When There’s Nothing: A Flashdance Review

Flashdance is a confusing film. It’s a film most famous today for it’s theme song. A film that at times seems like an excuse to play some pop videos between moments of (contrived) drama. A film whose camera regularly moves lazily along shots of a female bodies. A film that exudes the power of young woman to excel at … welding(‽) … dancing … and yet makes the very same young woman dependent on a man to kick start her dream. A film that is maddeningly fun and enjoyable despite all that.

The film starts strongly, a young woman cycles through the streets of the very much working class Pittsburgh (last seen sending boys off to Vietnam in The Deer Hunter) as some up-tempo 80s synth pop pumps. We may be poor, but we are happy is the message.

It’s the kind of city where a young, very definitely not white woman, can get off her bike and get to work on some welding at her local steel plant. It’s the kind of city where a few jump cuts later, the same woman can dance erotically at a very tasteful nightclub where the girls are pretty but never naked (unlike the sleazeball joint we come across later). It’s the kind of club where the young hunk who runs the steel mill hangs out, cause he likes a beautiful woman, but he very definitely wouldn’t to slum it with the hoodlums who just want naked flesh.

The boss is delighted to discover he employs the young woman, and who wouldn’t be pleased that Jennifer Beals is turning up in your place each day? However, she has principles, it’s not just that she won’t share a sandwich with him, she won’t date bosses – we all know how that’s going to work out.

The woman has ambitions. She watches ballet on TV, she goes to the local dance school to make an application, where the beautiful white girls and the receptionist all eye her up and down disdainfully. Is it her working clothes? Is it cause her skin isn’t white? It spooks our woman and she runs out. The establishment has won!

Luckily the friendly bit of the establishment, Mr Boss Man, comes and sees her again. He even rescues her when she’s being threatened outside the club by creepy guy from the sleazy strip club. But she still rejects his help and cycles home … and he follows her all the way, trailing her in his Porsche. If you’re the kind of person who thinks ‘Every Breath You Take’ is a love song, then this will seem to you to be a romantic gesture. In truth it seems to be just another example of how men harassing women until the only solution is to give in is presented as good in films.

Anyway, it works. She lets him in. In the sexiest moment in the movie, she takes off her bra under her over large sweatshirt. Some critics at the time said that Flashdance was ‘pornographic.’ This is one of those moments they were likely thinking off. We see nothing, but boy, the mind really makes you think.

All is going well with young woman and Mr Boss Man, they walk along train lines, slag heaps, cause they are in Pittsburgh, it’s gritty, working class, it rains there, and you don’t take a girl to the park.

What you should also not do is use your wealth and privilege to get your woman an audition at the dance school that she has previously run away from. This interference seriously messes with her. She is clearly scared of the change of life that a successful audition will bring, she’s also a sister and likes doing things for herself. After the death of a old woman who was a mentor to her, she relents and attends the audition.

Here we get the famous ‘flashdance’ sequence, a mix of modern dance and the then fairly new break dancing moves (she’d seen it performed in the street earlier). Everyone loves her, she’s a success, and rushes out to meet Mr Boss Man.

The film ends. We don’t know what happened next, but we guess they live happily ever after and she dances around the world.

It’s all good fun, but the film does raise (and not really solve) some major issues.

Why did everyone react to Beals’ character when she appears in the application room at the dance school. Seems like a clear bit of colour prejudice, yet the film never directly addresses her colour. We have a mixed-race actress play the leading romantic role in a film, who has her image spread across all the publicity material, and no-one mentions her background. I like to think this was the most powerful statement the film makes, that for once colour doesn’t matter….

But then we also have to address the fact that while there is only very brief nudity in the film (and not from the lead characters), this is a film that delights in the female body. While it turned later that Beals had a body double for much of the dance scenes, we are definitely encouraged to see and feel her sexuality. Scenes such as the first dance sequence with the water falling on her, the Maniac song sequence, or when she’s in the restaurant with little on under a suit jacker, linger on the idea that ‘this girl is hot.’

So a mixed-race woman gets to play the lead, but then is basically playing ‘sexy girl.’ Mmh.

But she’s sexy girl with principles. She doesn’t do lunch with the boss, until she does do lunch and a lot more. She hates that he uses his power to get her an audition, yet truth is he needs to use his white privilege or she wouldn’t get her foot in the door.

