The Green Man pub on The Sleepers Hill just out of the city centre was a grim place. Squat, beige, flat roofed and mean spirited with more bars than drinkers most of the week. Outside, the carpark was pockmarked with a few cars but it was mostly a venue for fights and the Friday night chip van.
At the private upstairs bar, sitting on high-stools, facing each other and drinking cheap fizzy white wine from abroad; deep in conversation were the landlady Mrs Meredith Brewer and her best friend, Mrs Edith Benson: Sub and Dom, opinion taker and opinion maker. Behind the bar stood Assistant Landlord, Harry Mottram. H’ was waiting for a fight, eager for a brawl. He was waiting for orders, hoping no one thought he was too stupid to carry them out, not caring if they did because there was nothing worse than a clever-dick. Tense, always tense, everything tense even his veins, even his blood. Ready to go. Always ready.
On a midweek evening in October, The British Democratic Freedom Party was finally close to revealing itself to the world and this revelation was being brought to fruition in the private room over the public bar. Downstairs the regular drinkers swayed and discussed the acceptable sports. A jukebox oozed rock’n’roll songs into the fug of fag smoke and aftershave.
The locals down there were mostly prison officers, a few ex-cons, pensioners and a group of Teddy Boys in their thirties. They all loved The Green Man because tourists, of which there were always thousands in the ancient city, never ventured in. There were rarely any women in the place, there were no fancy drinks or crisp flavours, there were no fancy ideas, no fancy conversations. There was a sticky, faded red carpet. There was a stag’s head with a single remaining antler that jutted out of a wall over the electric fireplace in the lounge bar. At least once a night somebody said that it must have been going at a hell of a clip when it hit that wall, and everybody else laughed because the joke was so familiar.
Every wall in every bar was lined with pictures of fox hunts, fields with hayricks, ships firing cannons, Spitfires, Winston Churchill, horses, pigs and sportsmen. In between these were crossed cricket bats and oars, football boots and a single, tarnished horse brass nailed into the flock-covered plaster. Cigarette smoke pervaded and obscured everything.
The Green Man had been hastily thrown up by the brewery in the 1950s to take money from the newly developed Stanhope housing estate. No one ever looked at The Green Man and thought, “We could do a lot with that place, make it really cosy and welcoming” or “let’s pop in there for a pint”, because The Green Man whispered, “Fuck off” to anybody who passed by. This was another reason the pub was beloved of the local drinkers. “A man’s boozer”, “A professional drinker’s pub”, were some of the names given to it by those who appreciated its claustrophobically dark interiors, its lack of choice and its testy service.
Harry walked back into the upstairs bar from the Gents and made his way over to the dartboard to watch the game. Two men were playing a game of Killer darts, badly. Two other men were sitting at a table nearby, Thomas Vyvian Sarson-Taylor was trying to avoid the stare of Stephen Hedges, the thin, grey, terrifying man. Sarson-Taylor nodded a hello to Mottram, then looked at his empty whisky glass and raised one eyebrow. Vyvian might have seemed out of place to the uninitiated because he reeked of solid wealth. Not of money but instead of never having to worry about money, not in this life or in the lives of several preceding generations. He was in his thirties and dressed in the kind of hardwearing, shabby countryman’s cloths of tweeds and leather that would last forever and soak up a great deal of gore. Vyvian fitted right in, he was one of those professional drinkers who the pub’s darkened spirit welcomed.
And his family owned the pub.
The game of Killer ended with a lucky dart. One of the players, Mr Eric Benson joined Sarson-Taylor at the table while Don Jarvis went to the bar and brought back three pints of dark beer: one for him, one for Mr Eric Benson the portly shop owner and nominal Party Leader, and one for Vyvian who looked at it and grimaced.
“So, Don, how go the preparations for the grand opening of The Wulfric Hall and the launch of our great new Party, Donald?”, asked Benson who thought he already knew.
“Nicely, nicely-dicely, Eric. All ahead full. Mr A.K. Jordan has confirmed that he will be coming down from London to speak”, he paused, “if we will provide transport. He’ll be speaking about Communism and immigration”, replied Jarvis, moving away from Benson’s vile smelling cigar.
