The men in shiny suits and shiny shoes
My Father always said to me as a young boy growing up that I had to try 'twice as hard" because of my colour. To open doors I had to be prepared to work very hard, and in time I will get my just desserts. My father worked for London Transport at the Head office in Baker Street, where he had his own office and stores. He was head store-man, and he took pride in his work and all his co-workers called him Bob; which actually wasn’t his name. I witnessed my dear Mother hold down three jobs; an early in the morning job (and I do mean early) a during the day job (as they were called then),and an evening one to round it off, and she still found time to cook the family a fresh dinner every evening except on Fridays, as that was fish and chips night
In school I really did try taking my Fathers advice, especially when playing football, but even though I tried twice as hard as my Father said, the selection manager would only choose a certain quota of Black boys to go thru to the ILEA Trials, by 14yrs years of age I simply gave up on football and decided to take up sprinting, as I loved running, when I ran I saw no colour bar at all, the first to the line was the winner; And that simply gave you automatic selection to run for your district…NO MATTER WHAT YOUR COLOUR, is it NO COINCIDENCE THAT EVERY OLYMPIC 100m FINAL, THEY ARE 8 BLACK MEN ON THE FINAL LINE? Sprinting became a hobby because in my time there was no big sponsorship for a young kid like me. The closest I ever got was Walls ice cream vouchers to buy spikes!
My other hobby in life was playing with the sound system boys of Ladbroke Grove, who attended the same school as me, Rutherford Comprehensive, the sound was named Duke Gordon after the founder Delvy Gordon, we played every Friday night in the Powis Square Hut, hanging out on Powis Square brought me close to the All Saints Road.
When I did eventually walk onto the All Saints Road, it was to purchase some fried dumplings, I saw men who didn’t look like they were trying twice as hard to get somewhere in life like my father had advised. These men wore shiny suits, shiny shoes and had gold jewelry dripping around their necks, on their wrists and on their fingers too. Women looked at them with beaming smiles and a glint in their eyes. The cars parked on the road had invitingly crisp leather seats shinning in the sun, I looked around totally mesmerized by what I was witnessing. I had never seen a group of Black men gathered like this before anywhere else in my life, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know where they worked, what they did and where they lived…I wanted answers to all these questions. All these images swirling around my little teenage brain just made me keep returning, especially on a Friday night: Friday night on All Saint Road was a total buzz, women would venture down the Grove to sell their wares, be it food, clothes, shades, scarves, leather gloves and yes, even themselves and their bodies. The men were in constant competition as to who had the best weed wrapped in the infamous bookie slips. The weed would always fall out of the betting slips as the amount was so generous for £5. Gamblers arrived from all around the country to play on the Mangrove gambling tables, I would watch all the comings and goings with my eye’s wide open and I worked out who the important, and the NOT so important people were very quickly. There was one person I noticed that everyone feared, and that was a man they called the Sheriff; Reggie Guts! The name alone told you that this man was a brave man. He was short and barreled chested, with a fierce face and even when he smiled his face looked threatening. Then you had the cool cats; the ones like Lucky Gordon who would sit you down and regale you with stories about the swinging sixties and the part the guys in shiny suits & shiny shoes played in bringing down the government in the Profumo scandal, of course I would sit there listening very intently.
My Father had promised me my first ‘made to measure suit’ from a shop on the Harrow Road called Roseman Tailors, but there was still money that needed to be paid before the suit was finished cutting, and was mine. After about my fifth visit to the All Saints Road I had managed to quickly acquire the remainder of the money needed for my first shiny suit by running errands to the shops for the all-night gamblers of the Mangrove and bringing them back hot coffee's or the Philson Caribbean take-away special, Apple crumble & ice cream, i also got asked to help out on a records & tapes stall situated outside the Black People's Information Centre on the Portobello Rd during market day on Saturdays. i was also quickly making friends with the youths who resided to the north of Powis Square on the infamous Acklam Rd, in particular one much older youth who was known simply as AP.
Friday came and i eagerly went to Roseman the tailors to collect my first new shiny suit, i tried the suit on, the cloth had been chosen by me, even the buttons, pleats & zip were all my choice, that's the beauty of a "made to measure" suit, every thing is your choice & decision. i went home ate my dinner, bathed & groomed myself but i could not contain my excitement no longer, i pulled the suit from my wardrobe & slowly put on the trousers followed by the jacket & told my mum that i was attending a school disco. i walked out of the flat a new person, the bounce in my strides made me half a foot taller. i strode down the Harrow Rd with intent, over the Half' Penny steps, thru the flats on the other side & into Goldbourne Rd, i bounced with so much cockiness that you could not fail to notice me. I took a left into Wornington Rd that led me into "Muggers Alley" which in turn took me onto the pedestrian bridge which crossed the train lines, i was now on St. Luke's Rd, a few strides later & i was walking past the Metro Youth club which was getting prepared for the Friday night residency of the "Mighty Sufferer" Sound system & guests. I took out a cigarette, lit it & turned right into Lancaster Rd, i could now hear the Friday night buzz of All Saints Road, the raised voices, the music from the car stereos, the banter of the street drug peddlers, i stopped outside the Apollo pub, drew a long breath of air & smiled, i had finally arrived, i felt immediately at home, the new kid on the block in his shiny suit.