They use to call Simon ’TV’ on account of his square face. Simon countered calling Jimmy ’Heinz’ citing reference to his 57 Varieties of ethnicity. Jimmy laughed it off, it was playful inoffensive jibe seen more as a rite of passage to the brotherhood. Jimmy was from Guyana, a place which induces blank looks from some and confusion in others who dismiss it as Ghana for convenience. Rather than correct the Geography, Jimmy would readily accept his misplaced African roots in an attempt to Black it up. Simon was a Welsh lad, ginger with freckles, made honorary black in deference to his minority status. Prakesh (Pra) was Jimmy’s wingman, a Kenyan born Indian. His parents left in 1967 fearing increased discrimination and violence from their own government. Having witnessed the torching of their shop and hacking to death of a friend and neighbour, he felt the consequences of his actions were an abstract concept that did not apply to him, a renegade lucky to be alive.
The All Saint’s gang went their own way. Jimmy stayed in touch with Simon and Pra but lost contact with Kael and Marvin. Fate, however has an uncanny way of thrusting people together. Marvin sprang on Jimmy on the streets of Enfield, North London; stuck in the 70s, sporting a perfectly spherical Afro and light brown flared pin stripe suit. He had a spring in his step and walked with purpose. They chatted briefly as he had to dash. He was different, a mature rounded person with a solid job selling insurance. Jimmy was delighted to see the transformation, it offered him hope. They reminisced churning over the good times avoiding the one question he was dying to ask. As Marvin turned to leave Jimmy made the leap and called over;
“You still seeing Kelly?”
“Nah, we split up.”
“Oh that’s a shame, why?”
“Her Dad caught us together and threatened to kill me.”
“Good reason.” Marvin made for a hasty exit but Jimmy reeled him back. “How did he catch you?”
“He burst into the bedroom with the lights off. When we heard the door she pulled her top back down and we knelt on the floor, staring at the wall.”
“In the dark?”
The image fixed, Jimmy lost his step struggling to contain his laughter. “I mean it was obvious what we were up to, who sits there in the dark staring at the fucking wall?” Jimmy could not shake the image, bent over he choked in fits, gasping for air. “Pitch black, sat there like a couple of mongs, I ask ya?” Pleasure contorted to pain as Jimmy’s throat grew sore.
Marvin grinned. “Yeah lap it you wanker! It wasn’t funny at the time I can tell ya. Anyway he went on a rant said he didn’t like her with my sort.”
Jimmy caught his breath. “That’s rough.” Secretly he gloated as he was convinced Marvin cheated Kelly from grasp and should rightfully be with him.
“I only date black girls now, much less trouble.”
Kelly was the unattainable dream, a pretty white girl on the other side of the tracks. If pushed Jimmy would say she looked like Natalie Wood veering more toward Gypsy Rose Lee than Maria; a rebel in an enigmatic class of her own.
Marvin ran off late for a client. “Take care Jimmy, see you around,” He didn’t even throw him a card, pretty rich considering his vocation. Jimmy felt irrelevant. Everyone had moved on at startling speed and left him behind.
Simon landed a job in the City, Pra went off to Manchester to study Computing and Kael bumped into Jimmy outside Wood Green tube in the summer of ’84. Kael was the king of cool, positively Shaft in the making. He sauntered up free and easy, stood like a boxer, hopping anxiously awaiting ding of bell as Jimmy glossed over his miserable existence. “So what are you up to mate?” asked Jimmy.
He boasted about Chuck T and how he was the go-to for a band called Nation X on the UK leg of their European tour. “They’re blowing up in the US, It’s crazy, I got to find security, digs in Hammersmith.”
Jimmy had no idea who Nation X was. He glazed over, scrambling for a response. “Are you going to the States?”
“Yeah defo, just got to wrap up Hammersmith, ”He suggested they meet up, tossed Jimmy a card and rushed off as he also had to dash. Jimmy was happy to see him riding high. Kael Stewart, Top Dog, hustler, gangster without a gun; poised back on top and relishing the onslaught. Although he felt happy for him it only served to highlight his own grim situation.
