Public service announcement: For the benefit of foreigners, Minstrels are a British confectionery staple consisting of chocolate in chocolate shell. They are wonderful and if, once my scheduled MRI scan has happened, it turns out that I do indeed have peripheral arterial disease, they will be in no small part responsible. Je ne regrette rein, except not eating more of them.
While acknowledging that we are mid-way through a story of childhood confectionery theft to illustrate a series of connected posts on the theme of bullying to, in turn, highlight the need for the establishment of a new trade union for non-clinical NHS staff, I sometimes wonder if stealing cars is still a thing. It was a national sport when I was growing up, especially in Canning Town. In case you are unfamiliar, this is a part of London where, traditionally, West Ham fans are made. Not now, obviously, as it’s all organic bakeries and Guardian readers and pronouns and what not, but for decades it was wall-to-wall claret and blue and an almost comically criminal place. Well-liked local notables included Mono and his dog Trio, who only had four legs between them, and Frank the Wank, a harmless man with an unfortunate muscular affliction that made him appear to be constantly nursing a tremendous invisible phallus.
The most Canning Town crime ever happened to an acquaintance of mine at some point in the 1990s. He was surveying a roof prior to doing some work or other when he noticed an urchin trying to break into his van, parked below. When the urchin failed to heed shouted warnings and threats, my acquaintance ascended to pavement level and remonstrated with him further. Unmoved, the urchin replied ‘OK mate, what’s happening here is that I am going to steal your van, and you are going to watch me’. With this, he forced the driver’s side door, hot wired the steering column and made good his escape. My acquaintance said that what annoyed him most was that he didn’t even bother to hurtle away in a cloud of screeching tyre smoke, but drove off within the speed limit, stopping at some nearby traffic lights in accordance with the Highway Code, whereupon he could be heard adjusting the radio and hurling an unwanted CD from the offside passenger window.
(On the subject of car crime, the Ford Sierra became legendary at our school due to a manufacturing fault that made the windscreen easy to pop out and sell on, due to the rubber surrounds expanding with a blast from a hairdryer. You could also bypass the central locking systems of the day, which operated on compressed air, by cutting a tennis ball in half and banging it against one of the door locks. Also, pretty much everyone knew how to open padlocks with spanners, and how to distill cyanide gas from silk. Not that everyone went around doing that stuff all day, of course, but still. Life skills, mate.)
My Minstrels were stolen by Nat Baker with the same efficient nonchalance as a roofer’s van in Canning Town. I’m sure he just said ‘I’m having those’, and fucked off with them. I tried to wrestle them back in a rough-and-tumble kind of a way, but was restrained by one of his huge hands appearing on my black Lyle and Scott jumper, along with some nonsense threat like ‘Right. After school’ as if this was Grange Hill or something. I don’t recall feeling nervous during the intervening afternoon, perhaps presuming that our respective legal teams would sort it out. I do, however, recall being told I was going to be ‘marmalised’ – the only time I have heard this preserve-based adjective – and being advised to feign epilepsy as a result.
Incidentally, I offered to do this a couple of decades later at Joe’s wedding in order to have the ceremony waylaid, the shamefully inaccurate consensus being that this would be a good idea, if only so I could sober up enough to do my speech. In neither event did I do this, however, so did indeed find myself facing marmalisation over some Minstrels and, a couple of decades later, witnessed Joe’s wedding taking place as planned and on schedule. On one of these occasions, though, I had a sharpened compass point in my pocket as an aid to any stabbing-in-the-face opportunities that may arise. (I should point out that by ‘compass’ I mean the technical drawing instrument, not the navigational aid, because on neither occasion would knowing where magnetic North was have been any help whatsoever.)
Main: Truth in advertising. Not sure where this was taken. Tottenham I think.
Top: Unused Ministry of Kitchenware apron labels. I miss the Ministry of Kitchenware, and intend to bring it back as an online store in 2023. Most of the old manufacturing plant still works, and it’s just sitting there and everything.
Lower: Old publicgriefjunkie t shirt label, found by my current girlfriend in a drawer in our haunted bookshop of a house.