Snoopers

(For Anne, Jordayne and Julie - carers despite the odds).

“Sweet moderation, heart of this nation, desert us not, we are between the wars.” – Billy Bragg

 

Four Male.

Two Female.

Tom Harrisson (twenty six) / Tristram (forty three)

Greville Charlecote  (late twenties)

Roger Church  (early twenties)

Nikki  / Ada Rowley (early twenties)

Sean (early twenties) / Boltonian

Claire (early twenties)  / Boltonian / Friend

 

Locations – 2016 in Bolton.  The 1937 sections – Bolton, Blackpool, London.

The props are brought on and off the stage by the cast .  The lighting switches to a hint of sepia in the 1937 sections.

 

When the play opens Claire is sitting on stage with her arms folded around her knees which are hunched up under her chin – her head is down.  Next to her sits Roger – upright with his hands in front of him – he looks straight into the audience.  Neither appears aware, at this stage, of the other’s presence.  Claire raises her head - bites her lip and closes her eyes.  Roger shrugs his shoulders and smiles slightly.  Slowly they both sense each other’s presence.  He reaches out to take her hand – she lets him take it.  He nods to her - smiles.  Total black-out and the sound of an explosion.

When the lights come up we see a projection of a moving image of a factory in the 1930s emptying at the end of the day. The screen is filled with people. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrQxvUcg4q4). 

Sean enters the auditorium.  He walks on his own through the audience, ear-pieces in – he’s finished his shift at the call centre. He suddenly lifts his head, takes out the ear-pieces and looks at the audience.  A puzzled expression appears on his face.

Lights down and up.

 

SCENE 1: Nikki’s front room.  Bolton 2015.

Sean is standing.  He has his coat off.  Nikki and Claire are sitting.  Nikki has a cardboard box on her knees.  Long hold.

Sean:  Well go on!  Open it!

             What’s wrong?  Want a fanfare?

Claire:   Da dad a da!

Sean:  Hang on!

He sits and tries to strain out a fart.

            No, sorry!  I can’t manage one.

The girls look at one another and shake their heads.

Nikki:  It meant something to her – it must have done.

Claire:   Why didn’t she give it your mam?

Nikki:  Mam calls everything clutter.  Gran’d have been frightened she’d just chuck it.

Claire:   But it’ll be what they call a ... you know ... a ... a thingy.

Sean:   Yeh Claire, they get those all the time on the Antiques Road Show – “thingies”. 

Nikki:  Heirloom?

Giving Sean a look. 

             That’s what you mean, isn’t it, Claire?

Claire:   Yeh - heirloom.

Sean:  Only is it?

            Could be full of old tissues and sweet papers. 

Nikki:  No, there’s something’s rattling.

Sean:  Wurther’s Originals.

            Uncle Joe's Mintballs. 

           Her husband’s balls. 

           She kept them as souvenirs. 

           Unless ... unless ... yeh, course, it'll be a treasure map.  X marks the spot and all that shite.

            Don’t get your hopes up.

           Well  - open the bastard!

Nikki:  All right all right!

She unties the string and prises the top off.

Sean:  Well?

Claire:   Let’s have a look.

Nikki:  Mm.

Sean:  Life’s just full of disappointments isn’t it?

Nikki:  Well hang on.

Nikki reaches in and retrieves something.

            Two photographs.

Claire:   Let’s have a see. 

            A feller and a woman. 

            What’re they doing?  Oh yeh, it’s like a ...  Like one of them ...

Sean:  Yeh?

Nikki:  They’re sticking their heads through one of those pictures painted on wood.

Claire:  It’s them things they had at the seaside!  In the old days.

            Isn’t it?

Sean takes a look.

Sean:  Yeh, it was a different kind of funny back then.  Two fat bodies with a hole for your heads.  Fucking hilarious.

Nikki:  People’ll laugh at different things when we’re dead.

Sean:  Being dead isn’t on my to do list.

Nikki:  Not over your dead body eh?

Sean:  Now these bastards would have laughed at that.

Nikki:  Piss off!

The girls look at the other photograph.

Claire:   He’s nice – for them days I mean.

Nikki reaches in again.

Nikki:  A book.

           Poems.

Claire:   Love poems?

Nikki:  They might be.

Claire (reading)Who’s Charles Madge?

Nikki:  There’s a book-mark.

Nikki opens the book and reads.

             “Sir, the night is darker now

              And the wind blows stronger

             Falls my heart I know not how

              I can go no longer.”

Sean:  Da de da de da de da da de da de dada!

Something falls out of the book.

Claire: What’s that? 

               Ah, it’s just a bit of straw!

Nikki picks it up.

Nikki:  It’s a flower – it’s been a flower.  They used to press them in books.

Claire:   Oh yeh!  It would’ve bin like a memory of a special day.

Sean:  The day she got shagged.

Claire:   They didn’t shag in them days!

Sean:  They didn’t ...?  Well how the fuck are we here then if ...?

Claire:   No!  Well they would afterwards probs – course they would - but after they was married.  They wouldn’t call it that though – they didn’t use words like that then.

Sean:  Is that right?

Claire:  They did it different ... they went walking in the countryside ... with chaperones.

Sean:  You’ve been watching your mam’s DVDs again, haven’t you?

Nikki:  There’s a bit here cut from a newspaper - folded up.

Claire:   What’s on it?

Nikki unfolds it.

               Careful!

Nikki:  It’s a list of names.

Nikki dips into the box again.

            A postcard.

Claire:   What’s that in the bottom?  An envelope?

Nikki:  It’s fastened.  It’s been sealed up.