Jimmy Bramble scraped a C in English and an A in History, the only subject he was remotely interested in. He left school and was now officially an unemployed bum; marking time, constantly checking his lap for a gift horse. He was deliberately stalling, afraid of the unknown. His Mum couldn’t understand his reticence to find work.
She cracked a bottle of Mezan rum. “You found a job yet?” she poured a quart, neat. “I gave this up for you. It’s called sacrifice, something you wouldn’t know about,”
“Not again. I’m doing my best. I know I can’t live off you. I know I have to find a job.”
“What’s the problem? All your friends are doing something.”
He snapped “I’m not qualified for anything, okay. This is it, third rate for life.”
“Is that what you think?”
She cut him some slack relieved he had finally swallowed his pride and told the truth. She sat him down on the couch. ”What do you want to do with your life? Pretend you didn’t have to work.”
Jimmy’s ears pricked up, he saw a gap and made a run for it. “I want to travel,” She nodded. “I want to see the places I studied in history. I know when I start work I won’t get a chance.”
“But you got to work Jimmy, we all have to.”
“Give me three months to try, please Mum? No rent, I’ll get a part timer and save up.”
She thought about it, hesitated and switched. She wanted to motivate him but knew he had to find his own way.
“I’ll give you two months, then you either book a flight or pay rent.”
The news came as a breath of fresh air. He impulsively called Pra for support, extending invitation. Pra needed little persuading. It was more a gap month than year; but it was a gap month with Jimmy, without whom life wasn’t half the thrill.
Jimmy figured, with spending money, he would need £1,500. He scoured magazines and local papers for work that paid well but with a light CV it was proving difficult. The only experience he had was in the family grocers shop, serving customers and helping Dad write up the books. He moved onto the job center and happened across a shelf card ‘JD Witherspoon’s –Stock clerk required for expanding Pub Chain’ It was a full-time position, not ideal but Jimmy figured he’d play along for the money then ditch it when the time came. He got in early and charmed his way into the job just in-time for the weekend.
Finally, he had cause for celebration. They hit the clubs most Saturday’s in search of a quick escape but tonight was special, a one off event deserving of pre-match build-up. He began; a one hour soak, polished brogues, pre-selected ironed Farah’s, slicked his skin faded pomp and set out on the 78 bus to Simon’s. He sat feeling smug; against the odds he managed to land a job in the middle of Maggie’s recession. The dream was becoming reality, his sights now firmly fixed on the Big Trip.
Simon had a one bed in Enfield Chase. They met up with Pra before setting out to Dukes, a nightclub in Essex. He slammed on Wham’s –’Young Guns,’ ruffled his shag mullet and came out of the kitchen clutching a bottle.
“What’s that?” asked Jimmy.
“Ouzo, I gave it to my Dad for Christmas,” declared Simon
“He liked it that much ay?”
“Sorry, it’s all I got.”
“Well we got to get tanked before we go, I’m brassic,” said Pra.
“Looks lethal,” chirped Jimmy.
“Give us it here, you wimp.” Pra grabbed the bottle and necked it.
“You’re gonna regret that later.”
He swigged a glass and a half to impress. “It’s nothing. Tastes like liquorice.”
“Man, you are really gonna regret that. I think you’re supposed to dilute it,” cried Simon.
A car horn blew; they checked the mirror, popped breath mints and clambered into the cab. The driver was full of it but claims about loose girls at Dukes, got them in the mood. They pulled up directly opposite, hopped out, breezed past the bouncers and made straight for the top bar.
The club was full but the dancefloor fashionably empty; no-one dare be first. That honour fell to the misfits, asylum Bunkie’s out on a weekend pass. Circle man, a thirty year old greaser in Travolta suit, fresh off the boat from Greece. His signature move was to pivot with toe, round in a circle gradually working his way to 360. Occasionally he would change direction to offer variation. They’d sit there trolleyed trying to guess when he would switch, ‘He’s the shit, fucking genius.’ Then another popped up ‘Snake’. Snake was Italian, wore a black pin-stripe and fedora. With arms pinned to his sides he would zig and zig in tandem; the right arm down, left up, fingers pointing straight to the floor, a flawless slivering reptilian. They lapped up the spectacle, thinking it complete but were in for a treat. ’Johnny Sommers aka Johnny Boy,” appeared to complete the set. Johnny Sommers was a camp, pint-sized pop artist. Johnny Boy was his Dukes double. He would bunny hop into a Max Wall strut all with deadpan expression.
