Sunday, 25 December 2011

Milk Monitor


Jennospot 48  Milk Monitor



It's the day after Christmas; an' it's that sorta day when everyfink feels kinda flat, if'n you know wot Oi mean. It ain't only that, 'cos this mornin', my 'ead feel like it ain't got nuffink much inside it 'cept cold Christmas puddin' an' custard, wot ain't particularly good fer composing this week's blog. Any'ow, speaking o' custard, makes me fink o' milk. an' that reminds me of school milk, of wot Oi ain't particularly fond, an' that reminds me of the first toime that Peter 'ad ter be one o' the milk monitors fer the day. It were 'is classmate Golfball wot was the ovver monitor. Peter didn't know wot it were all about, so 'ee asked:
 

‘Okay, Golfball, what do we have to do?’

His answer surprised me; I would not have thought this gloomy, strangely-named Golfball capable of such a flight of dry humour. ‘What we 'ave to do is our national duty,’ he declaimed, drawing himself up into a parody of stiff military attention. ‘We administer a government programme for the benefit of present and future generations.’

‘See this table at the classroom door?’ he went on, saluting it smartly. ‘We 'ave to go'n fetch, from the duty teacher at the service entrance, twenny-eight bottles of milk and twenny-eight straws. We place the bottles on the table. As the pupils come out for mid-mornin' break at 'alf-past ten, we 'ave to see that each one takes a bottle and we give each one a straw.

‘When they've drunk the milk, we 'ave to make sure that there are twenny-eight empty bottles come back. We 'ave to make sure that the waxed paper cap is still on the bottle and that each one 'as a straw passing through the 'ole made for the purpose in the cap. If anyone 'ands in a bottle what is not completely empty, or without a cap or a straw, we 'ave to take 'is or 'er name.

‘When all the bottles are back, we return them to the service entrance, then we can go back into class.’

He made a face and shuddered. ‘I 'ate milk and I 'ate bein' milk monitor.’

‘I hate milk too,’ I said. ‘Can't one refuse?’

‘No way,’ he replied decisively. He then recited, as though he had learned it by heart, ‘We 'ave to be thankful for our free Government milk, provided generously at the risk of men's lives so as we can grow up to be strong an 'ealthy.’

He shuddered convulsively again and made a vomiting noise.
 

 ("Gang Territory" Chapter 2)
 

'Ave yerself an 'appy Boxin' Day.
 

http://www.peterstjohn.net

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Katy's Secret


Jennospot 47  Katy's Secret



It’s nearly Christmas, so Oi’m goin’ ter wish all of yew wot is so kind as ter follow moi blog, a Very Merry Christmas. And then, fer no good reason at all, Oi’m goin’ ter tell yew about the time when Katy told Peter 'er closest secret. The secret became a bit 'ard fer 'im ter keep in the finish, an' got 'im inter even more trouble. But if'n yew want ter foind out wot it were, Oi reckon yew'll jus' 'ave ter read the whole of "Gang Territory", 'cos there ain't enough room 'ere in moi blog. Sorry:





"I found Kate waiting for me on the bridge as announced. ‘Come on, Peter, we've got to hurry!’ she exclaimed as soon as I was in earshot. ‘I nearly set off without you.’ She began trotting quickly in the direction of Lions Avenue.

‘What's the rush?’ I called. Her trot hurt the injury in my side.

‘I'm late already. My mother is expecting me. If I'm not home in five minutes she'll begin to worry. At dinner-time I was late―you know why―and if I'm seriously late again it could be disastrous.’

The trotting was agony but I had to find out what the mystery was and why all this secrecy was necessary.

‘Katy, can't you slow down to a gallop just for a moment? Please— we need to talk.’

She slowed down to a fast walk. ‘What is it?’ she said, slightly irritated. ‘Isn't it enough that I get you off the hook with the head teacher?’

I felt annoyed, but then, she didn't know that I'd been hurt, and I wasn't about to tell her.