What is Flashdance then telling us about 1980s USA? I’m not sure even Flashdance even knows. Did they accidentally stumble upon a semi-liberating plot while accidentally making a casting statement? Yes, most likely that’s it. This film feels annoying and frustrating, it’s close to being something, then finally isn’t. It’s a feeling, but what?

The Bristol Bus Boycott

Today is the anniversary of the Bristol Bus Boycott, a protest against the Bristol Omnibus Company and the TGWU trade union’s refusal to employ Black or Asian bus crews. At the time it was legal to discriminate in employment decisions based on race. The protest was successful and on 17 September 1963, Raghbir Singh, a Sikh, became Bristol’s first non-White bus conductor.

For a more in-depth look at this, try the History Extra podcast on this subject.

Got To Have Soul

De La Soul

In a world where rap music could lazily and racist labelled ‘the music of Black criminals,’ as BBC Radio 1 DJ called it, came the joyous, surreal world of De La Soul.

Themed around the concept of a game show, 3 Feet High and Rising was mind-blowing in its infectious rap. Music impossible to listen without just feeling a bit happier than you started.

Sampling everything from educational songs, Johnny Cash, Liberace, Michael Jackson and onto Hall & Oates (yes, those white ‘soul’ brothers), and three million other bits in-between. The opening song, The Magic Number contains at least 9 song samples, see whosampled.

If you’ve never heard this album, that may well be you are a child of the digital age, those samples were potential the death of this album in the digital age. Every single sample needed new clearance to have the music available on Spotify et al. But finally, it’s happened, one month after the death of founder member David Jolicoeur

De La Soul’s early catalog finally hits streaming platforms

Now you could just skip through the many stand-out tracks: The Magic Number, Eye Know, Say No Go, to name but three, but this is just a collection of classic tracks, it’s an experience, take the journey. It’s never too late to have joined the DAISY age

Sunset Blvd – Review

Film poster for the film Sunset Blvd

It starts with just a street name and threatening ‘something has happened music’

We quickly learn it’s a murder. A man is floating in a swimming pool. We are promised the story of this man. The narrator knows it, fully. (Is this a hint of who’s telling the story – watch and find out!)

Not long after, though it’s actually a flashback, as is almost the entire film, a woman walks into an office and says a lot of bad things about the screenwriters work (by now it’s been established, he’s Joe, the main character), who’s standing right behind her. It’s a movie, a real American movie, so you know a young blonde woman doesn’t walk into an office talking at length unless she will be important. The writer, who’d been hacked off, will fall in love with the critic, and she will try to unearth his hidden talent. Tell me I’m wrong.

Sunset Blvd. (1950)
William Holden, Nancy Olson, and Jack Webb in Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Going to be hard to hold onto the woman wearing a pullover like that, Mr Man Nobody Remembers Is In This Film https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/mediaviewer/rm2003863553

All this happens, but it’s only a side-show in Sunset Blvd rather than the reason you’re watching. Since the film is made by Billy Wilder, that film, the film that exclusively weaves a love-story between two kindred spirits, a film made a million times in Hollywood, would still be worth watching. But I remind you, this film may be a love story, but it’s not exactly that story. There’s more.

Joe, the screenwriter, is broke, and as part of his escape from creditors finds himself at a run-down property on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It looks abandoned, judging by the old 1920s car and the unkempt garden and swimming pool that hasn’t been filled in years. (An empty unused swimming pool, you’re just laying trap for later, aren’t you Mr Wilder?) Just as he’s trying to work it all out a voice from in the house calls him. It’s a woman. Is this kind of film it’s always a woman and it never goes well. I haven’t spoiled it for you, it starts with a dead man in a pool, remember?

The woman is Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson. For the next hour the film takes us on a journey where we struggle to make out fiction from Hollywood fact. Gloria Swanson plays a former silent movie star whose star is on the wane (as hers was by the time the film is made), her chauffeur in the film is her ex-husband and former film director, just as the actor playing the role, Erich von Stroheim, was a former director. Joe and Norma watch an old silent film, ‘Queen Kelly’ which starred Gloria Swanson and was directed by Erich von Stroheim. There is another scene where they visit Cecil B. De Mille, who is making a real film, later released as Samson and Delilah. There are dinner guests who are all former silent movie stars (I recognised Buster Keaton).

And now take a deep breath, as that’s a big part of the story, but it’s only part.

