Jimmy Bramble was pushing eight when submitted to his first kiss. Alison Beaumont, a pretty eleven year old brunette, declared her mission and gave chase. Jimmy was fast and evaded capture effortlessly; anticipating direction, wrong footing every move. Exhausted he scoffed, hunched over, choking at failed attempts not figuring on, Katie Grimes, an undetected accomplice who, upon the next bout, caught him unawares and tripped him to the ground. Alison gleefully ran across, pinned him flat and restrained his arms. He struggled trying to dodge, darting his head this way and that. As she moved in, her long hair cascaded, shrouding his face from gathering onlookers. When completely dark she stole a kiss. It felt unusual, a primal rush unlike any other. In a blink she released him from grip. Jimmy had crossed over and glimpsed boyhood, an encounter foreshadowing manner and form.
Jimmy Bramble was one of three siblings, all of whom, by virtue of appearance, involuntarily ran against the grain. Fully grown; Christopher was the eldest; a charismatic leader with a loyal pack of followers, Laurie was the second eldest, a slender bespectacled intellectual and Jimmy the baby of the bunch. They were essentially West Indian, an ethnic cocktail of Madras mixed with a jigger of Chinese and Black. Shockingly his folks joked Jimmy, was a “Red Nigger” slang for an American Indian on account of his fair skin. He would aggressively beg to differ but truth be told he was more post than pre-op Jacko; a preteen’s dream complete with sky high cheekbones and blowout hair. His parents were from Guyana; termed a second gener, the son of 1st generation immigrants. His placement was of little consequence in 1970’s Britain, either way he was in exile. A Londoner, not yet a Brit; a nomad circling seeking permission to land.
His parents were eager to adopt a British way of life; instinctively trying to shield them from the bigotry they encountered by helping them integrate. His Mum, Tamil adopted a British alias Doreen. As an inquisitive lad, Jimmy would ask her which was her real name and why she had two. She said her British name was Doreen and not to use the other as it would confuse people. When she signed cheques he noticed she used her real name. He was confused, why was she acting undercover? His Dad had a British name, Vincent but also had a second name, Sonny his friends used, although confusing, he found it agreeably less covert. It was of little consequence as they were only kids; more soul surviving than soul searching. It wasn’t till he left school he started to seek answers to his childhood questions. Why did they eat Black Cake and not Sherry Trifle? Why did his school friends get the slipper and not the belt? Where did it all start and how did a Chinese man named Bramble wind up in Guyana?
His first day at Croyland Primary was a frightfully vicious introduction to school life. Quite grim looking idemise, Croyland was a collection of red brick Victorian buildings located in Lower Edmonton, North London. The corridors were cold and drab serviced by beige cast iron radiators deliberately switched off to save money. The windows were placed up high so they couldn’t see out of them and guarded by a wire mesh grill. It was a mixed school and contained both nursery and junior sections. On his first day he felt nervous and abandoned as does every kid, but unlike every kid Jimmy was black and ripe for the picking. At first break the older boys, a gang of three cornered Jimmy in a shady lean-to out of view of the teachers. They sneered and harangued; pushing and prodding, searching his pockets, stealing his things. It was the beginning of a terrifying ordeal. Every day they subjected him to sadistic humiliation, a sordid practice that would leave the most resilient suicidal. He would hide in fear when he saw them coming until one day he decided to fight back.
They gathered snarling, crowding him out concealing their vile behaviour. Before they could open their spiteful gobs he yelled;
“Get away from me, I’m warning you!”
They laughed, cueing Jimmy to pounce; lashing out twisted. They were startled; he could see the panic in their eyes. His arms flailed to create distance, then he grabbed them one by one. First he tore into the ring leader’s scrawny face with his nails and when prostrate gasping for air he grabbed the other one and shoved him down. The third denied involvement pleading ’It wasn’t me, they made me do it.’ The lies only fuelled his rage and he beat him repeatedly about the face. He lost it, he simply did not care anymore and that empowered him to do anything he wanted. The playground ground to a halt and a crowd gathered. He was so wrapped up; when his teacher approached he hit him too. Thankfully the teacher read the situation and backed off, pulled the crowd away and crept up slowly, arms outstretched, hands patting down, hushing him calm. He eased up and submitted.
