"Yes, we heard it four nights ago - the Scots on the rampage." Near the Belgian Bar, one of the really great little bars where they play jazz - a bit like the Bar Coqueluche but much nearer. I mean, you wouldn't get vandalism around the Coqueluche way out in the wilds of La Caleta, worth going there just for the ride over bare white rocks following the tyre tracks where, if you don't concentrate and take a wrong turn, you'll end up on your side between two great boulders or up to your axles in beach sand. And you don't get night skies at the Belgian Bar, too many trees and town lights, but at the Bar Coqueluche, take your drink outside, step down to the beach into undiluted darkness and see stars like you've never seen anywhere else. "Oh look!" say the girls, they always say "Oh look!" when they want to draw your attention to something magnificent. But the little old Coqueluche will have to go, for La Caleta is due for development like all the rest of the South side. I mean, it is bloody unique, the Coqueluche, right on the edge of the sea and so dark you could only assume your neighbour's identity - but the music! Big band stuff: Basie, Ellington, Artie Shaw, blues and soul and Oscar Peterson and perennials like Procul Harum and Les Paul's How High the Moon, all the lovely stuff I grew up with. On a clear night, with a little breeze and the parlooff of tiny breakers running up the beach, the Coqueluche is the only place to be.
But at the little Belgian Bar only town lights and sounds from the streets can be heard. Our carousing Glaswegian Scots are usually harmless, it was they who walked into that bunch of kids from Manchester who were throwing handfuls of gravel around in that little car park down by the prom. The police came and stood around just like our police do, probably thinking about all the paperwork - while the Scots cleared the scene and it was the Scots, known world-wide as trouble makers, who got cautioned - which is why the Scots are always first in the line of battle! Harold was there with Claudia and some other friends. I would have enjoyed seeing it; somehow it would have satisfied the primitive streak in me. "Bollocks!" said Harold, "everybody's got a primitive streak!"
And here we are back at the Belgian Bar. Dobbo is not one of us but we do see him here occasionally. He stands out rather, a newish arrival, he wears rings, a flamboyant character with an explosive laugh. We know nothing of his background or what part of Essex he hails from. Weeks ago just before Christmas the pseudonym crept in at ground level, rose to fill the bar: "Oh, that's Dobbo," was the word. And just after Christmas Dobbo's posh Merc was beaten up. He met one of the Glaswegian crew and between them they found three of the Manchester mob, sorted them and left them by the roadside. The Merc was only a rental but that didn't change anything. Claudia said he bore the satisfied look of one who has enjoyed a good dinner, an outlaw's self gratification where civilised restraint does not apply.
And yet Dobbo wasn't beyond our reach, for he was generous company though coming in from a different angle, an opinion tentatively confirmed when he was spotted by Barrie in the company of Ted and Fred Bear who are sometimes seen but seldom approached. Oddly, Dobbo's views on law and order fitted closely with orthodoxy: well aware of delinquent youth, he wanted police on the streets, keeping kids in check, knocking on doors, calling on shops, cruising around supermarkets with nods on. "Nod to guys on the street and they're with you, it puts you on their side. I don't mean using force on kids, I mean using the show of force - like the Police Force, like that's what it's called, right! - out on the bloody streets where they belong!" with the verbal force of a true social reformer the words came forth only to be broken off by a wag in the bar and a burst of laughter - expecting a vigorous response from our man, we were surprised to hear him joining in.
Nods all round - "Right Dobbo. I'll drink to that!"
He continues: "As for this place... in my day it used to be families, I brought my kids here. Now it's just guys with ready cocks and skanky tarts showing off their tits. They've even got a club for it!"
"Right Dobbo. The only way to get noticed is to bare your shortcomings to the world!"
The irony is lost on him, he sails past it, an outsider who is yet moved by sentiment and social concern. He is different, a difference that is easier to recognize than describe. But what he does for a living is no concern of ours, he could be a bank robber, a jewel thief, an enforcer - or just an Essex market trader, we shrug, for in a bar as in most other places within human reach you accept your companions at face value. Actually, I rather liked him. Two other friends of Dobbo loom up and join us which turns the observer in his tracks and we are now back into football and betting on goals scored.
