The Teds move in packs round our way in West London. Flocks might be a better word, they are very birdlike. They strut with skinny drainpipe legs, big chicken feet crepes, chests thrown out and hair a coxcomb. They chirp out insults from the sides of their beaks. Where I live, in Latimer road, they are even brave in twos. Ten minutes down the road in Ladbroke grove they become moorhens as they scuttle into the tube station. There is a sort of low key war that reaches a crescendo on a Friday or Saturday night after the pubs shut and they are brave. Then it is perilous for any black to be out. They find mixed couples a particular affront. Marauding army of disaffected young males of indefinite species looking for a focus for their frustration or a shower of bastards ? Matter of opinion, don’t matter a lot really. Just means it is ultra dodgy to venture abroad on the streets at night .Our house is the only one in the road owned by a black geezer, some of the neighbours find our presence an aggravation, most don’t care. The house leans on the bridge by Latimer road station. When a train goes over the bridge the entire house spasms, if you spill a drink on my floor it runs down gently to the bridge side. The house appears to be melting softly into the ground, the basement has saturated walls but nobody lives in the basement so who cares ? Our landlord is a lawyer from West Africa, he is finishing his studies. A tolerant fellow, his wife is a formidably serious white woman.
I live in the front room downstairs and my mate has the top floor with her two kids. In between are a whole group of small island men who speak a weird French dialect. For some reason which I never knew or have forgotten we have a feud going strong with all these fellows. It makes life interesting and does no harm. We shriek in our different languages with vast energy at each other, mostly over the sink in the basement, or the stove. We point vigorously at the gas meter, the coal hole, the back lavatory and we accuse them of thieving – gas, coal, bog roll – not sure what they are saying and as neither group admits to understanding the other it is an exercise in futility that we all enjoy. One tiny guy will put his face right up to mine and we yell merrily for moments, then we stalk away cursing. These guys love the my mate’s kids and talk to them and give them sweets, when we show up they scowl and leave. So that’s the background here’s the story: Me and the feller, after an evening of carousing with some wine and Bourbon and a little dope, decide to take a chance on a wander down the grove for a taxi at about half eleven. It’s a Saturday night and we are for the Mapleton up west. Slightly drunk and a touch stoned we slide round the corner giggling, nervous. Berry is the feller of the moment, a pleasant black Yank with whom I am temporarily engaged in a dalliance, and very nice too .We get half way down the road and are beginning to feel safe when we hear “Fucking niggers” and three white geezers of the Ted persuasion appear from round a corner. I’ve got a mouth on me, so I bellow back and we carry on shouting for a moment or two. I realise that Berry is not saying a lot but I can’t stop and I continue with the verbals. They suddenly make a rush for us and I get carried away with my own verbosity and hear my foolish voice saying “You’ll have to get through me first.” My fear of cowardice drowns out my terror. Another, simultaneous voice in my head says “Do leave off ! You silly cow!”These lads have absolutely no trouble in getting through me, indeed it is a pleasure. One knocks me down flat with the merest side blow. I get up speedily, to give them my thoughts on racism. He comes back and gives me a resounding kick in the crotch, I bend over and vomit. This appears to repel him and he backs away, afraid of getting his shoes spotted perhaps? I can’t stop staring at him. His whole face seems to be hurrying forward towards his nose, all the features trying to be at the very front. His beady eyes rush to each other in their effort to outpace the other parts, the whole effect is incredibly foxlike, I find it surprising that his nose is not black and shiny. The other two come back declaring that the “nigger” has disappeared. They stand and wave their shoulder pads about a bit and tell me that if they ever see that coon again etc. I just sit on the pavement in my brand new pink and grey pure cotton-by-Horrockses frock that is going to be ruined by the blood and vomit and I see that my gunmetal slash – toed high heeled pumps have lost a heel and I cry. The Teds look exceedingly pissed off at having their sport cut short but they leave. Home to mum? I stagger up inelegantly and with murderous thoughts I go in search of Berry. He emerges from a basement with cobwebs in
his hair and a grin on his face. I hardly know what to say but I make an effort to share my feelings on being deserted, can’t think where I got my immaculate taste in men .We discuss and decide to continue up west, I remove my shoes and Berry carries them. I borrow his handkerchief and remove the evidence of vomit from my skirt. The lights are so dim in the club, nobody will notice, and what the fuck anyway. I have become a little delirious and now feel like a heroine: My painful groin ? A badge of honour. See me ? I’m a strutter, a stalker a very fast walker. Now? I struggle along hanging on to Berry’s arm moving like an old woman. I wonder if a fractured groin is a feasibility. Berry is being all consummate caring creature, I find it marginally more repulsive than his late desertion. A car drives along beside us, I stiffen until I hear Cody’s voice and see his big old face hanging out the window grinning at me: “Hello darling, still with your Yankee man him?” Disparaging directed at Berry, who doesn’t realise. The car has in it Sonny and Sports, a Jamaican contingent of ruffians of the finest kind. I begin to tell them what happened with the Teds and Berry joins in. Too ashamed to say he lit out I listen to his edited version, this guy has a future in fiction!
” Come now !” and we jump in and off we go in search , a tiny marauding army of the opposition. Round the back doubles, not a Ted to be seen. Certainly not our three, in fact nary a one, a Ted free zone. My own enthusiasm ebbs as the other’s grows, Berry is avid for blood, Cody hums gently to himself, I sing along:” Feel so fine know that I’m on your mind, come let me hug ya, come let me kiss ya come let me see what I been missin’ feels so good now that you come back home.” “There they are !” Hear Berry. Three types emerging from an alley doing up their pants. The motor has stopped , the four of them out and the Teds moving – fast in the opposite direction – all before I’ve closed my mouth from singing. Clever of Berry to have recognised them, surprised he even saw them the first time around. The scene is one of pure mayhem. Limbs whirling, nasty sounds of fists thunking on flesh. gasps and roars, swearing and general nastiness. They all appear to be having a wonderful time and I feel no inclination to join in. Feel I’ve done my bit for the year. Finally, back to the car with them, the three Teds totalled on the deck. Or if not totalled then definitely going nowhere for a long time. The boys are so pleased with themselves, delighted with their prowess as human beings. Berry shows me his split knuckles with pride, tells me he got one of them on the snout. I conjecture was it old foxy face? Don’t care a lot either way. We are all for the club now. Up Lancaster road and past the greasy spoon on the corner. The guys are still discussing their battle in glowing terms, like being with four returning crusaders. Those mothers won’t mess with blacks from now on, we kicked their arse good, see his face when.. did you hear him when I ? Stuff like that, never seen Berry so animated.
Cody hates Yanks, now he’s buddy buddy with Berry. They appear to have forgotten me entirely Up Westbourne Park Road and on the corner by the convent stand Foxy face and his two mates, they wave their fists and yell abuse as we pass.
Ah well, one Ted’s much like another.