“What’s wrong Jimmy?” he whispered, looking him in the eye.
The ring leader got in first “He went mad and hit me for nothing Sir,”
The teacher knew it was totally out of character “Shut up Thompson”.
“What happened Jimmy, What did they do? It’s alright you can tell me, nothing will happen.”
Panting and exasperated he identified the creeps and blurted it all out. He felt relieved, a tremendous weight had been lifted. The secret was out and there was no going back. They were told to stay away or face the consequences. The bullying ceased and like the snivelling cowards they were, withdrew back to their lair. Jimmy was no fool. He knew they felt no guilt or remorse, only fear they would be outed to their parents. Afterwards they tried to worm their way back and make friends with him, they even tried to recruit him. In their twisted little minds that would have made it acceptable; he scoffed and abandoned them in disgust. They quickly went back to their old ways. Soon after, Jimmy saw them pick on another boy but their new target snitched to his parents and they were removed. Even though it was a triumph Jimmy felt numb as the scars were fresh and ran deep. He had a choice either wallow in self-pity or turn it round; the scales stood unevenly balanced waiting patiently to weigh the manner of the man.
Thankfully when Jimmy turned nine his parents moved him from Croyland to another Junior School, All Saints. The school had the same cold brick exterior but somehow felt warmer. On his first day he sensed his classmates were alright. It was quiet plain they weren’t the bulling type, just tough kids who liked to fight a lot. At first break they introduced themselves and to his shock a playground initiation ensued. He was to take on Prakesh (Pra), the boy he had just made friends with.
“Do him or we’ll do ya?” These lads were platinum persuaders. Reluctantly he went at it with a half-hearted tussle before the teacher stepped in. He got a ticking off for starting trouble, not a great impression to make on his first day, but like a good patsy, took the blame and kept his mouth shut. In the furore he could hear them say. ’Yeah, the new boy’s alright, he’s with us now.” He emerged from the trial in disarray but happy to have earned his stripes and be accepted into the fold.
Jimmy was keen to keep in with his new friends. He willingly gave into peer pressure. Kael Stewart, a tall black dude and Simon Randall, a Welsh lad with woolly hair and freckles congregated outside a targeted newsagents on their bikes after school. Jimmy felt uneasy as he knew they were up to no good. They cased the joint devising a strategic plan of attack.
“Jimmy, you wait here. You’re the lookout,” ordered Kael.
His accomplices would wait for the right moment; say a crowded breakout of school kids then go in. They eyed up the goods and placed their orders; Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, Milk Gums the stuff on open display. Cough Drops and Bonbons were a no go as they were kept in jars on shelves behind the counter. They chipped in to the whip. Simon and Kael walked in. They ordered a quart of Bulls Eyes from a jar on the high shelf behind. While the server’s back was turned they stuffed their pockets with one penny chews. The theft window was short and if caught they would drop the loot and pretend to be tying shoelaces then scoop them up later on the way out. Jimmy’s heart pounded, why were the taking so long? He spotted potential trouble and rang his bike. With only seconds to spare they emerged flushed but jubilant. It was a rush but inside Jimmy was resenting his involvement. They went round the corner to divi up the spoils but he had a change of heart and passed. Simon kept shoving them in his face trying to tempt him.
“It’s alright Jimmy you don’t have to, leave him Si.”
Jimmy said he’d take the ones they paid for. Simon took one out, grinned,
popped it in his mouth and rode off.
“Never mind, you can have mine this time,“ said Kael handing over the Bulls Eyes then rode off chasing down Simon. Kael instantly earned Jimmy’s respect, he understood him. From that day on Jimmy followed Kael regardless, his loyalty held no bounds.
The All Saints were taking shape. Jimmy, the latecomer was being tried out. There was no formal initiation to speak of, that would be naff. Instead he just hung out and then, just maybe he’d hang out a little bit more cultivating a loose understanding. For recreation they dodged motocross meatheads over the V in the long grass, walked along a wide ledge on a high rise twenty storeys up; admittedly it didn’t seem so wide when you were up there looking down but that was the point. The real test came at school. Loyalty was at the top of the list. If you couldn’t rely on your mate to cover for you, if you couldn’t trust your friend to back you up, you were not one of them, you were not an All Saint.
