Extract from ‘The Election‘ (read at London launch 28 October 2016)
The polling station on our estate was made up of tents which were put up for the day, on the waste ground behind the shops. Poll-checking involved jumping out at voters as they entered or left the polling-booths, asking for their voting numbers. If people didn’t have their number with them, we had to ask for their address. We had little yellow pads to write it all on, which was stupid as we were Labour and yellow was a Liberal colour.
The afternoon was a slow, lonely time to take numbers. I walked back and forth outside the polling station, my yellow pad and sharp pencil at the ready, trying to avoid talking to the Conservative poll checker. Now it was 4.30 and I had been here for over an hour and someone should have come to relieve me. I felt I’d been abandoned while somewhere else there was a big party going on, or just people standing in a room that was warm and friendly with possibly the bubbling sound of someone frying an egg in the kitchen.
The Conservative kept asking me questions. Was I still at school? Did I live nearby? Did I come here often? He laughed at his own joke. He didn’t have to tell me that he didn’t live on our estate.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want to talk to a Conservative. You didn’t want them thinking they could get away with it.
Then as it got near to five o’clock things started happening. People who cycled to work swooped round the curve of the road and propped their bikes against the kerb, nipping in to vote before going home for their tea. Those who’d got off the bus at Sperry Drive arrived in waves. Too many were coming at once and reluctantly I had to ask the Conservative for numbers that I’d missed. 3428 and 3476 I scribbled down. ‘That wasn’t too hard, was it?’ he said, smiling at me. He had front teeth that crossed over unattractively, which was something.
Then, walking carefully from the back of the shops, came Sylvie and Mrs Weston.
I bent down and retied my shoe. I didn’t want their polling number, I didn’t want to ask them for it. I knew their address. I didn’t need to talk to them. The sound of Sylvie wailing was still in my ears. The desperate way she had clutched at me, even with Mansell in my arms. At least she didn’t have Mansell with her now. I wondered where he was. They disappeared into the yellow light of the tents….
When they came out of the tent I pretended to be looking across the field as if I could see a whole gang of people surging forward to put their cross in the box. But Sylvie said, ‘It’s Linda! Linda! Hello!’
She had made an effort and she looked quite nice – for someone with a beehive hair-do. Her maroon lipstick matched her maroon mohair coat. She was wearing black high heels and her legs were really long. The Conservative poll checker’s eyes followed her across the mud as she walked towards me.
‘Do you want our numbers?’ she said. ‘I don’t know if we’ve got them. Have we, mum?’
‘It’s all right,’ I said. ‘I know your address.’
‘Oh that’s good.’ She looked round conspiratorially. ‘Who are you collecting numbers for?’
‘Labour, of course,’ I said.
‘Of course, of course. And that’s good because they’ve got our vote, haven’t they, mum?’ she said. I liked her for that.
Mrs Weston smiled and started to walk away. Sylvie hovered.
‘Could I have your number?’ the Conservative said.
She glanced at him. ‘And you are…?’
‘I am the Conservative Party representative.’
Sylvie’s nose wrinkled slightly. ‘I don’t think so.’ She turned to me. ‘Has it been a hard day?’
I shrugged. ‘Boring really.’
‘I haven’t seen you for a little while, Linda. Why don’t you come and see me some time, as they say in the movies?’
My stomach clenched. I smiled stupidly.
‘You don’t have to take Mansell out, come round for a cup of tea. You know, I sometimes feel the need to re-immerse myself in the outside world and you’re just the girl to do it.’ She paused. ‘With the help of Rat, Trap and Dapper.’
I smiled in spite of myself.
‘And I owe you sixpence.’
She’d remembered. ‘Do you?’ I said, carelessly.
‘Anyway, chicken,’ she said, ‘do come. I want to know about that lovely Valentine card. Did you find out who sent it?’
I shrugged. ‘I’m not sure. What about yours?’
‘I’m not sure either. Will you come?’
‘I’ll try. I don’t know how much time I’m going to have though, because I’m – I’m trying to get a job,’ I said wildly.
‘A job! Oh Linda!’ She frowned. ‘You’re not leaving school are you?’ She seemed genuinely concerned.
‘No such luck,’ I said. ‘I want to get a Saturday job. And other times too, possibly.’
‘Well that’s exciting. You see, we have so much to talk about! And I love those trews on you,’ she said. ‘They’re rather French. Come when you can.’
She blew me a kiss, looked disdainfully at the Conservative and walked over to where her mum stood waiting. Mrs Weston waved her hand limply in my direction, and they disappeared.
‘And who was that cutie?’ said the Conservative man.
‘A Labour Party voter,’ I said. I thought it would be enough to shut him up.
‘But she surely doesn’t live on this estate?’
‘Why shouldn’t she?’
‘I thought she was rather attractive.’
‘You have to be attractive to live round here. It’s in the rules.’
‘Is that so?’ He looked at me and smiled.