Norma is trapped in a fantasy of reality. As she famously says, ‘I am big, it’s the pictures that got smaller.’ She still receives fan mail, but it is fake, sent by her chauffeur to keep her happy. She doesn’t realise that her use to Paramount Pictures isn’t her and her star power, it’s the old car, which could be a useful prop. To her, there is no reason why a man half her age, Joe, wouldn’t fall in love with her. She’s a star!

Then there’s Joe. He’s broke. He’s offered money to work on a screenplay with Norma. He takes it as he needs to pay off his debts. He really wants to believe he’s being true to himself by also writing a real, high-quality screenplay, with Betty (the sassy woman from the office – who’d have thought that would happen? Except me in paragraph two.).  But soon he is also taking gifts he claims not to want:  a platinum watch, a gold cigarette case. When he’s buying an expensive suit and coat the assistant has clearly seen this scenario before and suggests he goes with the more expensive option since the woman is paying.

There we have it, American Gigolo may have been made in 1980, but we have one right here in 1950. The emasculated American male.

There are a few twists and turns, we find out who the dead man in the pool is. We conclude with one of the greatest last scenes in film history. Gloria Swanson has been acting genius throughout, always taking her character to the max, but never so far beyond that you stop caring about her. The over-acting, as we may see it today, is perfectly in keeping with a silent movie star and the need to convey so much more with a look or an action when there are no words to aid meaning.

Finally, she descends the stairs. Then she says one of the contenders for great last lines in a film ever (and Billy Wilder has two of them, this along with ‘Nobody’s perfect’ from Some Like it Hot):

“There’s nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

Her fingers stretch out for the camera. She moves forward to us. Fade to black.

Subway (1985) – a Review

Helena (Isabelle Adjani) arrives, walking down a cold, hard, dirty metallic stair, dressed in exotic evening wear, her hair a perfect stylistic mess. This is how to make a film entrance. She is ready for her close-up, Mr Bresson.

I could watch this the rest of my life and not be disappointed. Sunset Boulevard, but on the Paris Metro.

 (Later in the same scene the dialogue jokes about her hairstyle, she accuses Christopher Lambert’s character, Fred, of having his hair in a mess, he says, ‘look at yourself.)

This is Subway, a 1985 film from Luc Bresson and an early entrant in the cinema du look.

Helena has been told to meet Fred at the metro. In classic movie magic fashion, she knows exactly which station, though he never mentions it. How does she know? Have they done this before? Is this how they met? The station they meet at is spacious, many platformed, and yet, first time she glides down the right stairs.

(There is a whole other film that could have been made here where she spends the whole movie not meeting Fred as she works her way round the metro network. Or is the reason she walks so slowly and suspensefully is not that she has seen Fred and isn’t sure how this will go, but that she’s tired, this the tenth platform she has tried. This the film I would have made.)

There is a lot of fun, like this, to be had in Subway. There’s the French Connection style opening of a long car chase. A long sequence introducing the main detective character that just features him and a squad of policemen walking into the metro, occasionally having problems with ticket barriers (symbolising that they are not at one with the underground environment the way the roller skaters and the homeless are?), and generally looking like they have accidentally entered the film via a failed audition for a western. There is the labyrinthic setting of the metro, with more places to hide or have adventures in than the sewers of Vienna. There are the quirky characters whose reason to be living in the metro is never explained, only that they are obviously part of another society, a literally underground one, that flourishes under fluorescent lighting.

And there is Isabelle Adjani, who starts the film dressed for a night on the Paris social scene, downgrades later to some overlarge padded shoulders, later still finds a white bomber jacket and only slightly uncombed hair, before ending the film in a checked shirt and a man’s suit jacket, single-handedly kicking start the grunge movement.

All of this is played out to a musical backdrop that is pure 80s no subtility synth pop, often provided by the minor characters. Even at the time I wasn’t sure if the music was supposed to be cool, or part of a parody, a kitsch 80s version of cool jazz.

It is not clear why they are in a band (except it gives them a gang identity, of sorts), why Fred is walking around with a song idea, though he is no singer and no musician. Is it cheaper than renting rehearsal space? A play on the fact that busking is a typical underground station way of making a living. Or is just that it’s really handy in allowing a final act where the music explains the scene in front of us? I hope it is this one.

Then there is this beautiful scene. The tenderness of the dancing, the intensity of the looks, the inappropriateness of the gentlemen’s excuse me. Ingrid Bergman may have been the greatest at looking down meaningfully in film history (watch all the times she does it in Casablanca) Isabelle Adjani is killing with small, gentle smiles and mascara.

