Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Other Britain edited by Paul Barker (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982)

'Evening, William,' shouts a young man with a beard and an army surplus greatcoat. 'Here comes the Marble Arch contingent,' says Bill. The young man is followed in by three others - a skinny middle-aged man with long, greasy hair, a small elf-like figure in a donkey jacket, and a white-haired man in a white coat with Daily Express printed on the chest. They fill up a window table with tea cups and ashtrays.

Pete, the young bearded one, has been an all-night news-vendor for three years. 'Before that,' he says, 'I did everything. Picked grapes in France; worked in a hostel for young offenders; in a factory; was in the Coldstream Guards for five years; in the Royal Corps of Transport for seven. I heard about this job from a bloke in the dole queue.' He speaks with a soft, middle-class accent which contrasts oddly with his street-wise appearance. He wears thick grimy boots and hiking socks, and has a couple of teeth missing.

He says he is self-educated. He reads a lot of books. He has a theory about people who work at night. 'They're returning to the womb,' he explains, rolling a cigarette in a tin on his lap. 'I believe a lot of day people, who hate their jobs, are frustrated night people. There ought to be a test to determine whether you're nocturnal or diurnal.' He starts to fill in The Times crossword.

(From The night people' by Helen Chappell.)

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