‘Katy look— what happened today was on your account. I've been through a lot because of you. Just tell me please, if it's not too great a secret, why you didn't want me to let on that you were being bullied by the Slug?’

At this she stopped and tears came into her eyes. ‘I'm sorry. I've been selfishly thoughtless.’

This wasn't my opinion but I wasn't going to stop her now to say so.

‘It's just that my mother thinks that Widdlington school is too violent. She talks of sending me to a private school in town. I'd hate that, I don't want to go away from my friends here. If she knew what had happened today she'd send me to the private school straight away. Please, please, don't breathe a word to anyone.’

‘I understand,’ I said as gently as I could. ‘I wouldn't want you to go away either. You can count on me. Run ahead now. We can talk some more tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow,’ she confirmed, and started off at a run that set her long shiny braid dancing and shimmering behind her.

I followed, much more sedately."


 ("Gang Territory" Chapter 4)

http://www.peterstjohn.net/

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cripes is Right

Jennospot 46  Cripes is Right



Fer five days, startin' on 12 December, moi fav'rite book, "Gang Loyalty", is free in digital format from Amazon Kindle. It's moi fav'rite 'cos it's mostly about me. Besides, Oi reckon it's a lotta fun. Any'ow, if'n yew got a digital book reader, now's yer chance, 'cos it won't cost yew nuffink. Down below is a little extract, jus' ter give yew a bit of a taste of wot it's loike:



Just before the bridge was a cattle gate. It was closed. At the very last moment we both broadsided to a stop. But there wasn't enough room. The carts touched. Locked one to the other, they slid off the path and overturned. Thrown off, Jenno and I rolled together down the grassy slope to the edge of the river.

 ‘You all right?’ I asked breathlessly. I could feel Jenno laughing. ‘What're you laughing at?’

‘Oi won,’ panted Jenno.

‘You cheated. You didn't give me a fair start.’

Jenno rolled over and knelt astride my stomach. She grinned down into my face.

‘But Oi won. Oi told yew moi cart, Emmeline P, was good.’

I grinned back. ‘You cheated.’

‘Oi did wot?’

‘You cheated.’

Jenno pummelled my shoulders.

‘Emmeline P's good— an' so am Oi.’

‘You're a cheat.’

Jenno pummelled some more. I caught her by the wrists.

‘Wot is Emmeline P?’

‘Emmeline P is good.’

‘That's better. Wot am Oi?’

‘A cheat.’

Jenno twisted her wrists free and pummelled me some more.

‘Wot am Oi?’

‘You're pretty good too— but you're still a cheat.’

I caught her wrists again and we rolled over, wrestling in the grass.

Suddenly, as I tried to pin Jenno's shoulders down, I caught sight of somebody on the bridge. There were two people. They each had a cart. It was Winnifred and Molly!

Jenno must have sensed something was wrong. She stopped wrestling, and sat up. I sat up too.

‘Come on, Molly,’ said Winnifred. ‘There's too much of a rough crowd here.’

She and Molly turned and stalked off the bridge. They went back up in the direction of the Manor Lodge at the top end of The Street.

I thought of calling after them to explain, but I knew it wouldn't have been any use. I watched them go. My exhilaration slid out of my boots, slipped into the river, and sank like springtime out of sight. It was replaced by darkest gloom and doom.

‘Cripes,’ said Jenno.

‘Cripes is right,’ I said.



"Gang Loyalty" (Chapter 16)



Available Free from 12 to 16 December:

(USA) http://amazon.com/dp/B0054DFQ2A

(UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0054DFQ2A



Monday, 28 November 2011

Against the Wall

Jennospot 45  Against the Wall



The boys reckoned as 'ow the girls couldn't play cricket, ter say nuffunk of all them ovver games wot girls don't usually play, so we decided ter show 'em just 'ow wrong they were. Peter St John wrote it all down in "Gang Loyalty". This is 'ow it all started:



"Golfball marked out the stumps and bails on the red bricks of the school wall. Since it was his bat and ball, he had first innings. He tossed his ball to Braces. Meanwhile, I stepped out fifteen paces, scratched a line in the gravel and put my gasmask box against it to mark the bowler's crease.

