. Their stubborn tortoise was now a mouse-catching cat named Susie. Their polite suburban neighbours were now personable shop keepers.
Living above a shop had its’ own set of challenges. Jimmy and his brothers scavenged the non-sellers from the shop and cooked their own meals rather than burden Mum. They all worked in the shop; his Dad more on the periphery, writing up the books, erecting shelves, creating high impact special offer posters. The shop became a community hub and had many regulars, characters of some note.
Jimmy was putting in a shift after school when Marvin and Kelly walked in.
“Alright Jimmy do you know Kelly?”
“No I don’t think so, Hi.”
Kelly smiled “Hi Jimmy,”
“How’s trick’s?” said Marvin trying to gain traction.
“It’s ok, what brings you here then?”
“Nothing just passing. Oh Jimmy, give us a pack of Marlboro,”
“I can’t, you know the age thing, sorry,”
Marvin leaned in and whispered “What you doing man, come on you’re making me look bad?” wi
Jimmy wanted to impress Kelly more than he wanted to show up Marvin “Ok, but I can’t do it here. I’ll meet you in the kebab shop later.”
Jimmy prescribed nicknames to all regulars for fun. Army boy was a big spender, a bachelor, always harping on about national service and how they should bring it back to eradicate juvenile delinquency. Marvin and Kelly walked round pretending to shop.
“Alright Jimmy, you on today. Where’s your brother?” he asked
“Drew the short straw ay?”
“I don’t mind,”
“Doing your duty ay? You’re too polite Jimmy,”
Opposite the shop was the poodle parlour run by the Poodle Women a perky slip of women who took her styling tips from the Gotham City’s Joker. She sported a bouffant perm, geisha girl complexion and bore an uncanny resemblance to her canine clients. She would stock up on dog paraphernalia, quality dog food and talk incessantly about shedding blades and scissor clippers blunted on German Shepherds;
“Alright Jimmy, Cor blimey what a day. I’m only supposed to do poodles. It’s the last time I take on a Great Dane it took four of us to get him in the bath.” She paused for breath “Hello” she said looking at Marvin and Kelly, they were holding hands.
“You should have seen the muck. It will take all day to fix it, is the lemon bleach still on sale?”
“Alright mate I can see you’re busy I’ll see you later,” said Marvin
“Bye Jimmy” said Kelly rippling her fingers.
Army Boy interjected “Things have changed since my day, You got a girl Jimmy?”
“No, I haven’t,”
“Lovely young lad like you alone,” added Poodle women “That’s no life, I know plenty of girls that would love to date you.”
“There you go Jimmy, better get moving mate hahha!”
The point was made all the more poignant as the girl he wanted had just left, he felt torn. On one hand he could not challenge Marvin; that was against the code but on the other, he felt he had been cheated. The girl he wanted was dating his friend and all he could do was bitch.
Jimmy got ready to shut up shop when Sterilised Women, a manic eccentric squeezed through the door. She had the aesthetics of a prize winning gurner; sprouted two chin whiskers and smelt of cats. She’d dash through and snap up twelve bottles of sterilised milk every day. They never knew what she did with them or why she needed so many. It was not their business to pry but it was positively burning a hole in his brain trying to figure it out.
“Hi Jimmy just the milk oh and can I settle up my tab?”
Jimmy was in a rush to escape and couldn’t handle her fish breath. He yelled up without thinking “Mum it’s Sterilised Women,”
Jimmy was hugely embarrassed and ran upstairs in a panic.
Mum shrieked through gritted teeth “Jimmy I told you to be careful, not out loud,”
It was embarrassingly quiet. She settled up and left.
“I told you not to use the names when they’re around, it’s just for us,”
“It would have been worth it just to see her face,” she chuckled
Jimmy swept the floor, switched off the lights and went to lock up but found
something jamming the door. He checked the hinges and wedged in the corner was what appeared to be a rag. He pulled it out to his disbelief found it was the monogrammed handkerchief he had given Kelly to wipe her face back in school. Jimmy curtailed his rendezvous and quickly rung Pra for his opinion;
“Hold on you got a monogrammed hanky?” said Pra.
“No, it’s my Grandad’s, JB,”
“But that’s your initial?”
“Yeah I was named after him. Look forget that, you’re missing the point,” he bawled “She held onto it and well, what do you think?”
“Maybe it’s a hint, you know back in the old days a lady expressed interest by dropping her hanky,”
“So it’s a hint?” Jimmy supposed.
“It’s a bit old fashioned. I think you’re reaching a bit mate, anyway what about Marvin?”
“Yeah I know, I can’t help it,”
“Ok, all’s fair ‘ol boy.”
