Wednesday, July 18, 2007

1981 London, Kensington & Chelsea Street-Sweeper & Rhodie Bush War Soldier

At Haringay, Leah continued kindergarten teaching.

Kleintjie had Eurrailed Europe, his first holiday in ten years. Banditoon job agency provided us brainless labouring jobs, including record-packaging with West Indians (CDs weren't yet popular); furniture-removal and storage; postal-clerking in a medical -equipment warehouse; textile and confectionary loading in containers. At a north London warehouse, Kleintjie and I loaded Lucozade boxes into containers.

"Mark," Kleintjie said, "during the Bush War, as a section leader, I was often pulled outta my civvie job to fight terrs. I fought right through the seventies. None of my men were killed, but we shot many zots. Last year we gave Rhodesia to Mugabe and Nkomo." Kleintjie wore a bandage on his wrist. "I hurt it when I smashed a cheeky munt's nose after Independence celebrations. I caught him burgling my Salisbury flat. Munt was a high-up terr. I must watch my back when I slope back to Zim."

We spoke Afrikaans, mocking Poms. We felt like Zulu road-gangers, swinging pickaxes in unison, chanting insults at passersby. During breaks, we gloated over pornography in smoky offices.

"On section-patrols, we quickly interrogated captured terrs," said Kleintjie, "so we could follow- up, stopping ambushed terrs gapping into the bush."

"How'd you interrogate a nanny - female terr?"

"My mates held her, or tied her down, and I thrashed her, or threatened to thrash her cunt with a stick. Usually the threat was enough to make a nanny talk. They were brave fighters. One refused to talk, so we hung her upside down from a tree, lit a fire beneath her, kicked her, swinging her, but she never talked. Her hair burnt, her fats dripped, her skull popped open, then we dropped her, when her brains burned."

We did dirty back-breaking work when dragging demolition junk into a warehouse lift. Scottish Harry tried shoving a metal door into a lift, but no-one helped Harry, as the door was too big, and Harry couldn't see it. Harry on the dole, did casual labouring for cash-in-hand. During smoke-breaks, Harry fiddled with his tobacco tin, folding tobacco and dope into Rizla paper, licking it closed, then smoking. His long hair reeked of dope. Once Harry asked, "D'ye wan' Wed Leb laddie?"


"Och Wed Leb. Cannabis ye ken? Joos' coom onna marke' fwom Lebanon. I'll give ye a good wee pwice."

"I don't smoke. You drug-pushers are scum."

I persuaded Skate to stop slukking Jack Daniels, and do Banditoon work. A warehouse boss worked Skate and Harry together. By smoke-break Skate was gone. "Where's Skate?" I asked.

"Fooked orf! Skate slacked a coopla hours, fwew a Lucozade box orfa twuck, yelling. 'This is kaffirs work!' and fooked orf ye ken."

Smellidick (pronounced Smellick), a north London Pom, freely accommodated Kleintjie, while Kleintjie painted Smellidick's home. Smellidick organized a furniture-removal job for us, by driving Kleintjie and me to a dirty south London house, then watched us load two Victorian sideboards into his truck. Smellidick then drove us to the Strand, and smoked while we lowered the sideboards into the pavement. "Pu' a sideboards inna basemen'!" said Smellidick. "Locka door af'er ya! Cherry-bye." We lugged the sideboards into the restaurant, and shoved them downstairs into the basement, crunching wooden legs. After leg repair, we phoned our families in Zimbabwe and SA, talking into the night. Smellidick hadn't disconnected phones. When Smellidick got his quarterly bill, we were long gone.

Next day Smellidick drove me to the dirty south London house. "Clean i'!" he said. "Cherry-bye." At dusk, Smellidick drove me along Thames Embankment back to the Strand. "Lonnen's a beau'iful ci'y ri'?" he said.


"Yer come from Souf Africa ri'? Yer Afrikaners give blacks a 'ard time ri'?"

"Ever travelled out of England - to Africa?"


"You know nothing about South Africa. How come London's had Brixton riots?"

Pause. "Yer worked for eigh' hours cleanin' a 'ouse ri'? I dunno 'ow much ta pay yer?" At a warehouse we loaded a Victorian sideboard onto his truck. At the Strand restaurant, Smellidick paid me a pittance saying, "'Elp me unload a sideboard!" While I untied ropes, Smellidick talked to painters. I hopped off his truck and vanished into the crowd. "Cherry-bye," I thought, jogging to Charing Cross tube-station.

I got a street-sweeper job for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I was the only SA sweeper amongst Poms, who didn't invite me to their pub-lunches. Every morning, we met at our dirty Knightsbridge mews-depot, stored gear in our dirty lockers, then shoved off with our dirt-trolleys containing dirt-equipment: black bags, two bins, poop-shovel, brooms. I wore a blue overall and blue cap. We signed-on at the beginning of each shift, and signed-off at the end.

My beat was both sides of Cromwell Road, to dirty Gloucester Road intersection, past Baden Powell Scout headquarters, past Natural History Museum, up dirty Exhibition Road, past Science Museum to Albert Hall, and back past Victoria and Albert Museum. Fat foreman Tom drove a Mini inspecting sweeper beats, and ordering us to sweep dirty alleys and mews. Tom signed our bonus forms daily, if satisfied our beats matched his dirty standards. Otherwise, we got a daily fixed wage. Poms toadied Tom. Sometimes we swept other depots' beats, covering absentees.

Besides pestering women asking me to sweep sand, and remove weeds and beer bottles from properties, which I didn't do, sullen bag-ladies' and chatty hobos' beats criss-crossed my beat. They wore layers of grimy clothes. I retched when they approached, as they stank of sweet meths, piss and dirt. I wondered if they were on the dole. Bag -ladies dossed in derelict doorways under rubbish heaps. I watched one incontinent old dame piss right through her dress. Some hobos sat warming themselves in libraries, pretending to read.

Bobbies and street-sweepers were tourist information-bureaux. A fat yank wearing checked longs asked me. "Where's the Natural History Museum?"

"Ri' in fronna yer ma'e." I pointed with my broom.

"Where's the big shop?"

"'Arrods?...Strai' uppa road." I dropped full rubbish bags on pavements for rubbish-trucks to collect, and finished my beat in 2-3 hours. I hid my trolley in a disused lift-shaft at dirty Gloucester Road tube-station, changed my clothes, then visited embassies to organize visas for our Eurail trek. Tom, too lazy to walk my beat, never caught me.

One Friday morning, a Pom workmate said, "We don' sweep much on Fridays. 'Ide yer trolley a' the nex' depot, if yer need an arf'ernoon orf,"

At signing-off, Tom asked, "Where were ya all arf'ernoon? Yer trolley was a' anuvva depot. Yer weren' onna job. Furloe Place is dir'y! No bonus tidday!"

"Buggers!" I said. "Thurloe Place is clean. I swept it."


Kenny said...

The streets need to be kept clean.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Thanks Kenny. Despite dirty street sweeping work I did in Kensington and Chelsea, I have happy memories of that area in London where we rented a bedsit.