Jenno stood to one side watching.

Golfball scored only two runs before Braces clean-bowled him. I picked up the ball and went to the bowler's crease, while Braces took the bat and positioned himself in front of the wicket. He patted the ground at his crease with the bat a couple of times and then glanced up at me to indicate he was ready.

‘C'n Oi play?’ asked Jenno suddenly.

‘Girls don't play cricket,’ growled Braces. ‘C'mon Peter— bowl.’

‘Don't see why not,’ said Jenno. ‘There's only three of yew. One more would make it more interestin' loike. Besides, Oi'm yer sister.’

‘Oi told yew din't Oi— girls don't play cricket.’

‘Aw, c'mon Braces. Jus' this once. It ain't goin' ter do yew no 'arm.’ She turned to me. ‘Ain't that so, Peter?’

It was a clever move. She knew very well that, as her friend, I was likely to support her. ‘She'll help give better fielding coverage,’ I said. ‘So why not?’

‘Wot about yew, Golfball?’ asked Braces.

It was a mistake to ask Golfball: he was my ally.

‘Blimey, I reckon Peter's right when he says there's only three of us,’ said Golfball.

Braces was outnumbered, so he didn't insist. He looked a bit sour about it all the same.

‘Okay, Jenno,’ I said. ‘Put your gasmask down by the wall and stand over there, the other side of the wicket from Golfball. Do you know what to do?’

Jenno shot me a frowning glance. ‘Oi'm not daft. Oi've watched yew boys playin' often enough ter know wot ter do. We're goin' ter get moi bruvver out. So don't talk so much an' bowl.’

I bowled.

Braces blocked my first ball, and the second. The third he slipped past Golfball for four runs.

‘Stand a bit further back,’ I called to Jenno.

My next ball I delivered exactly like the previous one. Braces hit it neatly into Jenno's hands.

‘Out!’ she cried exultantly.

Braces reluctantly passed the bat to her. She tossed the ball under-arm, back to me.

I had two more balls to go in my over of six. Jenno neatly blocked them both. She had obviously learned something from watching the boys play.

‘Gimme the ball now,’ said Braces although strictly speaking it was Golfball's turn to bowl. Braces had a determined look on his face. He bowled a fast ball that Jenno hit over my head for two runs.

‘Spread out yew two,’ cried Braces, waving us further back from the wicket before he launched his second fast ball.

Jenno hit it sideways and scored another two runs. Her brother scowled. But before he could bowl again, the bell sounded for the start of school.

I gathered up my gasmask and joined Golfball as we moved to take our places in line prior to filing into class. ‘Don't open your milk-bottle at the break,’ I murmured. ‘See me first.’

Golfball looked surprised, but he nodded. ‘Blimey, Jenno's pretty nifty with a bat,’ he muttered.

‘Perhaps she's been practicing with the GGG,’ I replied. ‘But I wonder if she can bowl.’



"Gang Loyalty" Chapter 7



Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Gang Territory Review

Jennospot 44  Gang Territory



Wadda yew know? Oi get a mention in a book review! Am Oi ever chuffed. An' cripes, my bruvver ain't 'alf jealous; 'im wot is a year older'n me too. Any'ow, it's Ginger Dawn Harmon wot wrote it. Oi ain't never met 'er 'cos she lives a bit far away from me in them United States of America, but Oi reckon she must be a real lovely lady, 'cos 'er son, wot's called Andrew, goes in fer soap-box racin', an' that's somefink wot Oi really loike. She 'ad some real noice fings ter say about "Gang Territory" an' all. This is wot she wrote:



A book review by Ginger Dawn Harman



Some stories in life become great novels that are exceptionally written, adorn a library, or perhaps become a well-known movie. However, very few novels have the ability to captivate the heart and soul as Peter St. John has in his novel Gang Territory. This reader has been captivated, charmed, and fallen in love with a cast of characters that touch every aspect of the lives we each live. The story begins in 1940. A young boy arrives in the village of Widdlington to live with his pious spinster aunt after his orphanage in London was bombed. The struggles procured in a new community, involving relationships, and the sculpturing of one’s faith, are just some of the complexities that Peter St John has emphasized in his novel, Gang Territory.