Jimmy and Kael were caught for a minor altercation at school and both faced the cane. They stood in the Heads office. Exhilaration turned to remorse as reprimand loomed. Mr. Nash, the Head was every bit the Shelly Menace; a dark shuffling zombie with dead eyes, you could almost see the bolt connectors in his neck. He flexed the birch as he lectured them on why they should behave. The stings from his imminent thrashing would have been Jimmy’s guess, it was all he could think about. When quizzed, Kael gallantly fessed up for initiating the incident. He knew it was his idea and thought there was still hope for Jimmy. Mr. Nash put the cane back in his special hiding place, said that he did not want to see him again and turned his attention towards Kael. It wasn’t the first time Kael had been in this position and this time he was going to teach him well. Instead of three lashes he would get ten.
Kael grinned at Jimmy and with his eyes pointing toward the floor whispered. “Watch this.”
Jimmy looked on in total disbelief as pee ran down his trousers and collected
into a pool at his feet. He moved away, nose sniggered at his riposte and left. Everyone was afraid of Nash but not Kael. It was the ultimate show of defiance. Jimmy gazed through the window as Nash put his back into it. He didn’t wince once but instead looked across gently, like a saint, achieving instant martyrdom.
Jimmy was ten and experimenting, exercising his wild streak pushing the boundaries to see how far he could take it. As a result he constantly found himself in detention with the remedial set, permanently deranged bullies and thugs. He didn’t like them, they weren’t his type of people but he couldn’t fight them all. He took a leaf out of Pra’s book. Pra was a Prefect and an All Saint too. There were no objections because he could hold it down but at a snip turn psycho, a deceptive but useful trait. Jimmy held tremendous respect for him so took his advice and boxed clever. He cosied up to the denigrates larking about pretending to have fun and they left him alone. Pra was right and it worked pretty well at first. He thought himself clever till the clever plan backfired. Jimmy was pulled into the mayhem with his new friends every break thereafter. What was he to do? Break cover? He feigned interest hoping it would stop but it didn’t.
If ever there was a moment that bought Jimmy back from the brink it was the intervention on Mr. Pringle; Geography teacher and clog wearing Prefect Appointer. He put him on notice. Told him he was better than that and to clean up his act. A month later he was called in to see him. He dressed him down reminding him of what could happen if he didn’t take heed. Then just when he thought the worst, he came out with it.
“We’re going to make you a Prefect Jimmy,” he announced “Let me see your record—“ He looked at his report card “—You’ve been good lately, keeping out of trouble I see, well done,”
“Yes Sir, Thank you.”
Jimmy knew it was a bribe to keep him on the right side but accepted anyway as it meant he could avoid assembly.
He wore a badge and was assigned late duties or lates. His job was to make a note of anyone who was late. Anyone caught three times got detention.
He was on lates with Pra when Royston, a Jamaican Yardie from the bottom set strolled by. Royston had the face and the intelligence of a pack mule. He strutted pass without a care in world, blatantly ignoring them;
“Hold on, you’re late, you got to sign the book,” yelled Jimmy.
Given Royston’s flagrant disregard for authority there was little chance of compliance.
He sucked his equine teeth. “Cha..ya book mi and we gon’ fight,”
Jimmy’s heart pounded but knew he couldn’t back down.
“Oi! Where you going, you deaf? I said sign the freakin’ book.”
Prakesh was gobsmacked, Jimmy had delivered an unequivocal slap in the face.
“Right, tomorrow ater school down da brook- -” he paused “- -hold on mi got
another fight den. Wi do it Tursday break.”
Jimmy agreed and he strutted off.
“Mate you gonna fight a brother?” said Pra.
“Maybe he’s your brother but he ain’t mine.”
“He could have paid up?” Pra muttered. Jimmy and Pra often accepted bribes
to look the other way.
“Nah, he don’t deserve it.”
Pra shook his hand in reverence “Christ, Royston you got some bottle, good luck mate.”