Claire:  What’s the red stuff?

Sean:  That's sealing wax.  Now this is promising!

Pause.

            Well?  Open it.

Nikki:  No!

Sean:  No?

Nikki:  Not yet.

Claire:   It’s her gran Sean.  She can open it when she’s on her own if she wants. 

             You have to tell what it is though, Nik.

Sean:  It’ll be her will.  Her gran’ll have been running a cannabis farm from her room in the home.  They’re hot enough.

Nikki:  The box isn’t my gran’s.

             It’s her mam’s.

Sean:  Passed down the line.

            But skipping your mam.

Nikki:  Mam’s practical.  Dad knocked all the sentimental feeling out of her.

Sean:  Along with seven shades of shite.

Nikki:  Well that’s over now.  But it’s left her ...

Sean:  Un-sentimental.  She doesn’t like me that’s for sure.

Nikki:  Nobody likes their daughter’s boyfriend.

Sean:  I’ll bet Kate Middleton’s mam did.

Nikki:  Yeh – well you’re not royalty.

Sean:  I could show you me crown jewels!

Claire:   Urgh!

Nikki:  I've seen them.  Nobody's going to be running off with them.

Sean:  So that’s it?  It wouldn’t have been worth a farted fanfare anyway.

Claire:   So ... it’s your nan’s mam’s.

Nikki:  My great grandmother’s.

Claire:   But your nan wants you to have it?  What’s she say?

Nikki:   She says she could be taken sudden.

Claire:   Is she ill like?

Nikki:   Not as I can tell.  She just said “in case”.

Claire:   You don’t put stuff in a box that isn’t important.

Sean:  That’s true – I’ve got my first cricket match next week.

Claire:   What’s he on abou ...?

Nikki:  No idea.

Claire:   No, what I mean is them pictures – they’ve got like sentimental value – that’s her ... let’s have another look – yeh - see it’s the same man - his head through the hole there and here in this one that’s got ripped – him leaning on the gate.  That’s her ... it’s her young man – and he was the one what gave her that book of poems – and like he maybes asked her to marry him and - and she picked that – no no he pulled that flower off and he gives it to her and he says “Can I have your hand in marriage?”

Sean:  And she says give me a fiver and you can have my fanny an all.

Claire:   Don’t be disgusting.  They didn’t ...

Sean:  Have fannies in them days, I know.

Nikki:  Sean!

Claire:   They didn’t say dirty things then.

Sean:  You’ll know that of course – having a doctorate in Hair Extensions!

Claire:  Nicky!

Nikki:  That’s enough Sean!

Sean:  Well!  Chaperones!

Claire:   I’ve ... Are you going to open the letter?

Nikki:  Like you said, Claire, it’s like it’s private.  Her giving it to me personally.  On her mam’s behalf.

Claire:   Does she know what’s in it?

Nikki:   Not unless she’s the one who sealed it up.

Claire:   Did she say she had?

Nikki:   She didn’t say anything.

Claire:   I can’t wait to find out.

Sean:  It’ll be nothing.

Claire:   Ey!

Nikki:  What?

Claire:   The postcard.

They examine it.

Claire:  Where’s that?

Nikki:  I don’t know.

Sean:  It’ll say on the back, won’t it?

Nikki:  “Warrington”.

Sean:  It’s a Rugby League town.  The Wires!

Nikki:  “Bridge over the Mersey”.

Sean:  Exotic!

Claire:   It’ll be from her young man.  What’s he written?  What’s his name?

Nikki:  P ...  Peter?  No it’s an R.  Roger?

Claire:   What’s he written?

Nikki:  It’s pretty faded.  “Forgive me”?  Have a look.

Claire:   It looks like “Forgive me.”

They had a fight.  He wants to make ...

Nikki:  “Without” ... what’s that?

 “Mass” ... “mass observation”?

Claire:   “Mass observation – we would never have met.  Will ... “

Nikki:  “Write again.  If you have no ... objections to ...”

            's smudged.  Can't read it.

“Roger”.  It is “Roger”.

Claire:   Aw!

Sean:  Aw!

Claire:   Shut up you!

Sean:  It’ll be some Catholic thing.

Claire:   What?

 Sean:  Mass observation – it’s what Catholics do.  They bonk and then go into a box to tell the priest.

Claire:   Why would they do that?

Nikki:  That’s confession!

Sean:  Cos priests are pervs.  “Tell me it all my child.  Let’s have the details!” 

Nikki:  That’s confession.  Mass is like prayers.

Sean: “Say ten Hail Marys, my child!”

He crosses himself.

            “Oh and don’t forget to video it for me for next week?”

Claire:   Isn’t he horrible?

Nikki:  Disgusting.

Sean:  You like disgusting.

Nikki:  Do I?

Sean:  Of course you do.  You wouldn’t have me any other way.

Nikki:  Mm!

Claire:   They met in church you think?

Nikki:  Yes – probablys they did.  This mass thing.

Sean:  Aw!

Claire:   I didn’t say anything.

Sean:  I read the bubble over your head.

Claire:   You’re going to open the letter – later I mean - aren’t you?

Nikki:  Yeh, later, when I’m on my own.

Sean:  That’s nice!

Claire:   Well it’s ... personal isn’t it? ... her gran.

Nikki:  Great gran.

Claire:   Kind of making a ... connection.

Sean:  Here - let me touch the box.

Nikki:  What?

Sean:  Give it here.

He places his hand on it.

Claire:  What's he want?

Sean:  Is there anybody there?  Is that you great gran?

Claire:   Sean!

Sean:  What’s that great gran?  Rightio great gran.