Fred: Why do I love you?
Helena: Because I am an amazing woman.

The French are often accused, or even celebrated, for films that are intellectual, full of depth, if only I were just more educated and could work it all out. The joy of Subway is that there is not much more to it than what you see on the screen. Moving pictures.

It’s not easy to find Subway, I can’t find it on a streaming service or to buy where I live. It is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Subway-Blu-ray-Isabelle-Adjani/dp/B002BC9YVQ

Valentine’s Day

I was travelling on the metro when I saw this woman. The trip was long, long enough to imagine her story.

There is an audio version at the end of the page.

A slightly sad looking young woman sits on a seat on the Bucharest metro, looking downwards. Contemplative look. Has a handbag on her lap and a bottle of water in her right hand.

She was travelling home alone. There had been an argument and he’d refused to come. It wasn’t the first time that he had acted so. Because she had smiled a moment too long at a waiter, agreed with the ‘wrong’ person in the conversation, dared to ask a stranger directions rather than trust he knew where he was going. Or today, because she had talked too long with another student after the lecture.

By now he should have been sending messages, apologising, explaining he loved her really, sometimes he’s just so jealous that he can’t help himself. There were always messages. Calls. Usually it was right after, often late night after he had been drinking. She needed to be alert to these, it was worse if she failed to reply immediately.

But there were no messages. But there was no ping, no vibration. Was it the lack of signal between stations or this was it? He’d actually meant what he’d said. He was gone?

As Sudului became Brancoveanu, past Eroii Revolutiei, the longer stretch to Tineretului, she began wonder. How many times would she be sat on an underground train, standing at a bus stop, alone in apartment, waiting for him to calm down? Was she to spend the rest of her life sitting alone at café tables refreshing apps in case now was the time? Should she be feeding herself coffee at all times of night because he would call and she must answer?

She wanted love. She loved feeling loved. He was only like this as he was so devoted to her. Wasn’t he?

Piata Unirii came by. They had once spent a summer evening walking round the fountains. He had looked so handsome that day, had told her how he planned to be with her forever. But then, in act of what she thought was playful love, she had pushed him a under a stream of water, it had hardly touched him, yet he raged.

The train rolled on to Universitatii, where they had first met at the university, she’d bought the last sandwich from the kiosk, and to save the vendor from his verbal assault, she agreed to let him have it.

To Romana. They’d eaten strawberries in the café garden, bought a book of Edwin Morgan poems. He said the seller had only included a bookmark – a bookmark! – cause he wanted her.

She opened her bag, fumbled for her phone. There it was, fallen to the bottom again. She took it out. Placed it on the seat next to her. Stood up. Her stop. Victoriei.

Valentine’s Day audio

Speech Therapy

S-s-s-s-s-s-snake. (https://pixabay.com/photos/snake-reptile-animal-scale-3979601/)

When I was a child I struggled to learn to speak. I was quick at those other skills that you might want a child to have: toilet trained, walking, I could even write my name (with both hands!) before I was able to speak.

I only gained mastery of speech thanks to a determined mother who fought for my right to have help, and the speech therapist who trained me in producing sounds accurately and with ease.

Listening to this podcast about speech therapy in the Turks and Caicos islands brought memories, listening to a child trying to accurately say ‘sh’ as in ‘shoes’ was just like how I remember learning to say ‘s’ like ‘snake.

The podcast, The Travelling Speech Therapist, is available on BBC Sounds.

Burns Night 2023 – Bannocks

Bannocks O' Bear Meal

Bannocks o’ bear meal,
Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s Bannocks o’ barley.

Robert Burns
As it's Burns Night, January 25, I've decided to make a traditional Scottish flatbread called bannocks. Why this bread? Well, Robert Burns wrote about many of the common things of Scottish life, from mice to lice! He wrote about our most famous food, the haggis, but he also has a poem about Bannocks.

In the past beremeal would be used for this recipe, but it's almost impossible to find today, so I've used flour. Try itself by using the recipe here, https://scottishscran.com/scottish-bannocks-recipe/, and following the video. #robertburns #scotland
Making bannocks

Terry Hall

One of the abiding memories of those of us of a certain age in 1981 is Terry Hall and company packed into a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta, driving past of the concrete wastelands of east London and telling us all about a ghost town where bands no longer play. It’s the quintessential hit of early Thatcher’s Britain. The claustrophobia of the video, the bleak lighting, creating an intense sense of doom.