The bout was due after English. It was uppermost in his mind. Everyone knew and mouths were chattering, Jimmy played it down and tried to hush them as it was adding to his anxiety. He made his way to the boys’ toilet, singularly focused on the job in hand. There was no backing down he had to go through with it or be labelled a chicken. Simon Randall popped in, faking support. He held his jacket and Jimmy got into it straight away. To his surprise and relief, Royston despite his hard man image was puny, he had nothing. Jimmy proceeded to toss him around like a rag doll; slamming his back on the sink and his head on the urinal. He actually held back as he did not want to seriously hurt him. That was a mistake. As he switched to defence Royston got a jab into his eye and a catty scratch or two. Jimmy may have looked the loser, but the verdict was unanimous. He was declared winner and achieved instant notoriety.
Students unknown to him, shook his hand. “Did you fight Royston? Well done man he’s a wanker.” Royston gave him dagger stares after but Jimmy stared him down; if he wanted to go again he’d regret it, Jimmy would make sure of that. He was beginning to believe in himself and stand strong.
Jimmy’s family worked and lived above a shop, a Grocers named Mini Market his parents bought. The shop was part of a three-story end of terrace building in Edmonton at the top end of Market Parade; a row of ten shops. Living above a shop was like living out a suitcase; it felt temporary but it was not temporary, it was their home. His dad built a bathroom on the ground floor and they were two to a bed upstairs. Jimmy and his brothers scavenged the non-sellers from the shop and cooked their own meals rather than burden Mum. They all worked in the shop; his Dad more on the periphery, writing up the books, packing shelves, creating special offer posters. The shop became a community hub and had many regulars, characters of some note.
Simon dropped round. He stopped on his bike and popped his head through the shop door whilst seated.
“Hi Mrs. Bramble is Jimmy there?”
“How are you Simon?”
“Ok Mrs Bramble,”
“Jimmy it’s your friend,” she yelled.
Jimmy would tumble down the stairs and manoeuver his bike out of the side entrance. “Don’t stay out late.”
Jimmy was free and off again on another adventure; Simon on his red Chopper and Jimmy on a shaky three speed Laurie nicknamed Mower Man, a sinister entity, evil with murderous intent. They raced up to Edmonton Green Shopping Center and powered up to the top of the NCP cark park.
Simon pointed to a couple, way into the distance, on the roof of the high rise flats opposite. “See over there? That’s where they’re doing it.”
Jimmy looked puzzled as he explained what ‘doing it’ was. Jimmy knew he was a bit weird as he was into Siouxsie & the Banshees but this seemed nuts even for him.
Jimmy repeatedly shook his head “You’re mad, don’t be stupid.”
Then Marvin Foulkes pulled up and corroborated the process. Jimmy now knew it had to be true as Marvin ’never lied.’ They knew its significance but it went over Jimmy’s head and he put it out of mind.
No one looked better in flares and platform shoes than Jimmy’s Jamaican friend Marvin Foulkes; they practically invented the seventies for him. Marvin was a stocky unusually muscular Jamaican with a larger than life attitude. His brother was a body builder and they often pumped weights together. He was a poser and would constantly preen himself in shop windows, picking and patting his Afro puffing his bulging physique under his skin tight chequered tank top.
Marvin lived in a mid-terrace house in a run-down part of Lower Edmonton. It had a white washed exterior hiding a rather dank and dingy interior. Jimmy was round Marvin’s when Martin Crow, an All Saints’ expellant popped in. A shaft of sunlight spilled through the split in the curtains illuminating a stained paisley carpet. Martin sat on a plastic orange settee picking his soars as Jimmy entered.
Crow was the crazy white kid everyone tried to avoid; a scraggy pint sized hoodlum with mousey blond hair. He’d strip off to his underpants and run to the school gate yelling “let me out” then battle the teachers as they dragged him back kicking and screaming. After he’d been suspended for striking a teacher he disappeared off the radar. No one knew what had become of him and now, there he was, measuring up Jimmy for size. His hoodlum status paled into insignificance next to his brother, Tel. Tel had left All Saints years ago but his rebellious behaviour became the stuff of urban myth. No one had seen him; some said he was doing bird others that he’d topped himself. Jimmy found Martin’s presence awkwardly unnerving but stayed. Without fanfare a man entered.
Marvin shook his hand “Jimmy, this is Mart’s brother, Tel, Tel Jimmy,”
Tel, a pock-faced, scraggy looking creature sat next to Martin, looking shifty. Martin grinned, he enjoyed seeing Jimmy squirm, trying to control his panic.