Many of the friends encountered along the way personify the spirit of growing together as a community that, although separated by boundaries or gang territories, teaches acceptance, love, and forgiveness. A common bond was formed with Archibald “Golfball” during government enforced milk breaks. There was also the loyalty and advice of Jenno. A bully named Snaylor, devised a contest of pissing over the privy wall, and there is the Vicar who lives with secrets. The acceptance of Mr. “Dummy” Pearce, with his primitive innocent ways, is another of the concurrences of growing up in a small village.

One of my favorite characters and exchanges was between Mrs. Rumble and Peter. Peter tells Mrs. Rumble that she was “one of the best Christians that I know. There’s more love in this little house than in any church I’ve ever been in the whole vast convent where I was.” An overflowing of tears, and the embrace of the Rumble family who didn’t attend a church, but lived the teachings of a higher power of love, goodness and human respect, is a great example of true Christianity. Furthermore, the gift of a soapbox derby cart, that has a bit of every community member in the axle, wheels, and paint scheme, opens the door to friendships that last for a lifetime. Examinations of behaviour, demonstrate the adult prejudice, and past transactions, that can bring about a change in the children of a community, and in an aunt who truly loves a little boy. The stories over lunch or on the playground, shared with an orphan and stranger to an established community, challenge each of us to examine our own life and sometimes listen to the heart of another, much like the cost and true loss of Mrs. King and Winnie during war. Sometimes we find out our greatest supporters are like Miss. Hanger and Miss Ufford, or come from a simple thankful prayer to God at bedtime.

Peter St. John displays talent, internal emotion, and interpersonal dynamics in his writings. His tale is one that we all share, each of us who grow into the world! Gang Territory is funny, touching, and full of love hidden in the heart that burst with each page. Get ready to laugh, cry, and fall in love with a great group from Widdlington, England! Peter St. John digs deeply into the soul and capriciousness of humankind! I highly recommend Gang Territory by Peter St. John!



Monday, 14 November 2011

Poppies and Aniseed Balls

Jennospot 43  Poppies and Aniseed Balls



One Poppy Day Winnifred gave Peter a bag of aniseed balls. Cripes, did that ever get 'im inter trouble. This is 'ow 'ee described it:



It was not often I was given money—least of all by my aunt—but this morning, before leaving for work, my aunt got out her purse, extracted three pence, and gave them to me.

‘It's to buy a poppy with,’ she said. It's the eleventh of November today; the day we celebrate the end of World War One and remember those who died or were wounded during that war. Earl Haig set up a memorial fund to help soldiers and their families. To raise money for it, poppies are sold every year. There will certainly be a poppy seller at your school. The money is for that.’

‘But why poppies and not other flowers?’

‘It's because Flanders, where much of the fighting took place and so many of our soldiers died, is renowned for poppies. They are also the colour of blood.’

Hardly had school started, than a large lady appeared in our classroom. She had a tray supported by a cord around her neck. She looked like an ice-cream seller at the cinema, except that instead of ice-creams, her tray was loaded with imitation poppies. They were of various prices from a penny for a very simple paper rosette, up to as much as half-a-crown for a small bouquet.

I thought at first of buying a penny one and keeping the remaining two pence for myself. But my conscience pricked at this idea. It seemed likely anyway that my aunt would probably be acquainted with the styles and prices, so I handed over my money for an honest three-penny one. It had a little leaf at the base of the stem made out of green cloth.

I tucked the poppy into my lapel and then forgot about it, the way one does.



When my aunt arrived home that evening, she peered at me critically.

‘Where's your poppy? Why aren't you wearing it?’