The song was by the Coventry band The Specials, a multi-racial band playing ska-based music, recording on the TwoTone label. A band whose existence the top of the charts, with Terry Hall singing alongside Neville Staple, showed the power of working together.

Not all of Terry Halls’s career was full of the bleak misery of Ghost Town. Some of The Specials other popular songs were more joyous, there’s even a song called Enjoy Yourself!

Hs solo career continued with this mix of the political – The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum  – the fun pop – It Ain’t What You. There is the perfect pop of Our Lips Are Sealed.

Terry Hall died today. If you don’t the man and his music, then I suggest you have a look at this article.

Clootie Dumpling

Much as it may sound like a personal insult – ‘you’re such a clootie dumpling!’ – a clootie dumpling is in fact a traditional Scottish dessert, which gets its name, the clootie part at least, from the fact that the dumpling is made by boiling the ingredients in a cloth or clootie.

I’ve never made this before, and on reading recipes it seems to be more a test of patience than deep cooking skills – up to four hours from start to finish! Oh well, it’s a day off, so we have time and can try (and most of this time is sitting and watching it boil for three hours, so can wonder off and do other things).

Let’s start at the beginning then, the ingredients:

Laptop with recipe on the left, then the ingredients: flour, ginger, oats, margarine, sugar, milk
The ingredients
  • 200g Plain Flour – additional flour will be required for flouring the cloth and surface of the pudding
  • 125g Oatmeal
  • 150g Suet / Unsalted Butter
  • 125g Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 Tsp Mixed Spice
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 3 Tbls Black Treacle
  • 2 Eggs (Medium)
  • 125g Currants
  • 125g Sultanas/Raisins
  • 150ml Milk – To be used as required

(The recipe is from Scottish Scran, https://scottishscran.com/how-to-make-clootie-dumpling-recipe/)

I’m vegetarian, so no suet for me, and have substituted with solid baking margarine. Can’t find treacle in the shops, but could find molasses, a more typically American ingredient but as far as I can tell it’s about the same, a black sickly sweet liquid made of sugars. Don’t have exactly the right dried fruit, but close enough. Close enough is my cooking moto.

Mixing the ingredients together in a bowl.
Mixing it all together – using a spoon doesn’t work well!

To start we mix all the dry ingredients together, simple so far, then add the eggs and treacle. The aim is to make a ball that is bound together. Doing this with spoon doesn’t get me anywhere, so time to get the hands stuck in – as usual I forget to flour them first, so my hands are covered with a gooey mess quite quickly. Nonetheless, this works and we have something that looks like what it is – an uncooked pudding.

The next step is the introduction of the clootie. I have an old teacloth I am using. Lay it flat on a worktop and cover it lightly with flour. Move the flour around by hand to make sure it’s evenly spread. Once done, add the dumpling mix to the centre and bring the clootie together and tie it.

This is the point when I remember the mention of string in the instructions, and I don’t have any. A quick look round the flat establishes the best I have is some thread, and taking a few strings together I am able to tie by clootie.

Now we find a pot, put a small plate upside down in the bottom, to prevent the dumpling being stick on the bottom of the pan, place the dumpling in the pot and then cover with boiling water. All good!

The dumpling is in a pot which filled with boiling water.
The dumpling is in the pot with boiling water.

This is where both care and patience is needed. It is supposed to boil for three hours, patience!, and shouldn’t boil dry, so care needed to keep topping up the water. Finally, it’s done.

Take the clootie dumpling put the pan and drain it using a colander. Once it’s cooled down, take it out the colander, place on a cooking surface and unwrap. However, do this carefully so that the flour that was on the cloth doesn’t all come off the dumpling, ideally it forms a ‘skin.’

The dumpling sitting on the unwrapped 'clootie.' The pudding looks pale, and is covered in a wet skin caused by the flour.
The pale dumpling with its skin.

The dumpling as this point is a bit pale and very wet. This where drying out is needed, so place it in an oven for between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on how wet it is. The baking here will also turn the flour on the outside of the dumpling brown, giving it an appetising look.

The clootie dumpling is now browned after being baked for a few minutes.
Browned after being baked for about ten minutes.

And I’ve done it! Not sure why I’m surprised, but when taking it out the oven my clootie dumpling looks like what it’s supposed to be. Perhaps a little flat, had I tied it tighter I think it would have retained more of a ball shape, but for a first try, I’m pleased.