Nikki:   So - what did she say?

Sean:  She said “Will you tell those two to shut their fucking gobs and crack open the Lambrusco – there’s no point hitting the street fuckin’ sober is there?” 

Hey, don’t look at me like that.  It’s your gran!

Claire:   Great gran!

Sean:  It's not my fault she’s got a potty mouth.

Lights down.

 

SCENE 2:  Nikki in her bedroom. 

The lights close it on Nikki to exclude Claire and Sean and allow them to exit. 

Nikki is sitting on her own.  She has the package with the sealing wax on it in her hands.  She looks at it, breaks the wax and carefully unties the string.  It’s a notebook but the pages have come loose and they spill onto the floor.  She gathers them up and flicks through.  Holds one close and reads it aloud.

Nikki:  “We are being watched.  The town is full of strangers.  The minutiae of our lives are being examined.  Every nook and cranny of our daily ordinariness appears to be under investigation.  

             I turned the corner this morning and bumped up right against one of them.  The note-pad he was holding dropped onto the cobbles.  Instinctively I bent to retrieve it.  It afforded me the chance to glance at what he’d written.

             A woman in her twenties but looking much older is pegging out her family’s washing on a line that stretches all the way across the back street.

             He snatched it out of my hands.  Gave me such a look.  Turned around and sidled off.

              What do they want?  Who are they?

              Across the alley Dora shouts: Do you think it’ll hold off?  I look up to the sky and it’s none too promising.

             That chap! I say.  Dora’s bending down to her wash basket.  She’s got a peg in her mouth.  You could think she was doing an imitation of Groucho Marx.

              Oh I know! she says out the corner of her mouth.  They’re everywhere aren’t they?  They seem harmless.  But what do you reckon it is they’re after, Ada?

               Indeed!”

 

SCENE 3: UCP Tripe Shop in Bolton.  1937.

Background conversations.  Roger is sitting at a table with a bowl in front of him when Tom Harrisson enters.  Harrisson looks around – walks over and taps Roger on the shoulder

Roger:  Oh - Mister Harrisson?  Sorry, I ...

Harrisson:   Good Lord boy – don’t stand up you’ll blow my cover.

Roger:  Sorry.

Harrisson:   And you are ...?

Roger:  Roger.  Roger Church.

Harrisson:   Ah, the actor?

Roger:  Hardly!  Merely amateur theatricals.

Harrisson:   I notice you’re sampling the local fayre.

Roger:  Yes.  Well.  I wasn’t too keen on the look of the tripe.  But I’m not sure I made the right decision here either. 

Prodding it with a fork.

              It’s clearly the foot of some quadruped.

Harrisson:   You couldn’t have made a more appropriate choice.  Their association football team is called ...

Roger:  Mm?

Harrisson:   Or rather their nickname is ...

He points to the dish.

             The Trotters. 

            You’ve got pigs’ feet.

Roger:  They’re very ... glutinous.

Harrisson:   That’ll be the cartilage.

Roger:  Mm.

Harrisson:   You know, in order to feel at ease with a meat dish, one is required at times to subdue the conscience.  To do otherwise can lead one into the extremes of vegetarianism.  You wouldn’t want to turn out like Bernard Shaw or - or our Teutonic friend Adolf now, would you?

                     You’re making the mistake of imagining those ...

He makes a running sign with his fingers.

                      ... transporting a fat little porker around a sty.

Roger pushes the meal to one side.

                       I was expecting someone else.

He looks around.  He waves to a couple of people.

                      No!  These are all locals.

                      A good effort by the way!

Indicating Roger’s clothes.

Roger:  Oh – well – just getting into the part you know.

Harrisson:   Good.  Good.  We ought to have conscripted more actors.  The unmodified Oxbridge tones are sitting a little uneasily alongside the “Ow dos” and the “Ne thens”!

Roger:  I think you’re over-emphasising my theatrical skills. 

Harrisson:  What are you reading?

Roger: Classics.

Harrisson:  Classics!   Of course! 

            Classics! 

            Have you done any Shakespeare? 

Roger:  Do you know A Winter’s Tale?

             “Exit pursued by bear”?

Roger raises his arms in a “bearlike” fashion.  Harrisson laughs.  Faces turn to them.

              Also – I doubled up as the drunken porter and the stuttering messenger in the Scottish Play – they’re my main Shakespearian achievements to date. 

Harrisson:   Actually I have in mind a detailed investigation into drinking habits.

Roger:  The majority of my outings have been in the popular canon.  Charlie’s Aunt and its ilk.

Harrisson:   “Where the nuts come from!”

Roger:  Precisely.

Harrisson:   There’s plenty regard what we are doing here as farce.  The papers have been critical of the project.  Referring to us as “snoopers”.

Roger:  I like the sound of it.  It’s a bit like espionage, isn’t it?

Harrisson:  Is it?

Roger:  Well ... you know ...

              Mister Madge is a friend of my father’s.  He ... erm ...

Harrisson:   Ah – Charles!

Roger:  Yes – he mentioned your project – he said you were wanting volunteers – and as I’m ...

Harrisson:   Mm?

Roger:  On holiday.  I thought I’d pop along.

Harrisson:  I shall be expecting a little more commitment from my volunteers than a ... a pop.

Roger:  Yes yes of course.  I ...

Harrisson:   If all you’re after is a couple of weeks playing the prole then I suggest you wait for the next General Strike.  It’d give you a chance to do a spot of tram conducting eh?

Roger:  Absolutely ... not.  I ...

Harrisson:   How is Charles? 