“Alright Jimmy, so you go to All Saints? That’s my old school,” said Tel.
“I know,” said Jimmy.
“Yeah, how do you know?”
Jimmy felt boxed in. “I just heard about you.”
“Oh yeah, what did you hear?”
“Yeah, that’s right nothing. Look you seem alright Jimmy but I shouldn’t be here so keep shtum, right?”
Jimmy’s nerves had settled, he was happy to gain acceptance; he made his excuses and left. When the coast was clear he went back to see Marvin later.
His Dad answered the door, a frail man with Parkinson’s disease, he felt uneasy and was unsure how to act. Marvin stepped in and helped his Dad to his seat. Although uncomfortable to watch, he now saw Marvin in a new mature light.
Marvin’s Dad stared him in the eye and spoke slowly “You stay away from those boys. They’re no good and the older one just broke parole.”
He nodded emphatically. “Yes Mr Foulkes.”
Marvin argued. “They’re alright, don’t worry Jimmy, he don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Then it all kicked off. Funnily enough Jimmy now felt relaxed as they looked like a normal family arguing, shouting. Mr. Foulkes was still his father and to prove it got up and gave him a clip round the ear.
Kael was best friends with Marvin and although there was the odd challenge
from his lieutenant Kael remained Top dog. Jimmy didn’t know how he earned the crown but he must have made a legendary play for it. Marvin, trying to gain cred, announced their encounter with Tel to Kael and the lads. They laughed and hissed, no-one believed him, but Jimmy had gained cred too. They asked him for confirmation and he gave the nod. Everyone was in awe and they became the legends who met the myth. Days later Marvin’s Dad complained that his gold jewellery was missing; it accelerated his condition and he was admitted to intensive care.
Jimmy liked being an All Saint. This shy reclusive lad from Croyland was getting bolder by the day. He stuck by them, they toughened him, offered protection but more importantly he felt he belonged.
Jimmy stood on the cusp of adolescence, a pre-teen. He was changing physically, becoming ever more aware of his anatomy. Puberty was nothing to be afraid of. In deed for many it was an Olympic sport. The boys lined up in the school yard. The judges, all female, measured height down to the nearest micron and the tallest proclaimed the winner. Hair was next. Hair was good the more the better, but not on your head, that didn’t count. Under the arm was good, over the lip great and if you had a sprout or two down below, for heaven’s sake don’t keep it to yourself, brag. Jimmy didn’t fair too well overall. He was not tall but average in height. He did not have any hair to speak of, facial or otherwise. Secretly he was holding out for a voice crack before time to even things out.
Next to physical prominence was image. Image was paramount. For boys, hugs in public from Mummy was a big no-no but admissible at home, but for girl’s not so. Girls were an entirely different proposition.
Jimmy knocked round for Kael on the way to school. Kael would never be ready so his very accommodating teenage sister would offer him rice and peas while he casually got dressed. Even though they were running late he would stroll down and slowly munch breakfast pea by pea. Jimmy tried coming early to avoid the rush but to no avail. In the end he stopped coming round but Kael said his sister, Sharon kept asking after him. He kept making excuses but eventually gave in. She must have had a heated word or two as from then onwards they were never late again. It was clear Kael’s sister had more than passing affection for Jimmy. She hung around fussing unnecessarily and one day deliberately ignored Kael.
“He will be a while, would you like some juice Jimmy?”
“Just water please.”
She rushed to the kitchen and hurried back looking round to make sure the coast was clear. She undid a button on her white blouse on the way back and leant over, bearing all as she placed the glass down on the side table.
“Do you like me Jimmy?”
Jimmy palpitated, his eyes popping. Before he could reply she tilted his face up with her long red nails and stole a kiss, massaging his lips. When Kael came down he hurriedly wiped the oily slick onto his blazer concealing the thrill.
“Bye Jimmy, see you tomorrow.”
She shot a naughty glance as he left. It remained a one-off, his cheeky little secret filed away for future reference.
They all acted like model school boys when it suited but were as thick as thieves when out of sight. They hid their secret behaviour; no-one knew what they got up to and that’s the way they liked it.