So how do you get? It’s really your choice. With custard is common, or cream, or if you’re strange like me, plain yoghurt!

A small bowl with a piece of clootie dumpling and yoghurt in it.
Clootie dumpling with yoghurt – it would have been better if I’d remembered to buy ice cream!

And finally, as St Andrew’s Day, top it off with a fine whisky!

a glass of whisky next to the clootie dumpling.
Whisky and clootie dumpling gang together.

Brighton – My Generation

May 1964: People try to put us down – talkin’ ‘bout my generation!

Each generation has its own ideas, its own thoughts, its own hang-ups and doubts. Each generation believes its ideas are new and unique, each generation is sure that the thoughts it is having are new thoughts never considered before. Each generation is entirely sure that its worries are completely the fault of those that have gone before.

And then there is music.

Everyone knows that the music of their youth is the greatest music that ever existed and no amount of parents saying ‘You call that music!’ will ever change that.

But there was one generation for whom, perhaps, we can say that the music, the ideas and worries they had were unique. That generation was the one that came of age in Britain in 1964. For that was the year of ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ ‘Dancing In The Streets’ and ‘You Really Got Me.’

Jimmy knew all about music, or so he thought, and anything he didn’t now, his friend Leslie would surely know.

Jimmy was 19 and had left school the year before. He was young, bright, and had a lip, as his mum would say. He couldn’t help it. Everywhere he went he was frustrated by the old-timers clinging onto to power, having jobs just because they always did not because they deserved them, and telling him they knew better when it was clear they had no idea at all what they were talking about.

Jimmy had a friend called Leslie. Leslie’s family had come to the UK from Jamaica before he was born, and some people, despite Leslie being born in Brighton, considered him a foreigner. Some used worse words ‘darky,’ ‘nig-nog,’ ;spade.’ Leslie appeared not to hear those words, let them bounce of them, but Jimmy knew that Leslie hurt inside.

Jimmy and Leslie spent much of their time down the local pub. It was there that they hogged the jukebox and mad sure to play the latest songs they approved of from the Mersey Beat to Tamla Motown. When they weren’t there they were down by the sea, sitting on the beach letting the hours drift by, or perhaps at the Dome watching a new band trying to make it big.

Pretty much every hour they were awake Jimmy and Leslie were together. Some people used to make comments, ‘you’re like a married couple, you two,’ but they took no notice. They were happy with each other and they didn’t really need to consider other people’s views.

‘Leslie, it’s late, see you tomorrow by the pier?’

‘Yeah, around two. Alright?’

It was a bank holiday weekend, early May. The weather was the usual mix of wind and hints of sun. Jimmy decided he could wear his tailored suit, but he definitely needed his coat.

As he was walking to meet Leslie, he realised there were far more people around than usual. It seemed that the whole of London had made it down to the south coast, and not just the mods like Jimmy and Leslie, but the rockers as well.

‘This isn’t going to end well,’ he thought to himself.

Leslie arrived a few minutes after Jimmy.

‘How’s it going Leslie?’‘Not too good, I had to make a run for it from a bunch of rockers, they didn’t like how I looked.’


‘Yeah, anyway, let’s get out of here.’

The two of them started to make their away along the promenade. They were thinking of making for a coffee bar they knew just of the James Street, but as they were about to make the right turn onto Charlotte Street they saw a large group of rockers coming their way.

The sensible thing would have been to turn round and gone back the way they had gone as quickly as possible, but by the time they had realised this, it was too late and they were surrounded.

‘Well, look at these pretty boys,’ said the red faced one who was obviously the leader of the gang.‘Where do you think you’re going?’

‘Just looking for a coffee.’

‘A coffee? Why don’t you have a man’s drink?’

Neither Jimmy nor Leslie answered. It wasn’t that they didn’t have stronger drinks sometimes, it just didn’t seem like a question that was asking for an answer.

‘I suppose this nig-nog has at least got something he can share he can share with us. We haven’t come all this way just to drink coffee like you two poofters.’

‘He’s no nig-nog. He’s called Leslie. If you must talk to him, use his name.’

‘Who are you to tell me how I should talk to people? If I want to call him a nig-nog and you his little poofter friend, that’s up to me. Now tell me. Have you got anything for us, my little black cousin?’

‘Like what?’

‘Come on, we all know what you boys like to smoke.’