Roger:  I thought ...  Well, isn’t Mister Madge working with you

Harrisson:   Alongside

                     His is a separate arm of the operation you might say.  I haven’t seen him for a while.  Charles you see isn’t used to ... well slumming it, if we’re frank – he’s a little ...

Roger:  My father said he was quite a gentle soul.  I’ve a signed copy of his poems.

Harrisson:   Yes well - Charles has managed to perfect that aloof sensitivity one associates with poets. 

                      Oh Charles undoubtedly feels for the masses but ... would prefer to keep them at a distance.   It’s far easier to sentimentalise if one doesn’t actually rub shoulders with one’s subject.

                      Does that sound unfair?

                      It probably does.

                     Anyway, Charles, being the literary cove he is is organising the diaries.  All over the country he’s got his secret diarists Pepysing away recording their observations - their thoughts and feelings.  That’s Charles’ remit.  Feelings.  We’re here to ...

                     There’s no sign of this other chap.  He’s probably had second thoughts.  He was going to be lodging with you.

                      I don’t suppose you’ve read my book?

Roger looks blank.

Roger:  Your book?  I didn't know ...

Harrisson:   Don’t worry.  It’s not a requirement.  But – it might make a diversion from Aeschelus or Aristotle or whichever dead Greek you’re presently studying.

“Savage Civilisation.” 

Roger:  Pardon?

Harrisson:  That’s the title. 

He looks into Roger.  Roger looks away.

Roger:  Oh.  Well, I’ll see if ...  I’ll certainly place an order.

Harrisson:  Take a good look at these people, Church. 

                    Here!

He hands Roger something.  Roger looks puzzled.

                    They’re ear-plugs.  They’ll shut out the noise.  Look at the people.

                    Put them in - and watch.

Roger puts them in.  Sound shuts off on stage.  Harrisson lights a cigarette.  Roger looks around – spends time perusing the audience - looks back to Harrisson – back at the people.

                    Whose people are ...?

He indicates for Roger to remove the ear plugs.

                     There!

Roger:  Yes?

Harrisson:   “What country, friend, is this?”

            There now - that's Shakespeare!

Roger:  Is it?  I’m not familiar with the line.

Harrisson:   What tribe is this?  Ask yourself.  Who are these people?

                     Three years ago I was in Malekula

Roger:  I’m afraid ...?

Harrisson:   The New Hebrides.

Roger:  I ...?

Harrisson:   It doesn’t matter.  I lived among the Nambas – they’re the indigents.  I hunted with them.  Slept with them.  Ate  ...  

He points at the meal.

                     I’ve heard people say we taste like pork.  I’d say the flavour’s more like veal.

Roger:  Mm?

Realising.

                    You haven’t ...?

Harrisson:   Was your father in the war?

Roger:  He’s a headmaster.  At ...  I say you haven’t really ...?

Harrisson:  Madge’s father – he was killed in the war.  Did you know?

Roger:  No.  No.  He ... he never said.  He’s father’s friend as I mentioned.  I don’t particularly ...

Harrisson (holding out his hand to indicate the people in the room):   These are the people Madge’s father would have led – not the actual people of course –  but it’s these folk – the ones we regularly call on to defend society.  In the meantime they hack out the coal, they spin the cotton, smelt the metals – plough the fields.  But what do we know of them?  Their ... habits.  Their ... passions.

Roger:  Their culture.

Harrisson:   Yes their culture.  That’s it exactly.  Good.  Mm.

            Yes!

            Their culture.

Harrisson waves his hand.  Roger looks around.

            The clogs – the flat caps – the head-scarves – the, what do they call them – pinnies?  Their tribal dress.

Roger:  Our very own noble savages?

Harrisson:   We shall see.  We shall see.

 We hear conversation.

Harrison holds out his hand to demonstrate.

Roger:  Their language?

Harrisson:   Lost tribes from “oop north tha knows lad.” 

                      It’s a poor effort that!

                     But yes - cultural immersion!

Roger:  ? 

Harrisson:   Basically ...

Someone laughs uproariously in the background.

                   We’re viewing their community from within – steeping ourselves in their ... as you said – culture, not ... not examining them from the other end of a microscope – but placing ourselves side by side with them on the specimen slide.  Doing what I did in Malekula and Borneo.  That’s what I’m after.  It’s anthropology!  But here - in Britain.

Roger:  And they accept you?  These ...  You work with them, is that right?  You live here?

Harrisson:   I’ve just finished an eleven hour shift.

Roger:  And they’re not ... suspicious?

Harrisson:   In order to be an insider it was necessary to show I was an outsider.

Roger:  I don’t ...?

Harrisson:   I’ve given myself a story.  Like them I’ve hit hard times.  A proper gent from the legendary land t’other side o Manchister.  Some cove whose ‘ad it ‘ard.  I’ve had to board in Beaumont Street with Mrs Duxberry, sixteen stones worth of maternal concern.

Roger:  And they believe you?  Your fellow workers?  The land-lady?

Harrisson:   It’s been desperate times everywhere with the slump.  Bolton’s full of outsiders, Roger.  The Irish are here of course.   And there's even an Indian contingent.   Hard times.

Roger:  The country’s getting back on its feet now though, isn’t it?

Harrisson:   That depends to which country you’re referring.  Whose country!

Well?  Are you up for it?    

Roger:  I think so.  Yes – yes I am.  So ... how do I ...?

Harrisson:   There’s one of our chaps – one of our few genuines – Bill Naughton – I’ve got the lodgings arranged and Bill has said he’ll see what he can do about a job.

Roger:  What you ...?

Harrisson:   Yes?