“The tight bastard. Too bloody self-important. Sooner he’s off the steering committee the better. Still, he’s a good speaker, there’s no arguing with that. What about Reg Fountaine? He’s coming?”
“I’ve had trouble reaching him. He keeps changing telephone numbers and moving from house to house since the unpleasantness in Leicester with those coloured boys”.
“Fucking Paki nonces”, muttered Mottram from the bar where he was polishing glasses.
“Harry, it’s talk like that in public that’s led to the Front being boxed in by the media. We’re a respectable organisation of forward-thinking ideas that any Briton can readily support. Remember that”.
“Well, they were Pakis weren’t they? Spade a spade and all that. Honest English language, nothing wrong with it”, he thought for a moment. “There are Pakis taking over Mrs and Mrs Craven’s sweetie shop in Jewry Passage. Better watch out Eric, it’ll be your place next. Think of it, Nignogs in Shalford”. Harry returned to the bar and continued to wipe pint pots and whisky tumblers with a greasy, old cloth.
Benson turned back to Jarvis. “Don, make sure that Mr Fountaine is still available and confirm ASAP”.
He turned to Thomas Vyvian Sarson-Taylor, “Vyvian”.
“Please call me Thomas or Tom, Mr Benson. I would appreciate that. The name Vyvian is, well, I’m sure you realise, is a little” he paused, “a little fey. It’s an old family name and every generation someone is made to bear it. As you can see, I am not a little fey”, he flexed his muscles but no one could see them.
“Certainly, I won’t forget. So, Tom, how are you getting along with your task?”
Sarson-Taylor sighed, “You’ve yet to give me anything to do, Mr Benson”.
“Righty ho, we’ll remedy that. For now, pop over to the bar and ask Harry to invite Mrs Benson to the table as soon as it’s convenient for her”.
Sarson-Taylor stood up and went to the bar where Mrs Benson was chatting with the landlady, he was immediately replaced in his seat by the gaunt figure of Bill Symonds, the editor of The Crosschester and District Chronicle.
“Good of you to join us Bill. How goes the war on lies?”, said Don.
Symonds shook hands, took a sheet of cheap paper from this suitcase and handed it to Mr Benson without a word.
Whenever he did speak, each word Bill Symonds exhaled had maximum stage time given to each syllable. He was particular in everything he said and did from keeping his exotic fish to his quiet, committed and mostly private drinking. He was also particular in his view of humanity. For the most part, when taken individually, it was poor, very poor in fact. Most people never achieved anything because of who they were. If someone had the ability to do something, then they would do that thing. This was a failsafe proof. People were born not made. The making of them merely brought out what was already there. The making of someone didn’t just mean that a person came into their own in the finest aspects, it would also show them for cowards, mountebanks, dullards and fools. He’d seen this during the war. Heroes were few and far between. Cowards were two a penny. For the most part everybody sat in the middle just about living. As for the self-made man, that went both ways as well.
He looked at Eric Benson who was a fine man, self-made, not old money – which he despised, “I want to run this as a reader’s letter in tomorrow’s second edition, Eric. Tell me what you think?”. What Benson read was typewritten and not entirely to his taste.
AN ASSAULT ON EDUCATION
The Messiah of excellence has been persecuted by the scribes and pharisees of envy and mediocrity and condemned to death. Moreover, anything that has as much as touched the hem of the robe of excellence has also been condemned and sacrificed to the false god of equality.
Envy is the driving force of this new religion of equality, envy that knows but never will admit that people are not equal in their abilities; envy that relentlessly and malignantly prosecutes its unholy cause through politics, through education, through the arts and in many areas elsewhere.
Envy in its many forms, it could be argued, makes an effective recruiting sergeant for most political systems. For instance, the communist covets his neighbour’s ox; the socialist has no ox but hates anyone who has one; the capitalist covets all the oxen; the liberal treats the ox as his equal. On the other hand, the nationalist will endeavour to see to it that everyone deserving of an ox shall have an ox.