I'm not a believer in feminine intuition for, if it were truly a force to be reckoned with, women would not make so many bad marriages - "But it's not a social thing, it's an intuitive thing" as Lizzie reminds me, which cancels out the argument and forcibly reminds me that I just don't understand women. I often used to wonder what happens to the mind-set of women who find themselves married into violent families; I saw them occasionally in police stations, battered women hugging their children, swearing they will never go back to the drunken louts who beat them up. But, of course, they often did, despite lengthy police reports and my efforts at finding them a safe house, a new address and schools for the children. And despite all that bloody work they still go back, which may be saying that violence is an exciting path to follow but hardly promising in the long term, the children from such at-risk families appear in juvenile courts which, to the mother, may be signs of normal childhood. This could be set forth as a logical argument which suggests truth but does not ensure it, for there is no way you can pin family disturbances down to the deductive level. In any case my simple mind gets lost on such emotional adventures.
A properly organized survey may have thrown some light on the role of women who willingly give themselves to the left hand of Fate, for within such families I could find only normal disquiet, the sort that some families feel about the neighbourhood they live in, and the need for good countenance and self-control and the purse strings that we all require for proper family life and ice cream on a Sunday when the van comes round.
Peter used to go on about inductive logic - the sort of logic that even murderers can use "this sea-water tastes salty, therefore all sea-water is salty" - but he could wind up his expositions into lectures on wartime behaviour: about the sniper in the tree only just within rifle range; they took turns to shoot at him, placing bets on the way until one lucky shot brought him tumbling out of the tree. It was a woman with a 'bnz' sniper rifle. "We were shocked," said Peter, "the Boche were using women. All snipers should be right and proper blokes. If she'd kept still we wouldn't have seen her..." Indignant regret sprang higher when they discovered her children behind the tree - as poor old Mr H told in his tales of the British Army of Occupation. "This was Germany's last shout as we swept towards Berlin" - yet another legend for our Iron Horse to carry, along with that elderly German farmer who crossed the field in front of the British mine-clearing unit and only just within range. I felt like asking him what became of the children...
But yes, Dobbo - the arrival of the 'Jam Sandwich' way back in the Sixties when the police were taken off the streets and put into cars, for in cars they could respond more quickly - and while horning down the streets at well over the speed limit they would not see a till being robbed, a lady's bag being snatched, a shoplifter caught in the act. Yes, I want my police in cars, I also want them patrolling the streets in pairs, popping into shops, knocking on doors "Are you OK, Mrs Jones?" walking into supermarkets, standing outside post offices - all the old pedestrian stuff that gave the police their respect. And if we can't have police on the streets let's have women with handbags! That's what we need, women with handbags to sort the buggers out!
He fell about laughing. "My missus - I can see it!"
The British press had got hold of it: a Dutch lady, infuriated by kids on motor scooters without silencers sitting astride and revving up, came out of the sports shop swinging her handbag. The press called her 'Handbag Hanna'. I thought about our Mrs Mouthpiece - but our dear lady would not have retreated into the background.
Even with loss of the Empire, Britain is still a force to be reckoned with, a cultural force, we are Classical Greece to America's Imperial Rome; but lately, ignoring the facts that we have famously well endowed universities of great vintage and good schools for talented kids, we appear to be in danger of losing our grace and favour status in a nationwide focus on anti-social behaviour. The streets of Britain are bare, crying out for good order and discipline. As social observers at team level we were encouraged to question young offenders about police visibility whilst preparing reports for the Juvenile Court which usually brought a shrug and the comment: "We never see the buggers. Only when there's a bit of shit on the street then they're round like fuckin' flies."
Dobbo nods, "Gone too far in the wrong direction, Harold, mate. I gave my kids a bloody good beltin' if they stepped out of line."
The childish mind of today thinks little of this lack of order. My childish mind of yesteryear threw a panic if a policeman got off his bike and walked towards us. Contained like sheep in a pen we stood politely attentive while he spoke. Subdued we carried on with our game, careful not to let the ball go over a hedge into somebody's garden. But today it's a sort of privation; our children have never known police on the streets, so they don't miss the lack of it. "That's privation, as distinct from deprivation."
He nods appreciatively.
Mind you, even with police on the streets we had gangs. Mostly we stood on street corners saying Hi to mates and watching the girls go by. Harmless stuff, though you might think that the subsequent years we spent in social services eagerly planning to get kids off the streets and into clubs might have had some beneficial effect. Well I suppose it has, we have good sports, social and special interest clubs - but thirty years later we still have kids standing on street corners.