I wanted to punch him on the nose. ‘That’s why we don’t get many Conservatives.’ He had hardly any chin. But I knew this conversation could get unpleasant. ‘Anyway, she’s a friend of mine.’
‘Really?’ He looked me up and down, taking in my duffel coat and my old tartan trousers and my mod style moccasins.
‘Beauty’s only skin deep,’ I hummed. ‘Yeah yeah yeah.’ It was a Temptations’ song.
‘Good for you,’ he said.
o o O o o
Extract from ‘A Day Out in London‘ (read at the Chelmsford launch 1 October 2016)
Danny said, ‘That’s Trevor.’
Trevor smiled at me. He had short brown hair and a thin face like a weasel. In different clothes he would have looked like a mod from Chelmsford. In really good clothes he could have come from Mile End. I smiled back uncertainly. He looked twenty or even older. I wondered how old he thought I was. I hoped nothing had happened to my eye-liner….
Trevor sat down next to me. ‘So you’re the famous Linda,’ he began. ‘Very nice. Take sugar?’
‘No thanks.’ We sat in silence and looked at Sandra and Danny. They were holding onto each other’s arms, murmuring.
Trevor looked at his watch. He was bored. What would Sandra have said to that? ‘Don’t let me hold you up,’ I said, looking over at the tea trolley.
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘They can serve themselves. Keep the screws busy.’ He looked at me. ‘So you’re from Chelmsford. Is it still a whole scene going down there?’
‘We get some good groups, if that’s what you mean,’ I said. ‘We’ve got Wilson Pickett on Saturday.’
‘Oh yeah? Lucky old Wilson,’ he said.
I heard Sandra say the word, ‘Promise?’
‘You’ve got a nice little figure,’ Trevor said. He leaned over to another table to get an empty ashtray.
‘Have I?’ I looked down at my twin-set. Danny was stroking Sandra’s stiff hair.
Trevor offered me a cigarette. I shook my head. He held the packet out towards Danny. ‘Danny tells me you haven’t got a boyfriend.’
‘Danny doesn’t know everything,’ I said.
At the mention of his name, Danny looked up. ‘That’s right, I forgot,’ he grinned. ‘There’s always Tommy Steele, or is it Mark Wynter now?’ He took a cigarette. Sandra slapped his arm and he put it behind his ear.
‘I’m actually into blues, if you must know,’ I said. I had liked Tommy Steele when I was much younger, but I had never liked Mark Wynter. ‘Do you like blues?’ I asked Trevor.
‘I get the blues,’ he said.
‘Do you have the radio in here?’ I said. ‘You should listen to Mike Raven’s music programme. Radio 390.’ Trevor said nothing. ‘On Wednesdays.’ I wondered if I was talking to myself. But I wanted him to understand. ‘It’s the emotion of the songs I like, and the sound as if they’ve been recorded in a toilet,’ I said.
‘This one likes toilets,’ Trevor said to Danny. ‘Is that what gets the girls going in Chelmsford?’
I could feel the blush rise up my cheeks.
‘What’s she saying now?’ Sandra frowned at me.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘We’re talking about music.’
Sandra turned back to Danny.
‘It’s the way the records hiss because the recording’s so scratchy.’ I wanted to explain myself. ‘It’s not just the sound, it’s the rhythms.’
‘Oh I like rhythm. I’m a great one for rhythm, me.’ He took a drag on his cigarette.
I knew he didn’t care but I wanted to get the word toilet out of the air. ‘They sort of ache with sadness and despair.’
Trevor looked round the room. ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of that in here.’ He yawned. Danny settled Sandra into the crook of his arm.
‘And the records he plays, in his programme, sometimes it’s people who play at the Marquee.’
Trevor stretched his legs. ‘If you say so.’
I felt stupid. ‘In Soho,’ I finished uncertainly.
‘Oh, Soho?’ Trevor sat up. ‘So you go to Soho? Is that where you work then?’ He laughed and pulled his chair closer to mine. His eyes were small and his eyelashes pale, almost invisible.
‘No,’ I said. I knew what he meant. ‘That’s where Tin Pan Alley is, isn’t it?’ He looked at me. He wasn’t yawning. ‘And the Two-I’s? Where Tommy Steele was discovered?’ He was looking at me closely. ‘I think Cliff Richard started there too.’ I made a face, to show that although I knew the history, I didn’t really care about Cliff Richard. He had always been too smooth, his voice too posh to be a real rock and roller.
‘I like Cliff Richard,’ he said.
‘Oh.’ That was disappointing.
Sandra and Danny were talking intensely, their heads close together.
Trevor put his arm along the back of my chair. There was a smell of sour sweat as he tucked the St Michael label back into my cardigan, brushing my neck with his fingers. My back tingled. ‘When I get out, Linda, perhaps you and I could go to Soho.’
‘Yeah, perhaps,’ I said, thinking, not if you like Cliff Richard we couldn’t. You’d have to be wearing really, really good clothes if that was ever going to happen.
o o O o o
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