Roger:  What you mentioned earlier – about eating ...

 Harrisson:   Oh!  Yes.  Well – it would be discourteous to decline a meal when it’s offered to you.

Roger:  Hmm. 

              Oh hello!

Harrisson:   What’s that?

Roger:  You’re waiting for someone else, you say?

Harrisson:   Yes.

Roger:  I suspect this might be him.

Harrisson:   Mm?

Harrisson turning.

Roger:  A bookish-looking chap - just alighting from a Bentley.

Harrisson:  Lord preserve us!

Short pause - then Greville enters.  He might as well be wearing the Eton uniform.  All conversation stops as he stands there and looks around.

Roger:  Shall I call him over?

Harrisson:  Keep your head down - we'll catch up with him outside.

 

SCENE 4:  Nikki’s front room.

Claire is reading a magazine.   The TV is on.  Her phone is in her right hand.  Sean enters.  (During the 2017 scenes Greville places himself on steps uncomfortably close to members of the audience.  He peers at individuals, listens, and occasionally jots notes onto paper). 

Sean:  Is she not here?

Claire:   She’s next door.

Sean:  Mm?

Claire:   She’s using their computer.  The internet’s off again.

Had a good day?

Sean:  Do you know how many people don’t want to change their energy provider?

Claire:   A lot?

Sean:  Approximately. 

            You can tell people have had enough of cold-calling when they start taking the piss out of you.

Claire:   Like?

Sean:  Like some guy today saying “No don’t hang up, sweetie, tell me what colour underpants you’re wearing.”

Claire:   A perv?

Sean:  Nah!  Taking the piss.

Claire:   Well people have busy lives.

Sean:  But I’m there to save them a fortune on their bills, Claire. 

            It’s either that or so I can earn enough to get me through to the end of the month.  Select one of the two above options. 

           And how’s the beauty business?

Claire:   I swept up bagfuls of hair again.  I washed some old biddy’s loppy head.  And I made tea.

Sean:  It was worth your while getting those health and beauty qualifications then.

Claire:   Don’t!

Sean:  Where does it go?

Claire:   Where does what go?

Sean:  All the hair?  Do they sell it on to monasteries?

Claire:   What?  What are you ...?

Sean:  Have you never heard of a hair shirt?

Claire:   What you on about?

Sean:  Ah dear, the liabilities of a university education.

Claire:   You never finished.

            Why didn’t you finish?

Sean:  Why wait another year?  Why rack up more debt before I got a job in a call centre?  Anyway – I couldn’t afford to allow Nikki to throw away her life on some loser in a dead end job now, could I?

Claire:   You could have been a ... a ...

Sean:  Historian?  Is that what you’re after?

Claire:   ‘S that what you was doing?

Sean:  It’s all history now!

Claire:   You could have ... ?

Sean:  Yes?

Claire:   You could have ...

Sean:  Go on.

Claire:   I don’t know.  Been a teacher?  What else do they do?

Sean:  They fucking sign on, Claire, that’s what they do.  Or they go – “Hi I’m Sean.  Isn’t it a lovely day today?  Yeh – yeh sure I’ll fuck off now – thanks for your time!  Have a nice ...!”

Claire:   They dig things up, don’t they?

Sean:  That’s archaeologists.

Claire:   I should be cutting hair you know.  I was trained for it.  That and doing nails.  That’s why I went the tech!  But they don’t let me.  Instead it’s “Sweep up the hair Claire, will you?”

Sean:  You want to get on to your union.  “The Brush Wielders and Allied Dogsbodies”.

Claire pulls a face – she doesn’t know what he’s on about.

             Trade unions?

              It doesn’t matter!  We ain’t got one either.

              It’s a job my dad says – you should be grateful you got a job.

Claire:   That’s what my mam says. 

               I wanted to be like these people.

              When I was little.

              How do you get to be like them?

She opens the magazine to show him.

            I think I thought I’d have this kind of life.  Wear stuff like this.  Go to places. 

            It’s not fair, is it?

Sean:  A perceptive analysis of the present socio-economic situation, Claire.

Claire:   What?  You’re always trying to ...

Sean:  No, Claire it’s not fuckin fair – it’s not fucking fair at all.

Nikki enters with bag.

Sean:  Oh hello!  Look who’s here?

Nikki:  It’s not a Catholic thing!

He looks at Claire.

Sean:  Aha?

Nikki:  Mass Observation!

Sean:  Oh of course!  I forgot we were talking about that.  Mass Observation Claire!  It’s not a Catholic thing!

Claire:   Mm?

Sean:  It’s not a ...

Nikki:  Nineteen thirty seven.

Sean checks his watch.

Sean:  You didn’t put your watch back did you?

Nikki:  Here.

He looks around.

Nikki:  Here, in Bolton.  In nineteen thirty seven this feller – called (she reads from a sheet she’s holding) Tom Harrisson – he set up a study – like a survey I suppose – they had people secretly watching ordinary people living in Bolton.

Sean:  They should have waited for CCTV.

Nikki:  Seeing what they did.  How they lived - what they said – listening to the songs they sang – checking on what they ate and drank.  Everything they saw or heard they wrote in their notebooks.

Sean:  You’ve really thrown yourself into this, haven’t you?

Claire:   Why though?  Why’d they want to do that?

Nikki:  To ... to find out what people’s lives were like, I suppose.

Claire:   Oh.

Nikki:  Only they didn’t call it Bolton.

Claire:   They didn’t call Bolton Bolton?

Nikki:  They called it Worktown.

Sean:  Are you sure it wasn’t “Dole-Town”?

Claire:   Why'd they change its name?