Simon lost the bet on Circle Man so proceeded to the bar to buy a forfeit round. At the far end, a chunky girl with less than flattering appeal glanced across at Simon.
“Isn’t that Lucy Garrard from school?” said Jimmy.
“Yeah, I heard she’s easy.”
“I’m not surprised, look at her. Standards mate?”
“Fuck it, I’m hungry.” He straightened his tie and prepared to head over.
Jimmy looked round. “Wait a minute have you seen Pra?”
“M.I.A. You coming?”
“Nah I’ll wait for Pra.”
Simon smirked dismissive. “You sure, look who she’s with?” Jimmy choked on his lager. It was Kelly sporting a short bob, atop a petite silver sequined Charleston, hanging perfectly straight. Jimmy dare not speak to her at school, too risky, now he had a clear shot with no fear of public humiliation. Simon grabbed Jimmy and frog marched him barking instructions.
“Marvin’s gone, now’s your chance.”
“Alright, alright I need a line, quick what do I say?”
“I don’t know, just pay her a compliment or something; say you like her shoes.” It was rammed pack they were toe to toe. Simon got in first and pushed up against Lucy. He shoved Jimmy forward opposite Kelly. “You’re on.”
Jimmy smiled “Nice shoes.”
“Thanks,” she smiled politely and looked down at the floor seemingly bored. Jimmy had nothing, he dried up. Normally he had plenty to say but he was so in awe he could not find the words. Fortunately, without fanfare Kelly intervened.
“Have you seen Marvin?” It wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear but at least it broke the silence.
“Actually, I bumped into him in Enfield.”
“Oh yeah, how is he?”
“He’s good - -,”
Jimmy had that sinking feeling, Marvin, was obviously more serious a proposition than first assumed. It seemed Jimmy’s chiselled jawline was no match for musclebound Marvin. It was all going wrong, paranoia set in, perhaps he wasn’t cheated; perhaps he simply wasn’t her type. He was filled with regret, happier with the delusion before he came over. He grew jealous and fought back.
“- - he was with a girl.”
“Girl really. Who is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“I bet she’s black isn’t she?”
“Yeah she was. He seemed happy,” He coated the truth with a big fat lie, a small price to pay to put an end to it, maybe now he could ease in?
Kelly unexpectedly perked up and grabbed Jimmy “Do you wanna dance?”
He was confused, it seemed too easy. He went with the flow, took the lead and led her down to the floor. They danced; she smiled, fixed on his gaze. Intoxicated by her gardenia white lily scent, he began to relax, feeling confident. Finally things were looking up. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned round.
“How ya doing man? Surprise!” It was Marvin.
His little white lie regurgitated, choking the air. Panicked, his eyes screamed helpless looking for the exit. He had visions of terror; a scrap followed by ejection head first from the club. Then as if by magic; a dark skinned beauty passed a drink across to Marvin. “This is Yvonne,” he smiled, gloating. “She’s from Brazil.” Having exhausted the emotional spectrum in a blink Jimmy exhaled.
“Is that her?” Kelly fumed, Jimmy nodded. Kelly pulled him away and danced with her arms locked around his neck, to get her own back. Having dodged the bullet, Jimmy settled for second place, happy to leave impression on the periphery.
Simon ran up to Jimmy mid-swing. “You better come.” Jimmy cut it short leaving her to her own devices. Simon led him to the Men’s toilet. Clustered around a locked cubicle stood two bouncers and a crowd of clubbers. ‘Come out or we’re gonna have to kick the door in.’
“I think it’s Pra,” said Simon. All they could hear was retching on the other side. One of the doormen stood on a chair and peered in.
“Okay everyone out.”
They cleared the area then kicked the door in. Pra was sat passed out with a pool of ouzo sick at his feet. Jimmy stepped in, hoisted him to his feet and slapped him conscious.
Pra slurred. “Don’t say, I told you so.”