‘I don’t do that kind of thing. I haven’t got anything. Search me if you like.’

The rockers decided they would search the pair of them. When they had searched all the pockets of Jimmy and Leslie and found nothing they were angry and frustrated. That’s when the first punch landed.

‘Just a little warm-up hit before the big fight later.’

Then more punches, and kicks, and before anyone had even thought about it a knife as drawn.

The sharp blade entered Leslie so smoothly that he didn’t take in what had happened. But then he saw the red blade make the same path into Jimmy. He looked down and saw the blood soaking through his jacket. He tried to fight back, to get u and protect Jimmy, but the sky started to fade away in front of him, and he fell, his head hitting hard on the concrete.


He heard Jimmy scream. And then silence. Nothing.

Brighton – May 2003

For most of the kids at school the bank holiday was something to look forward to, but not for Julie. Normally she loved a day off school, but Monday was the day when it was supposed to happen – that’s what all the messages had said.

They had started a few months ago. When it was just one unkind message on her timeline she could ignore it. But since then it had grown, from once a month to several times a day. And the messages were everywhere – on Facebook, Twitter, on her phone. Yes, her phone, too. How had they got the number? She’d changed it, and they still knew.

She’d deleted her Twitter and Facebook account, but that had only made it worse. Now not only did she not know what people were saying about her – she’d always be the last person to know, after everyone – like really everyone – at school knew – but she was also now even abused for not being cool enough to be there.

And always the comments were the same. There were three themes: she was fat, she was ugly, she was a lesbian, because no man would have a girls who was fat and ugly, and so it would go, endlessly.

Only lately had they changed. Now they had gone from the abusive to the threat of violence. She should look out. They were going to get her. Their patience had run out.

When her mum asked Julie to go out to the shops on Monday to get some milk she’s tried to resist.

‘But mum, do I have to?’

Sometimes this whining worked, her mum would rather do the job herself than listen to her teacher daughter moan about it. But this time her mum was insistent.

‘You haven’t left the house the whole weekend, the least you can do is spend five minutes popping out to the shops.’

She couldn’t really argue. To argue would have involved telling her mum why she didn’t want to leave the house, and she really didn’t want to have to explain everything to her. Her mum was a bit old-fashioned, would she understand about her and who she was? 

Julie had been walking along Charlotte Street for about five minutes when she was sure she heard steps behind her. She sped up a little, and so did the steps. She wanted to run, but she was no good at running. And she didn’t want them to know she was that scared. She wanted to look round and see who was there, but someone she thought that if she could just keep looking ahead perhaps they would go away.

That’s when she felt an arm go round her neck and grab her, locked, defenceless.

‘I’ve got you now,’ snarled a voice she wasn’t sure she knew.

She was scared. How could she defend herself?

‘You’ll be no use to any man or woman when I’m finished. Now come with me.’

The man, she could tell it was a man, just wasn’t sure which. Was it Graham from the Chemistry class? Don from History? Was it one of the boys from the sixth form whose names she was never quite sure of?

Whoever it was dragging her into a side alley. When he got her there he started the attack, Fast, brutal.

Julie gave herself up to the pain. It was what she had been waiting for.

But just when she thought she was done for she saw the shadow of two men come from nowhere. The two men took on her attacker, they had him against the wall.

‘Look at you – pathetic – taking on a girl. Don’t you have anyone your own size to pick on,’ said the tall black one.

‘If we see you anywhere near this girl again, we’ll have you. Understand?’

But he was too scared to answer.

Julie had to go to hospital. Her mum was worried sick, but after a few stitches and a few days of a mother’s love she was fine.

Julie explained what had happened and why.‘It was them two, wasn’t it?’ her mum said.‘Them two? Who? What are you talking about mum,’ asked Julie.

‘Jimmy and Leslie. No-one talks about them anymore, but back in the sixties it was a big story. I never really knew them, but I’d seen them, heard of them. In those days everyone was a Mod or a Rocker, you had to choose: Gene Vincent or the Who. They were Mods. And they were Black and White and that wasn’t really the thing then, Black and white mixing. And some people said they were, well you know.’‘You mean like me mum?’

‘Yes. Well, May Bank Holiday back then it was a riot everywhere, people, fighting all over the place. About music, can you believe it? And somehow those two got in the middle of it down Charlotte Street. They were beaten up, knifed, bled to death on the pavement.

But they’ve been back since, looking after folks like them.’