Sean:  To protect the innocent.

Nikki:  That was this Mass Observation the man wrote about – not some Catholic thing after all.

Claire:   They didn’t meet in church then?  What did that postcard say again?

Nikki:  “If it hadn’t been for mass observation we would never have met”.

Sean:  Come on - “Mass Observation”.  Observing people - the masses!  You get it, don’t you?

Claire:   “Forgive me” he said.  He said “forgive me”, didn’t he?

Sean:  The mystery deepens.  Will Nikki discover who this mystery man is?  Will she continue to ignore her boyfriend?  Will he accept her friend Claire's offer of a blow-job?

Claire:   I never ...!   Honest Nikki, I never ...!

Nikki:  It’s all right, Claire I know what he’s like.

Claire:   I swear I wouldn’t do nothing like that!

Nikki:  Claire!

Claire:   Well!

Sean:  I suppose with Nikki here you’d have to deny it.

Claire:   Nikki!  I never ...!

Nikki:  You wind people up you.

Sean:  Choose to believe her then.

Claire:   I ...

She starts to cry.

Nikki:  You’re a clever shit you!

He shrugs.

Sean:  I like to think so.

Claire:   I wouldn’t do that to you, Nikki.  I’d never go behind your back and ...

Nikki puts her arms around her.

Nikki:  I know.  I know.  He’s a bastard.  Come on.

Claire:   It’s been a shitty day, Nikki.

Nikki:  All right now.

Claire:   I done all that studying at the tech – nails and make-up and all that.  And...  Me mam bought all that stuff for us – a head to practise on and ... a wig and stuff ...  And they won’t let me do stuff.  I mean that’s not what apprenticeships is, is it?  Sweeping up all the time.

Sean:  You should jack it in.  Tell them to stuff it.

Claire:   Natalie Gregson’s doing it on cruise ships.

Sean:  Natalie Gregson used to do it against the skips behind the co-op.

Nikki:  Yes, well you’d know - you went out with her in Year Ten.

Sean:  I did, I did – but it was only so I could perfect my sex skills for when I got to go out with you. 

            Now that’s an apprenticeship!

Claire:   Natalie’s doing the full beauty treatment.  Nails – hair – the whole lot.  On ships in foreign places.  I’ve loads of pics on here of her!

She holds up her phone.

Sean:  Well there you are then!  Apply!  Nothing to stop you.

Nikki:  You stick where you are, Claire.  In time they’ll ...

She turns on Sean.

            What you shaking your head for?

            How long did it take you to get that interview?  Where do you think you’re living?

Sean:  Out of Fucking Work-Town.

Nikki:  Exactly.

Sean:  And you’re content with what you doing are you?

Nikki:  Course I’m not content!  It’s a job!

Sean:  It’s shit!  Literally!  In your case!  Scraping octagenarians’ crusted arses.

Nikki:  That’s all there is, moron!  Face it!  We’re probably going to be spending our lives cleaning up for those who have had their lives.  They’re the cards that have been dealt us!  That’s the age we’re in.

            And do you think they want the indignity of some girl seeing to them?  Doing the things that ...

Claire:   It’s not right though, is it Nikki?

Nikki:  No, hun, no it’s not! 

           We just have to get on with it!

She turns to Sean.

             You got any money?

He delves into his pocket and holds out some notes.

            Get the wine in.

 

SCENE 5:  Nikki’s bedroom.  She’s reading another leaf.

Nikki:  “There’s a new man’s just started in despatchesI caught him looking at me.  And he’s not shy neither.  No, nothing of the sort.  He knows I’ve spotted him, but it doesn’t put him off.”

            It’s him, Ada, isn’t it?  The man in the torn photo!

Nikki picks up another page. 

            “Would you credit it?  On the Tuesday, bold as brass, he saunters up to me.  I reckon as he’s been waiting for me at the gates, and he says ...”

The scene expands.  Roger has come in.  Nikki “reads in” for Ada.  Greville is watching from the wings.  He has a notebook in his hands.

Roger:  I’m told I should see you.

Nikki:  Oh aye?  And why’s that?

Roger:  I’ve been asking people about joining a union.  “Oh Ada’s the one to see about that,” they said.

Nikki:  Did they now?

Roger:  Yes, they did.

Nikki:  Are you going to be stopping?

           Or are you just passing through?

Roger:  Either way I think I should be in a union, don’t you?

Ada: Where are you from?

Roger:  Ah, my accent?

Nikki:  Is that an accent? 

Roger:  I’m from Shropshire.  It’s ...

Nikki:  I know where it is.  But it’s farming down there, isn’t it?  A bit different to this.

             Is that what you all sound like?  Down there? 

She looks at him suspiciously.

             What was your job?

            Well?

Roger:  Bits of this and that, you know.  Fetching and carrying like I’m doing here.

Nikki:  And what’s Bolton got to offer you?

Roger:  Are you interrogating me?

             They tell me you’re ...

Nikki:  What?

Roger:  That you’re in the ...

He looks around - makes a subtle fist.

Nikki:  Who are you?

Roger:  Roger.

He holds out a hand which she doesn’t take.  She turns her back on him.  Lights back close on Nikki.

Nikki:  “’Wait till Hector hears about this?’  The girls miss nothing! 

            ‘There’ll be a duel!’ says Kathleen, ‘just like in that Douglas Fairbanks’ film!’  She makes a holy show of fencing and she staggers around like an idiot, pretending like she’s been stabbed.

             ‘Look!  She’s blushing!  She’s blushing, girls!’ Vera shouts.

             Some folk have nothing better to do than gossip!”