The equalisers have infiltrated the field of education to hunt down excellence on a mission of search-and-destroy. Teachers who had swallowed whole the pernicious nonsense of Das Kapital but had no more than nibbled at Real English literature, began to ‘harmonise’ ability by teaching children that spelling, punctuation and grammar were ‘elitist’ stuff that only the bourgeoisie bothered about. The miasma of envy lay so dense in the dank educational hollows that some so-called teachers went as far as to reprimand parents for teaching their children to read, protesting that this gave the children an ‘unfair advantage’ over others.
Those children lucky enough to circumvent the comprehensive slough and stay on the straight and narrow of grammar and assisted-places schools found further perils waiting for them at the colleges and universities. These also had been infected by the bug of equality and began to ‘harmonise’ exam marks by robbing bright Peter to pay dim Paul.
Sincerely, T Burgess,
14, The Verges
Benson nodded, “It’s quite wordy don’t you think Bill? It’s a bit theoretical. I mean, Oxen? Let’s have another go, eh? Let’s attack the enemy more directly. Let’s try and appeal to the parents and the children, the pupils, the students. We need young blood infusing the Party”.
Symonds took the paper and replaced it in his suitcase. He nodded almost imperceptibly. He had nothing to say. He preferred the sound of a rapidly hammered typewriter to a yaddering tongue. He did have one thing to say before he returned to work.
“Eric, Don, this Sarson-Taylor chap, is he solid?”
Mr Eric Benson looked to Don Jarvis, a solid bureaucrat.
“As we know, he comes from an old County family with good, deep roots”.
Bill leant in, “Where did you meet this particular Sarson-Taylor?”
Jarvis thought, “In The St Mary Godwin, drinking a pint”.
Again, Jarvis had to stop and think. Mr Eric Benson meanwhile was scribbling in a small, black notebook. He looked up, “Well, Don?”
“I’m not certain”, naturally a follower, Jarvis began to doubt his own memory, and started to feel guilty about something or all his old guilts clamoured for more attention.
He laughed nervously, “Shall we let him know he’s not wanted?” He laughed again and then his eyes widened as a horrible thought dawned on him, “My god, he could be undercover police!”
In a rare outburst of emotion aside from icy anger or mild despair at some else’s stupidity, Bill laughed fit to suck the joy from a four year old’s birthday surprise. His entire laugh was the sound of the final second, the whispery tail in anybody else’s. It was almost there, almost not there at all. It moved the air in front of him causing it to chill slightly, and it sent ripples of chaos to flatten Barbadian flies.
“Calm down Don. There’s not a copper in the county I don’t know or who wouldn’t have given me the tip”.
“What if he’s out of the country though Bill? What if he’s the Met or Special Branch? Jesus Christ, Bill”.
Mr Eric Benson put a hand on Jarvis’ arm, “Look around yourself, fella. We’re not even noticeable to the people in this pub let alone to the Special Branch. Calm down Don for goodness sake.
“As you’ve already pointed out, the Sarson-Taylors are a highly respected family in the county. Sir Philip is well thought of in the right circles further up the chain”.
Bill looked up, “Sir Philip is also senile and believes he’s head boy at the college”.
Eric continued, “We need to keep young Vyvian close, that’s for certain. Give him some attention. Make him feel wanted. His family have money and connections. It’s all well and good being a party of The People, that’s where the muscle is”.
“And the heart and soul, let’s not forget those”, said Don.
Eric went on, “Yes, those. The People will be the beneficiaries but we must be the vanguard, and a vanguard that’s well supplied is more likely to pull the main force along. We’ll make Vyvian Sarson-Taylor a valued member. I’ll give him something to do, keep him occupied”.
“The more the merrier”, chirped Don.
Bill was vexed by this nonsense. He stood up, bowed slightly to Jarvis and then more deeply to Mr Eric Benson. He ghosted his way out of the pub to his desk at The Chronicle where he proceeded to red pencil the latest feature story from a senior journalist for no good reason other than authority.
“Right, Don, now that minor panic is out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. How’s recruiting? Who have you got in the schools and at the football?” Jarvis’ reply was lost in the general hubbub.