The night was cut short; the lads made their exit and caught a taxi home. Jimmy didn’t have time to say goodbye. He was haunted by the image of leaving Kelly stranded but the brotherhood came first. He clutched at straws hoping Simon could glean the fallout from Lucy later.
Monday came, his first day at Witherspoons. The headquarters was above an old Victorian pub, The Charlotte Despard, just down from “Suicide Bridge” in Archway. The landlord living quarters had been converted into makeshift offices; four rooms with desks and filing cabinets shoved in place of beds and living room furniture. It was a small chain with only twelve pubs in and around North London. He worked in the office next to Tim Mosley the founder. Tim stood like Aslan, a statuesque figure with thick blond shoulder length hair, a friendly man with a warm smile. He introduced himself and said he was impressed with Jimmy’s experience, keeping shop for the Family Grocers.
“I’m all about what you can do. Experience is far more relevant than grades on a physics paper. We are very pleased to have you on board Jimmy.” Jimmy felt guilty about his secret plans to jump ship and switched the subject.
“Where did you get the name from, who’s JD Witherspoon?”
Tim’s eyes lit up relishing the prospect of response.
“Very astute Jimmy. I took the surname from a teacher at school who had told me I would never amount to anything and the initials taken from J.D. ‘Boss’ Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Jimmy immediately drew a parallel with his own school teacher and felt a shared connection.
Tim handled chain expansion and would occasionally pop in to announce his latest acquisition. Jimmy was surprised at the rapid rate of growth. He asked how he managed to buy so many pubs freehold. Tim said it was quiet easy then went on to describe a complicated process that sounded anything but. “Never buy leasehold Jimmy, the smart money is on the Freehold” he’d declare in his booming Derry lilt. Jimmy was told afterwards not to pry by his peers as it was above his pay grade but they’d have their little chats in the hallway regardless. Tim took a shine to Jimmy, maybe he saw a bit of himself in him, he felt responsible and Jimmy was responsive.
He did the rounds every morning, ringing the pubs to pick up the takings. He got chastised for being a little too chatty with the staff. They preached demarcation, white collar etiquette and he didn’t like it. Jimmy spent his school days trying to find harmony and wasn’t about to get sucked in. As luck would have it, the Area Manager, Clive was looking for bar staff and asked if he ′ fancied pulling a few shifts down The Tufnell Tavern at the weekends.′ He smirked defiantly at his colleagues and agreed.
The bar was a gastro-pub, his job was to serve diners. He was in his element, working the floor for tips, flirting with the waitresses; none of whom were interested, until they found he worked for Clive and the owner Tim. John, the pub landlord ran a tight ship, everyone shaped up when he was around. Jimmy was the exception. He dropped a trifle into a punters lap whilst trying to scoop it out the bowl.
“Don’t worry Jimmy, shit happens.” John laughed making the others cringe.
Becky, a perky precocious young slip, cosied up to him on a mission of her own.
“You are jammy Jimmy. If that were me I’d be out the door.”
Becky was perfectly gorgeous, a doll-face strawberry blond with rainbow plaits. Her accent was slightly upper crust but there she was slumming it; possibly a public school girl topping up daddy’s allowance. She was attracted to Jimmy’s boy band looks but also saw a way to grab easier shifts and perhaps a rate rise before time. She pounced on him, seizing opportunity.
“I know this is short notice but I got a party tonight Jimmy Jam. Why don’t you come?”
Jimmy couldn’t believe his luck, was it really this easy? He viewed the invitation with suspicion but attended just in case his luck held.
The party was held in a huge seven bedroom detached house in Highgate. Jimmy arrived in the dead of night. He walked through a beaded door, wind chimes softly rang overhead. He entered the hallway, soft lit with candles and paper lanterns. Ravi Shankar played in the background as the host, a smiling blue eyed girl placed a garland of flowers round his neck.
“Welcome, I’m Blossom. Would you like some banana bread?”
Strawberry Blossom was a 60’s child, a rich kid turned hippy. She wore a short tie-dye purple dress with fringed cowgirl boots. “There’s some flax seeds on the side, they go well,”
Jimmy went through, the unmistakeable odour of pot mingled with nag champa incense. He entered the front lounge; protest posters and tapestry with the words Peace and Happiness embroidered the walls. The floor heaved with stoners, bubbling smoke filled bongs, crawling wasted across floor cushions in search of a clear spot.