             Mm!

 

SCENE 6:  Roger’s and Greville’s room.

Greville is looking out of the window (perhaps in the direction of the audience).  Sound of singing from the street below.  Roger is smoking and writing a postcard.

Greville:  These people!

Roger, smoking at a table, looks up.

Greville shakes his head.  Turns.

Roger:  What’s that?

Greville:  Hark!  The Northern Nightingale!  Its dulcet tones! 

Roger:  It’s the shortest way out of Manchester, Greville!

Greville:  What?

Roger:  Drink! 

It’ll apply equally to Bolton, I should think!

Roger applies blotting paper to the postcard.

             Damn!  Smudged that. 

             I have a spare here, Greville. 

Greville:  Spare?

Roger:  A postcard.

He waves it.

               You might want to reassure your family that you haven’t been boiled by the natives.  It’s been a fortnight.  They’ll be worried you haven’t been in touch.

Roger turns the postcard over and reads it.

                The duck pond Queens’ Park!

He holds out the postcard.  No response from Greville so he places it back.

                This must be quite like the old days for you, eh Greville?  Sharing a dorm.

                Do you want a fag?

Greville:  A fag wouldn’t come amiss.  He could hunt me out some edible food.

Roger:  Cigarette!  “Fag” is the ... (realising the joke).

            Ah!

Roger offers Greville a cigarette.  He turns his nose up at it.

Greville:  I’d open the window but there’s more smoke out there than in here.

Roger:  That’s the smell of England getting back on its feet.

The singing bursts out again.

Greville:  There’s no ...

Roger:  Mm?

Greville:  Dignity!  There’s nothing ... dignified about them!  Is there?

Roger:  Perhaps ...

Greville:  Yes?

Roger:  Perhaps it’s not something they can afford.  “Dignity”.

Greville:  Unlike alcohol. 

                What I’m saying is ... what astonishes me ... and I’ve been studying ...

Roger:  Studying?

Greville:  Doing what we’ve been asked to do, Church.  Studying them and ... well, they simply lack the desire to ... be anything other than what they are.

Roger:  “These people!”

Greville looks at him.

             Ten hours a day, Greville – five and a half days a week.

Greville lifts his nose – leans against the sideboard – picks up a newspaper.

              Have you been to the libraries?  Have you sat in on any of the workers’ education lectures?

Greville:  It’s not something our Mister Harrisson has asked me to do.

Roger:  So what have you been doing?

Greville:  Sitting in public houses.

Roger:  You hypocrite!

Greville:  I’ve been taking notes!

Roger:  Oh you’re blending in then.

Greville:  It’s what he’s asked us to do, isn’t it?

                Don’t you carry a notebook?

Roger:  Oh I carry one - I just don’t brandish it.

Greville:  Is that a criticism of ...?

Roger:  I’m not criticising you, Greville, it’s simply that ...

Greville:  Pray continue!

Roger:  Well ...

Roger holds up his thumb.

              Sore thumb!

              Harrisson’s motto, Greville!   “Penetrate, observe, be quiet yourself”.  You, Greville ... well you ... you stick out.

Greville:  Of course I stick out.  I’m not one of these people.  I didn’t want to ...

Roger:  Mm?

Greville:  I don’t have your apparent ability to ... sink to their level.

Roger:  Tell me something, Greville!  Why exactly did you volunteer for this scheme?

Greville is quiet a few moments.

Greville:  I sit in the snugs in their pubs and they clam up. 

Roger:  You’re taking notes!

Greville:  And if they do somehow forget I’m there I can’t understand a word they’re saying.

                They smell. 

                You must have noticed.

Roger:  Perhaps a nose-gay would help.

             You could try dressing-down too.

Greville:  Really!

Roger:  Carry a card that says you’re a deaf mute so they don’t pick up those Harovian tones.

Greville:  Eton!

                 I suppose it comes easy to you, having trod the boards ...

Roger:  I’ve been in a few university productions!  Suddenly I’m Donald Wolfit!

Greville:  But you can pretend.  I don’t have your talent for pretending.

Roger:   “Pretending”?

Greville:  Acting – masquerading – creating an artifice.  Whatever synonym you decide upon, Roger, it’s still pretending!  These aren’t your people!

Roger:  So what have you managed to consign to your notebook?

Greville:  Gossip ... inconsequential facts.

Roger:  Ah!

Greville:  Yes?

Roger:  Isn’t that what he wants?

             Our Mister Harrisson.

             Inconsequential facts, Greville, may well prove to be of genuine consequence once they’ve been processed. 

             Give me one.

Greville:  An inconsequential fact?

Roger:  Give me one.

Greville flicks through his notes.

Greville:  A pint of mild costs five pennies but if one walks with that pint into the parlour one is charged an extra penny.

Roger:  There you are!

Greville:  Yes?

Roger:  That’s not inconsequential.

Greville:  It isn’t?

Roger:  It informs us that there’s a division of ...

Greville:  Of what precisely?

Roger:  It implies a certain degree of inter-class stratification.

Greville:  Does it now?  Fancy that!  “Inter-class stratification”!

Roger:  Parlours have a ... well an atmosphere of “respectability” resides in a parlour.

Greville:  Pot-plants reside in parlours.

Roger:  Exactly!  Aspidistras are a respectability gauge.  Parlours I’ve found are more often frequented by the ladies.

Greville:  Who – here’s another inconsequential fact for you – have a tendency to drink porter.

Roger:  There you are you see.  You are gradually building up a picture of proletarian ...

Greville looks at Roger.

             What’s the matter?

Greville:  These expressions of yours!