Mrs Eric Benson was at the bar end sitting on her stool, drinking a glass of port and lemon and chatting with the landlady, Meredith Brewer, who was ignoring a tourist who had wandered in having become lost on his way to the bus station.
Vyvian has passed on his message and was hunched over sucking down scotch. Harry Mottram coughed at Mrs Benson, and waited.
Mrs Benson noted him out of the corner of her eye but continued her conversation, “…you will never believe how much it cost just to get some banners made up. Absolutely shocking unless you want to have it done by some of the sort of people who will work for peanuts. But you can never tell what you’ll get back from those sort of monkeys do you? Also, it’s taking the wages from decent tax-paying folk, even though the tax we’re all being asked to pay is extortionate, daylight robbery by this spineless government”.
Miss Brewster, a stocky woman with her black hair pulled back into a painful bun, her eyes smaller than seemed feasible for seeing, and her mouth that made everything she said sound like hissing, refilled Mrs Eric Benson’s glass. Harry coughed again.
“What is it H’?!”, she snapped and avoided looking at him. She despised her second-in-command but he was necessary, he worked for booze and he cooked food in a way her patrons appreciated, although she had to correct nearly everything he ever made. In fact, her habit was to correct everything he did. He knew she hated him. He understood why: he was an angry man with no self-respect, little or no confidence, and he was so lacking in ambition that he found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, every morning. He, however, loved her dearly because she gave him reasons to get out of bed in the morning.
“Mr Benson asks if Mrs Benson can join him when convenient”, Mottram tried to sound off-hand because both the women intimidated him. Mrs Benson, like her husband, was ruddy-faced and her hair was cut much like the headgear of a medieval pikeman. Also like her husband, she was muscular and had what she called “a healthy dose of good, honest countryside vitality”. As usual she had squeezed all that vitality into one of the spectacularly colourful dresses that she had made for herself by a French woman in Porthampton. This one was white with open and closed red roses, three-quarter sleeves and a jewel neckline. She wore kitten heels that matched her tiger print handbag which had brass studs and dual handles made in the same twisted, plaited way as the handle of a good bullwhip. Mottram looked at it out of the corner of his eye, one day soon he was certain that he would feel it slamming into the side of his head.
Mrs Benson left the bar, Meredith Brewster crossed to the public side and told Mottram, “Enough crawling, H’, do some work. Get the bar cleaned, check the optics, then get rid of Old Man Granger from the Snug, he’s fallen asleep again, and clean up the gents, and serve that gentleman”. She indicated the confused tourist who had given up and was reading a map, “He’s been waiting a dog’s age”.
Harry tried a smile, then poured a pint of bitter beer, plonked it in front of the bewildered tourist, snatched a pound note from his hand, wiped the bar-top and sighed. The tourist took a sip, looked even more confused, stood up and walked out without saying a word. Harry finished the pint and pondered his good luck. Sarson-Taylor banged his glass on the bar, “Ho there Harry, a refill if you would”.
Over at the table, the Bensons were discussing options for the big meeting to announce the birth of the British Freedom and Democracy Party next month.
Mrs Benson cut through the burble, “We need more women there. Not one of you has considered that fact”.
“In all good faith, Edith, we really need to be concentrating on the youth”, replied Jarvis, who was unsure about the advantage of the ladies in most areas of life.
He continued, “One of the failings of the National Front, one of the directions we’re attempting to steer a true course away from, is a reliance on older folk. Youth is the way ahead”.
Mrs Benson looked at her husband and then back at Jarvis. Her husband shrugged. She turned back to Don.
“Donnie, you’re a clever man, a good-hearted man, a man who is important to our Party but Don”, she leaned forward across the table, “you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about a lot of the time. The Front, The British National Party, The British Union of Fascists, The British Movement, all of them, they were all desperate to capture ‘The Youth’. And they ended up with football hooligans, queers, and the sort of easily lead yobbos who spent more time in Borstal than they did convincing other people of the righteousness of the cause.
“I don’t even think much of your wonderful new politics but at least I do my fucking homework, Don. So, do yours or the whole fucking shebang will be stillborn.