Jimmy rushed to Pete’s the kebab shop, six doors down run by the amiable Pete. The shop was a gathering place for youth club rejects and reprobates. Boy racers huddled round custom cars comparing rims and sound systems. Pete was a Turkish Cypriot; he had a jet black 50’s flattop and stood poised behind the counter like Michelangelo’s David . He had a few tables and a couple of arcade machines. Jimmy and Pete were well acquainted and he would often pop in and share Turkish coffee whilst he waited for custom. Marvin was there with Kelly as planned. Jimmy played it cool trying to avoid Kelly’s gaze. He slipped him the cigarettes.
“Hi Jimmy, fancy a game?” said Marvin in gratitude.
“What we playing?” said Jimmy.
“Yeah why not.”
Jimmy was up first, he got distracted, nervous about confronting Marvin and got beat.
“Never mind Jimmy, keep practicing,”
Something inside him told him not to give up; be he devil or saint he felt
compelled to follow.
“Best of three?”
“It’s closing time mate,”
“Pete” said Jimmy “You’re ok aren’t you?”
“No problem Jimmy you can stay for a bit.”
Pete locked them in, Kelly raised her eyebrows impressed with Jimmy’s sway. Jimmy wasted no time, it was pistols at dawn in his head, a duel to the death. He focused shut out the chatter and zoned in, making every flip and thrash count before keenly squaring the score. Marvin’s pride was at stake and true to form coughed and spluttered on the deciding round, trying to force a mistake but Jimmy was unperturbed took aim and beat his opponent fair and square.
Marvin sparked a cigarette “Well done Jimmy,” he grudged
“Not in here, outside” ordered Pete
“Nice playing,” said Kelly
“Sorry?!” queried Marvin “Listen mate, got to go catch you later.”
Jimmy was desperate to keep the momentum going but could not think of a plan to follow through. He conspired with Pra seeking guidance.
“If you’re serious you need to grab her attention. What’s she into?” asked Pra.
“Philbert, she’s into Doctor Philbert, she’s mad on him, wears the badges, reads the mags,”
“Get to a concert, he’s playing the Rainbow Saturday. If you can say you were there, take some strictly forbidden photos, she’ll come to you,”
Jimmy gestured, slipping fingers to thumb. “Money? Lack of funds, how we gonna buy a ticket?”
“Who said anything about tickets?”
The streets were frantic, buzzing punters queued up with banners and T-Shirts; the Police cordoned off the entire block. Kael tagged along, he had no love for Marvin and knew the trick to get in.
“How we gonna get through that lot?” asked Pra.
“There’s a slacker. We wait for the show to start, everyone disappears and we slip in round the back. Me and Simon did it for Marley.”
As soon as the doors opened everyone cleared, they crossed the road, squeezed pass the barriers and waited. “Don’t worry, he’ll be out soon as it starts, I guarantee it.” The walls thudded as the gig began. Like clockwork Security propped open the fire exit with an extinguisher and snuck round the corner for a cheeky fag. “Told ya!” When he was out of sight they hopped in via the back corridor and headed toward the Stage. Kael got close and peeped round the corner. There was a uniformed guard blocking the entrance.
“Wait till he moves,” They heard footsteps “Shit, the slackers coming back,” said Jimmy.
They were trapped. Kael saw a door opposite marked ‘Private Dr. Phil.’ with a star above it. He poked his head round the door. “It’s empty, come on quick,” They slipped in just before the guard walked by and held their breath as he cleared. They gave up on making it to stage and decided to stay put.
“So what do we do when The Doc returns?” asked Jimmy.
“I don’t know; you wanted in, now you’re in,” said Kael.
“Just say we’re here for a school interview,” suggested Pra.
“Oh yeah, three ragamuffins, look at us. Think about it will ya?”
Pra studied the room, he looked up at the rack of guitars and grabbed a bright orange Gibson SG. “Better than a picture or what?”
Kael smiled. “Chuck us that bag mate,” Jimmy and Kael grabbed what they could, hats, leathers, leotards. “Come on lover boy, let’s go.” They calmly navigated their way back undetected. As they edged out the door, security clocked them but it was too late. They jumped on a passing Routemaster and waved him off.
Jimmy and Kael hopped off at Edmonton Green. Kael placed The Doctor’s red leathers round Jimmy’s shoulders as he knelt.
“Get Back with your bad self!” shrieked Pra in his best JB. Jimmy
rose, took a bow and raised the guitar. The haul was stashed round Kael’s for safe keeping. Kael rang Jimmy to stop him bragging;
“We got to lie low, you can’t tell no-one,”
“Can I say I was at the gig?”
“What’s the first song he played, did he do an encore?” Jimmy went silent. “Exactly, we improvised and now it’s in the papers,”
Jimmy spat dejected. ”Ok fine, all for nothing then?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
The Making of Jimmy Bramble A prequel to Cherry Smack; this novelette explores Jimmy Brambleâ€™s formative years. A lost soul, thoughtful and full of promise. Groomed by his fellow in-mates, The All Saints, he acquired a new mind set, transforming him from timid to baddass. Now, when faced with adversity, Jimmy did what many would not.