‘Sorry, Aunt— it fell into the river.’

‘Into the river? I thought I told you to stay away from the river.’

‘I was on the bridge, coming home from school. There was a boat in the water. I leaned over to see it and the poppy fell out of my buttonhole.’

‘A boat on the river at this season? A likely story.’

Thinking that an aniseed ball might sweeten her humour, I pulled the bag from out of my pocket and offered it to her.

‘Aunt— would you like an aniseed ball?’

‘Aniseed balls? Where d'you get the money from to buy those?’

‘Winnifred gave them to me.’

‘Winnifred? Winnifred King? Don’t you lie to me. Why should Winnifred King give you her sweets?’

‘She's a friend.’

‘A friend indeed— huh! Stop romancing— you're deceitful— just like your mother was. You took the poppy money to buy sweets.’

‘No, Aunt. I bought a three-penny poppy, but it fell into the river. Winnifred gave me the sweets.’

‘Enough of your lies. Give me those sweets— they were bought with my money. Now— I'll give you one more chance to tell me the truth or you'll be punished.’

‘But I have told you the truth.’

‘So you persist? Very well. There's no supper for you tonight. Instead, I have a job for you to do. I'll teach you not to lie.’

I had to force back my tears. Damned if my Aunt was going to make me cry.

‘I have told you the truth,’ I said defiantly.



“Gang Rivalry” Chapter 11



Friday, 28 October 2011

Poppies

Jennospot 42  Poppies


'Ere's somefink different fer a change. It's a poem wot was writ by Peter St John fer November 11, wot is Armistice Day. It's the day wot marked the endin' of the two World Wars. It's the day when we fink real special about them wot died in these two great conflicts, and we fink about the reasons why they gave their lives: It were fer us remember.


Armistice Day is called “Poppy Day” in Britain. On Poppy Day, people volunteer ter sell artificial poppies. They are already on sale now. This is so's there's some money comin' in fer wot's called the Earl Haig Fund. This Fund was set up to 'elp former combatants and their families. Let us not forget:


The Poppy Seller


Buy a poppy, lady?

A few pennies for a poppy?

Please give, just for a poppy.

Won't someone buy a poppy?

Some pennies for a poppy?

Buy a poppy, mister?

Just a poppy sir.


Poppies grow in upturned land 

Such as dug by bombshells. And

Fed by blood and bone manure

They bloom bright red. As pure

As spikes of crimson sun—

Flowers fit for everyone...

Buy a poppy, lady?


Retail poppies, up for sale.

Poppies tell a wartime tale.

Poppies peeping where none grow—

Hats, and buttonholes also—

Buttonholes instead of eyes.

Button-eyed, a whole world cries...

A few pennies for a poppy?


Buttons trimmed with petals red;

Lacquered holdfast to the dead.

Button up and cry inside.

Batten down and seek to hide.

Poppy fields were blooming there

In the smoking, stinking air...

Please give, just for a poppy.


Scarlet petals, blood-like stains;

Black dark pit of stamen grains;

Poppies waving in the breeze;

Poppies writhing into wreaths.

Opium for a suffering few;

Drugged with poppies. Poppies new...

Won't someone buy a poppy?


Black death; red death; poppy bright;

Only death can stop the sight.

Poppy bright evoking blood;

Poppy shining from the mud.

Hope, despair, gut-wrenching fear;

Fleas, disease, and tin-can cheer...

Some pennies for a poppy?


Pretty poppy pepper-pot,

Blood-red petals now forgot,

Shake out far your hard black seeds;

Poppy flowers are not weeds.

Some saw carnage; poppies there.

Shake my can, and show you care...

Buy a poppy mister?


Just a poppy, sir.