Called to order with a touch of serious comment I didn't expect Dobbo's philosophical affirmation "But that's where the world is," he puts in, "On street corners!"
Harold reminds us that there are three police priorities:
The first - Protection of Life and Property
The second - Prevention of Crime
The third - Detection of Crime
These maxims sound a little old fashioned and maybe even derelict in an age of Hi Tech, but where there is no police presence the voice of the man in the street is not heard any more for he is in retreat from gangs who may deck him sooner than listen to him. And where are the Police, you may ask? They are desk-bound, writing reports about the breakdown of discipline in homes and schools, or they are out in cars attending scenes of crime but alas, not patrolling the streets where the world is and where Life and Property are mostly found - and women with handbags!... Right! The Handbag Force! Like it! ... Like it ... Like it!
Despite the laughter this bar talk has almost reached the level of Harold's beloved discussion group and is giving Dobbo serious pleasure. I think the man is highly intelligent and I'd love to know something of his background. My background goes much further back than his and was so restrained by way of social imprint that we live in totally different worlds. In my world, with brother Bob, cousins Brian, George Lambert and Alan Rea we had men around us, fathers, uncles and grandpas, men who were a force of social control and where boys took shelter from the female world - "Toys all over the carpet, Alan why don't you put your things away, what would your mum say?" picking carefully among lisle stockings and sensible shoes to save my guardsmen and field guns from further female harassment.
Occasionally I went out with Grandpa Mann; full of jovial shouts and mock threats, he was a steward at the Oddfellows who had this old silk mill by the river Derwent as a clubhouse, and there was always a chocolate wafer biscuit (a rare treat in time of war) thrown in my direction, and once, at 4am on a cold winter's morning, we were silent as we moved across his back yard to the greenhouse that had a fire-grate outside and big pipes inside filled with water from a small header tank. We banked up the fire with what Grandpa called 'slow coal', then back into the house in a parody of stealth though there was no point to stealth in the middle of an air raid. Over by Sinfin there was Qualcast and Rolls Royce where they built aero engines and there was a framed photo at Gerard Street of some distant relative standing arms folded with some boys by the entrance and over the doorway a sign engraved in stone 'BOYS INSTRUCTION DEPARTMENT'.
Sometimes you could hear the wind vibrating the wires of the barrage balloons. However, it was the space behind his greenhouse crammed full of mysterious objects that fascinated my childhood mind: the broken toilet with mint growing out of it, a parade mask said to be genuinely Roman and empty beer bottles and cigarette packets and the solitary gnome with an umbrella - there used to be lots of gnomes but Grandpa chased them off with his stick because like kids they made too much bloody noise! - poke poke. This was Gerard Street in Derby, a steep climb for horses and carts but blessed with a convenient off licence almost opposite the house.
I never went out with Grandpa Crisp. Lime Avenue at Breadsall was the posh end of Derby's suburbia. He had a Canadian organ that had to be pumped by foot pedals to make it work and forte was achieved by two wooden levers opened by spreading the knees; there was his homemade cello with one string and three bronzes on his mantelpiece - the Girl with a Thorn in her Foot, a Mercury poised on one foot, and a Lady with a Snake. According to Grandpa they were not really bronze but spelter, an alloy of zinc and copper. He was an engineering inspector with the LMS Railway and whilst he and Crandma Crisp took family holidays abroad traveling first class, the children - my Mum and Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Frank - had to travel third class. But this was normal stuff and I accepted it at the time, only later the incongruous nature of children not allowed to travel with their parents struck me as an imposition. And I never understood why Grandma Crisp whose first name was Clara was always called 'Click' by Grandpa. However it was 'Click' who removed the lady with the snake because she felt I was getting too interested. My schoolboy drawings also disappeared, and I didn't dare ask.
Claudia reckons kids these days are just the same as they always were - it's just that the boundaries have been pushed further out. Harold disagrees: the further out the boundaries go a greater span of permissiveness lies in between until the choice between morality and immorality become undefinable and confusion reigns. But he agrees that change will happen for youth to resume its naturally designed place in the civilized world - somewhere between childhood and adulthood - for, thank God! - we are reaching the end of the Permissive Society.