“Who do you think has the most influence over the Youth? Politicians? Pop Stars? Sportsmen? No, you dinlo, it’s their Mums. Get the mums onside and you’ve got the children. Not just the young-uns of today but going ahead into our history. A beautiful, healthy, lingering history long into the future. Women, Donald, women are central so buck your ideas up”, she drained her port and lemon and looked to her husband for support.
“To be fair, Don, she’s got a point. You’ve also got to think about the kids, obviously but she does have a good point”.
Ever the reasoned compromiser, Eric Benson, smiled at his wife, “Edith does have a point, we must ensure that we steer British ladies in the direction of our fresh, new vision for their children”.
He stood up, put his thumbs behind his braces and he was off, “Remember the War, Donald. Remember those GIs coming over here, flashing their white teeth and fat wallets. Remember them making rubbish of our ladies only to leave them behind with their fuzzy-haired bastard broods. Well, you go to Leicester or Ladbroke Grove or Manchester or even Stilbury, Candover Sands, Alesford in our great county and see what’s happening today! See how those bastards have had their own and their population is…” He stood up.
“Sit down, Eric my love”, whispered Mrs Benson, “don’t make a spectacle… not yet”.
“You’re right, my love. We must all keep our powder dry before the big day”, Eric took a sip from his rum and coke and lit a cigarette. His wife’s advice was always on the button. She had been right about his investment in Australian emu farming (a mistake, he hadn’t listened), she had been right about not taking on his old airforce pal as his company accountant (he had defrauded the company sending it into liquidation) and she had been right about him needing to do something positive with his energies after the liquidation had sent his mood spiralling down into the depths. He had spent months unable to leave the house. He drank heavily and refused even to play golf. The British Democratic Freedom Party was his outlet. It was effectively her idea in fact.
“Look, love, you’re banned from being a company director and let’s be frank here, you’re not very good at business anyway. So, why are you interested?”, she’d asked as they sat in the garden on a summer evening sipping Pimm’s and lemonade with slices of cucumber sticking out of their glasses. She didn’t give him time to shrug, “Politics, love. Our countryside. Our land”.
She had been thinking about how to get him out of the house but not spending any money or failing dismally in yet another business venture. She could set him up in one of her own businesses for pin money. Even he couldn’t fuck up working at the small Post Office cum General Store in Shalford; and money that would flow back into the house anyway – so that was covered. However, she realised that this would still give him a lot of time during the day to think, and unless that thought was channelled properly, they’d both be buggered again. He had been a dashing pilot when they’d first met in late 1945. Brutally young and devilishly handsome with piercing blue eyes, slicked back blond hair, and a swagger that gave his beautiful, tight arse all the gifts she was craving. Her love for him was buried in all of that and she still loved him, and she couldn’t help that. He had charisma, lots of it. He had the self-confidence and ego of a single male child, and he had the ability to make other men doubt themselves if they didn’t look too closely. A part of her hoped that he would mature and become the man that her first impressions had promised.
She had realised that politics was the obvious outlet for him after he returned drunk and happy from a squadron reunion. He had fallen on the bed talking about how they’d won the war but were losing the peace as the country was slipping into the hands of queers and Irish and blacks and Communists. Politics was about raising money.
Finding like-minded men to turn into a debating club was easy given the people she met every day in her various operations around the town. Eric had then really picked up the ball and was running hard with it, building a network of other men who felt let down, and forming a new political party with them. She had been amazed at how many of these brand new parties had formed and melted away bleeding members into each new incarnation so that after a while all these organisations came to look the same but still managed to fight among themselves anyway. She expected The British Democratic Freedom Party to go the same way after a time but hoped that time would be long enough to lift Eric out of his malaise. As far as she was concerned he could have taken up water colours, snooker or even transvestism as long as it kept him happy and out of trouble. She adored him and wanted to keep him safe while she got on with the job of bringing in the money.
Mr Eric Benson took his seat once again. Sarson-Taylor was lurking.
The front door of The Green Man opened and closed downstairs as Harry Mottram ejected Old Mr Granger into the night.