© Peter St John

Sunday, 23 October 2011

First Past the Post

Jennospot 41 First Past the Post



Peter St John 'as been redoin' the drawin's fer "Gang Warfare". Oi've pinched a couple of 'em ter show yew 'ere. They're about a cart race down the Mountain Glide against them 'orrible Streeters from the ovver soide o' the river. Any'ow, Oi can't jus' show yew the pictures wivvout sayin' somefink about 'em. So Oi've took a bit outta the book. Only trouble is, the race ain't got me in it, 'cos it were before Oi got moi cart:


‘Everybody ready?’ repeated Leta. ‘The rules are as follows: The course is from here down to the finish line by the stream at the bottom, passing by the three clumps of bushes on the slope. The first clump is to be turned round to leave it on the left-hand, the second to the right-hand and the third to the left-hand again. Anyone who crosses the start line before I call go is disqualified. The first past the post is the winner. Best of three races; otherwise, no other rules. The six racers, stand by your carts. I will call ready, steady; go. Are you ready steady go!’

At the command ‘Go’, I punted furiously to accelerate down the slope towards the first clump of bushes. Reenie, with her long legs had an advantage here, and I saw her on my left slightly ahead of the field. The Streeter on my left turned deliberately wide to force me even further down slope than I wanted to go. I decided to counter his trick by braking with my toes and turning sharply behind him, to place myself behind Reenie, and slightly down slope of her.

As we turned the first clump of bushes, I saw Roy on my left, neck and neck with a Streeter. Reenie seemed to be slightly in the lead, but she was followed closely by a second Streeter. I was below her, and about a length behind. The Streeter who had tried to force me down slope was now below me on my right, but because he now had to turn upslope again to go round the bushes, was rapidly losing speed. Barring accidents, he was already out of the race.

If I had been just slightly more ahead, I would have been well-positioned for the turn round the second clump of bushes, but Reenie was in front of me and I could not obstruct her clear route around. On the other hand, the two other Streeters with Roy between them, being upslope, were accelerating downwards towards the turn.

I positioned myself to protect Reenie's left flank. I moved slightly to the left, and found myself at once behind a Streeter who clearly intended to force Reenie into the bushes on the turn. I reached forward over the steering bar and grabbed the back of his cart, pulling his rear wheels against my front axle for an instant. This slowed him sufficiently to allow Reenie a clear run round the turn.

At the exit to the turn, Reenie was almost a length ahead of the field. I was a length behind. The other three were bunched together, Roy in the middle, heading for the final turn. It was still anyone's race, apart from the third Streeter trailing well behind.

As Reenie brushed by the bushes at the turn, I saw the Streeter immediately behind her, try the trick I had used on his companion. He reached forward to grab Reenie's back axle.

Roy, at his right side, spotted his move. Before the Streeter could get hold of Reenie's cart, Roy swerved into him. They both went into the bushes. I, just behind them, had to swerve violently to my left to avoid a collision. I heard a commotion of snapping twigs and swearing, as the two carts disappeared from my view.

Three of us were now left in the race, with a clear straight run to the finish. Reenie was in the lead. A Streeter was just behind her. I was just behind him. We all put our heads close to the steering bar to reduce wind resistance.

Lightning had ball-bearing wheels all round and ran well. I began to catch up with the Streeter, but the slope was decreasing and we were all slowing down. And so the race ended with Reenie the clear winner, the Streeter second, and myself a close third. The remainder came straggling in at intervals, Roy and one of the Streeters were slightly scratched around the face and hands but otherwise okay.



"Gang Warfare" Chapter 13




Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bath Night

Jennospot 40 Bath Night



It were bath night, at his aunt's, on Saturday. Cripes, I wish Oi could've been there that first Saturday, but Oi 'eard about it after. This is 'ow it went:



‘My bath is almost ready.’ said my aunt

She was clad ludicrously in what looked like a man's bathrobe that came to just below the knees. Her skinny, hairy legs protruded underneath, to end in bright red carpet slippers, each decorated with a yellow pompom at the toe. On her head was a shapeless waterproof hat that might have belonged to a North Sea fisherman were it not for the fact that it was brilliantly printed with poppies and marigolds.

‘Hurry up now,’ she said. ‘Get undressed and put on your dressing gown while I take my bath. As soon as I've finished, you can have yours.’