It was another world, curious, intimate and distinctly communal. As soon as he entered the kitchen Becky made a b-line for him.
“Hi Jimmy Jam, so glad you could make it.” She leant over and pecked him on the cheek. “Listen grab yourself a drink, I’ll be right back, don’t move.”
He followed instruction until it became clear she was not coming back anytime soon. He felt lost so went on the hunt for the only person he knew and stopped in his tracks. He saw her pre-occupied, pressed up against the wall in the utility room with hands hitching her chequered skirt above striped stocking tops.
“Ah Jimmy, sorry I got side tracked.” Before he had time to swallow dejection she moved aside “Have you met Blossom?”
He flipped, his mind thrown. Becky immediately sipped Jimmy’s glass and kissed him full on the lips, giggling sweet and silly. Blossom shot a suggestive glance at Becky and swopped in hot and seductive, nipping his lower lip on exit. He froze, senses tingled savouring every bewitching moment.
“This is the guy I told you about,” whispered Becky.
“He is nice, you were right.”
“Shall we take him up?”
“I don’t know, Jimmy you don’t mind do you?”
He smiled with eager enthusiasm. They led him upstairs and toyed with invitation; tempting and teasing. They smiled as he watched, drawing him in closer granting favour.
Day broke. Pandora’s lid flew off to Kansas and lodged in his brain. He sat in a café sipping hot tea dazed, letting it wash over till reality descended once more. He gliding home on auto and immediately rang Pra, muttering incoherent. Jimmy laid it out in detail.
Pra choked up. “Promise me one thing?”
“Never, I mean never mention that to me again… I hope this doesn’t change anything. You haven’t gone cold on the trip have you?”
“Ya mad? Wish I could leave now.”
“Cool, where are we going again, you never said?”
His time at JD’s was fading fast. In two months he had saved £1200. He gave up the bar work and handed his notice to Tim. He felt indebted and a bit sad. His foray into work was not as bad as he expected. He no longer had fear of the unknown, fear of failure.
Jimmy had never flown before, the sight of the slick concourse with its designer shops and expensive boutiques made him feel important, as if something special was about to happen. Mum hugged and said goodbye.
“Well done, enjoy your trip and be careful. Have you got condoms?” she asked in very matter a fact way.
“No,” Jimmy confessed feeling uncomfortably flattered. “It’s ok, I can look after myself.”
“Sorry, we better go Jimmy,” said Pra, charging to the rescue.
“Oh I nearly forgot.” She planted an envelope in his hand. “There’s £400 in there.”
Jimmy was ecstatic, not only for the money but for giving their stamp of approval. He was now more determined to prove their trust in him was not misplaced. They stepped through the gates cutting the tethers, marking their independence. For the next six weeks they were free to do whatever they pleased.
They sought the nearest pub, hyper and sat perched at the bar. They slammed Kamikaze shots, supped amber flutes of Oranjeboom as time flew by unchecked.
Jimmy lifted his head off the counter and looked up.
“What does Gates Closing mean?”
“Shit, move it.”
Extreme panic knocked them into sobriety. He could picture his folks wagging their fingers in disgust. The PA sounded ’Last call for Mister Bramble.’ He quickly downed his pint and sprinted, bolting pass startled passengers. They set eyes on their gate and slowed up; skulking pass scowling attendants, panting hard, pulling straight faces, trying to hide their inebriation.
“Sorry, sorry we got lost.”
The hostess flinched at the reek of alcohol. “You’re lucky the flight’s running late, you better hurry.”
They ran tumbling over themselves, falling through the hatch, relieved to have avoided an humiliating U-turn.
They fell into their seats bubbling with enthusiasm, it was all so glamorous. Pretty hostesses glided elegantly up and down the aisle closing overhead lockers, checking straps. Jimmy lit the call light by accident. An ample blond teased as she leant over to kill the switch.
“Give it a rest Jimmy we haven’t left the ground yet.”