Roger:  You’d rather I used ...?

Greville:  I don’t see what’s wrong with “lower class”.

Roger:  Mm. 

              ... proletarian leisure-time.

Greville:  Thirty nine different religious groups.

Roger:  Your source for that information?

Greville:  The vicar along the road from here.

                Three hundred and four public houses.

Roger:  How do you ...?  Greville, you are a mine of crucial inconsequential...

Greville:  I simply went round the breweries.  They provided me with a list.

Roger:  Well you’re bound to end up with a list if you’ve been round all the breweries.

He waits for a laugh that doesn’t come.

            No?

            But there you are!  There’s no necessity for you to blend in.  Not when you can garner jewels like those.

Greville:  Approximately one hundred Jews.  Their synagogue located in (reading) Wentworth Street.

Roger:  They’re ... welcoming folk you know.

Greville:  The Jews? 

Roger:  The people of Bolton.  Your ... lower classes.  If you’re prepared to mingle ...

Greville:  Mingle?  I’d rather take your word for it. 

                You actually opted to work in one of these mills?

Roger:   I help with the deliveries.  I don’t have the necessary skills to work the machines.  One of our own got me the job.

Greville:  One of our own?

Roger:  One of our fellow spies.  A chap called Naughton.  He’s a lorry driver.

Greville:  I have serious doubts – whoever he is – he’d be one of our own.

Roger:  It might help ...

Greville:  Yes?

Roger:  If you went about with a less ...

Greville:  Yes?

Roger:  Superior approach.

Greville:  Get down to their level?

Roger:  There!  Again!  That word – “down”!

Greville:  Pretend – like you?

Roger:  I told you ...  I think ...

Greville:  Yes?

Roger:  Look Greville.  Can you not feel it?

Greville turns to the window.

Greville:  I can feel a draught.

Roger:  I have this real sense that ... that things are changing - that everything is in flux.

              I truly believe, Greville, our society is shifting.  That we’re on the edge of a new epoch. 

              The People’s Epoch.

Greville:  You mean the end of civilisation? 

Roger:  The hunger marchers!  The war in Spain.  Stalin.  Mussolini.  Hitler.  Moseley, for God's sake!  Something new is stirring.  The people are restless, Greville – they’ve had enough of the old guard – and you can’t see it?

             Tell me something, Greville.

Greville:  Ask me something Roger.

Roger:   Do you seriously believe that in ... let’s be generous ... that in twenty years time this country will still be ruled by Etonians?

Greville:  I’ve a question for you, Roger. 

Roger:  Fire away!

Greville:  Where were you educated?  Where’s your alma mater?

                Well?

                Come on!

Roger:  Shrewsbury.  But ...

Greville smiles.

Greville:  Mm.

Longish pause.  Roger smoking.  He delivers the next line in the accent he’s been using in the work-place.

Roger:  While we’re on the subject of my roots.

Greville looks at him.

             It’s the voice I used when I played the common parts in Macbeth.

Greville:  I was always under the impression that Macbeth was the Scottish play.

Roger:  The director was satisfied with it.  I modelled it on our gardener.

Greville:  Really?

Roger:  Well?

Greville:  Who am I to comment?  If it satisfied your director!

Roger puts out the cigarette.  He throws a muffler across to Greville.  It falls at Greville’s feet.

Roger:  There you go.

Greville:  What’s this?

He bends down to pick it up.

Roger:  A muffler for you.  You were complaining about the draught.

              I hope you’ve packed by the way!

Greville:  Packed?

Roger:  You’ve been taking notes, Greville – don’t tell me they’ve not been talking about Blackpool?

Greville:  It’s been one of their main topics of conversation.

Roger:  Well then?

Greville:  What?

Suddenly realising – shocked.

               We’re expected to accompany them?

Roger:  If the town is going to empty for a week then there’s little point remaining here, is there?  What are you going to be committing to your note-book?  11.15 am – a three legged dog defecates outside Gregory and Porritts?

Greville:  Is that what he wants us to do?

Roger:  Oh come on Greville – it’s the perfect opportunity for you to refine your contempt for the lower classes by observing the proletariat at play.

Greville:  Blackpool?

Roger:  Where do you usually holiday?

Greville:  Europe. 

                Vienna. 

                Rome.

                Paris.

Roger:  Greville!  Here’s your chance to see the very tower that inspired Monsieur Eiffel.

Greville:  Blackpool!

Roger:  Have you ever visited?

Greville looks at him.

Greville:  Have you?

Roger:  My father has a little place in Scotland.  We holiday there.

Greville:  Hah!

Roger:  It’ll be a new experience for us both then!

             Harrisson’s booked us into a boarding house. 

             A home from home.  We’ll be sharing a room again.

Greville looks at Roger – shakes his head.  Roger smiles.  As Roger’s head goes down again Greville remains looking at him but his expression changes.  He holds the muffler tight in his hand.

 

SCENE 7:  Nikki’s Front Room.

A guitar and wine bottle are leaning against a wall. Claire is doing Nikki’s hair and putting make-up on her.  The result gradually becomes retro – redolent of the nineteen thirties.  It becomes clear she’s working from a photograph. 

Claire:  You've the same cheek-bones.

Nikki:  Perhaps.

Claire:  No look – see.

She shows Nikki the photograph.

Nikki:  Mm.  My mouth’s not as wide as hers though.

Claire:  I can make it look wider.  It’s just a matter of ...

She takes a swig from the wine bottle as she applies lip-stick.

            So your mam had photos after all?

Nikki:  In a tin in the loft.

Claire:  See - she kept things.