She went into the bathroom and closed the door. I heard the geyser give a ‘pop’ as the gas was turned off. Then the water was turned off too and there was silence except for a faint splashing.

I went to my room and got undressed. I put on my new dressing gown. It was an arrival gift from my aunt. I had never had one before. They weren't necessary in the communal shower room at the orphanage.

I wandered towards the bathroom, believing that I still had plenty of time, for I had not heard the geyser start up for my bath. To my surprise, my aunt stood on the threshold, clad as before except for the hat. ‘Come along, hurry up. The water's getting cold.’

Was I to have the first bath after all?

She followed me into the bathroom. I held the dressing gown closely around me. I didn't like the idea of my aunt seeing me without it. ‘Hurry up slowcoach. No need to be shy. I know what boys look like. Get that dressing gown off and into the bath.’

I took the dressing gown off reluctantly, and peered into the tub. ‘But there's hardly any water.’

‘Hardly any water?’ echoed my aunt, ‘What do you think this is: Buckingham Palace? Don't you know there's a war on? Three inches per person per week is the regulation to save energy for the war effort, and there's at least three-and-a-half inches there!’

She reached behind my back and unhooked a curious object from the geyser and plunged it into the water. I had seen it hanging there and wondered what it was for. Now I was given a practical demonstration. It was a celluloid depth gauge especially designed to help people comply with the wartime regulation.

‘Now, in you get!’ she said peremptorily.

‘But the water's not clean.’

She bridled at this. ‘Not clean!’ she nearly shouted. ‘Not clean! Are you insinuating that I'm dirty? I'm the only one that's used it. How dare you say it's not clean? Get in there immediately or I'll show you whether it's clean or not!’

This threat of violence defeated utterly my objections. Very reluctantly, I cocked a leg over the side of the tub and climbed in. I stood there in three-and-a-half inches of second-hand tepid water, my elbows pressed to my sides, shivering like a puppy submitting to its first shampoo.

‘Sit down then,’ cried my aunt impatiently. ‘I'll wash your back.’

I sat gingerly down, my whole body cringing from contact with the grey, lukewarm liquid. She rubbed my back vigorously with a coarse cloth. It hurt and I cringed even more, keeping my elbows fast to my sides.

‘No need to act as though you like to be dirty,’ said my aunt petulantly. ‘Anyone would think you'd never taken a bath before.’

I didn't think it would be helpful to tell her that indeed this was true.

She went thoroughly around my neck and shoulders and poked a corner of the cloth into each ear. The experience was abominably uncomfortable and humiliating. ‘Stand up now,’ she ordered. ‘I'll wash your waist and legs.’

I reached out with my hands to grasp the sides of the bath and stood up. It was best to cooperate to the maximum and get this nightmarish experience over as quickly as possible.

She resumed her detestable washing of my reluctant body. When it was done, she took a sponge, wet it in the bath, and squeezed its revolting contents over me to rinse off the soap.

At last the interminably hateful procedure came to an end. She pulled the plug from the bath and the ghastly grey fluid it contained began to gurgle away.

‘You can step out now,’ she said, holding a skimpy towel at the ready.

‘Do you mind if I dry myself?’

‘Oh, all right,’ said my aunt grumpily, ‘but be sure you dry yourself properly under your arms and behind your ears.’

Did she think I was a baby, or did she just enjoy tormenting me? I was at last released from her water torture chamber, and I gave thanks. I got myself dry, shook myself into my dressing gown that felt protectively secure after the frigid, exposed nakedness of the bath, and set off towards my room to get dressed.

I was intercepted by my aunt who, in her long nightdress and hanging hair, reminded me of engravings of Dickens' gaunt Scrooge. ‘Isn't it nice to feel clean all over?’ she asked.

I said nothing in reply. I felt it would be less than tactful to point out that never, since I had arrived in Widdlington, had I felt so disgustedly dirty.



"Gang Territory" Chapter 7