Spivs and heroes

I’m putting this up because it occurs to me that we live in a time which is very similar to the days of the Blitz. There are heroes working in our NHS and our other services, looking after us in all sorts of ways, with kindness and tenderness and consideration even though they are tired to exhaustion point and at the same time there are bullyboys and loud mouthed women ransacking the supermarkets and making a profit from selling the goods they’ve bought on the internet. They are spivs, every one of them. I recognise the type. I wrote about them in a novel I called. ‘Avalanche of Daisies’.

Here are two  of them called Phossie and Vic, driving off with their friends to plunder a warehouse at Potter’s Wharf that’s just taken a direct hit. They scrambled into their cars and drove off before the doors were shut, just like an American gangster film.

“If it is Potter’s,” Phossie explained as he drove, “we’ve got ten minutes at the most, then the civil defence’ll be there. It’s been a noisy night so with a bit a’ luck they might be busy somewhere else, but we can’t bank on it. We’ll have to work like stink.”

The wharf was shrouded by clouds of brick dust and couldn’t be seen but it was obviously the centre of the dust storm so they all plunged straight towards it. By now they were wild with excitement and heedless of the danger, scrambling over piles of broken brick, dodging smashed pipes, crunching over broken glass, eager for loot.

There was plenty of it, for although one side of the warehouse had vanished, as far as they could see, there were packing cases everywhere, looming out of the dust like a herd of humped beasts, some smashed open, some lying on their sides spilling tins, some virtually intact. But all of them too heavy to carry.

“We need a wheelbarrow or something.” Victor said, peering round wildly . And saw a tarpaulin, thrown across yet another heap of cases. Perfect. Grab it quick before the others see it. Then it was simply a matter of filling it with tins and lugging it back to the car, passing two of the others as they staggered out of the dust under the weight of half a broken packing case.57C063D6-805D-4DC6-9288-7F353404B4B9

They made three trips and were on their way back and fourth when there was a spurt of fire directly ahead of them and part of the building was suddenly ablaze, belching black smoke and scarlet flames behind dust clouds which were now eerily and dramatically brick-pink.

“Scarpa!” Phossie yelled and they both hurtled to the car. It was packed to the ceiling and very heavy to drive. But they got away and the civil defence hadn’t arrived and nobody could have seen them, thanks to all that dust. What a success! Fucking marvellous! They laughed and swore all the way home.

It wasn’t until there were inside the house that it occurred to Vic to wonder what had happened to the others.

“That’s their look-out,” Phossie said. “It’s every man for himself in this business. Let’s have a look an’ see what we’ve got.”

So they wiped the dust from their looted goods and found that what they’d ‘liberated’ was tinned food from the USA, corned beef, peaches, jam, rice pudding and stewed steak, all of it eminently saleable.

“We’ll make a fortune !” Phossie predicted happily. “A fortune! And we don’t even have to pay a cut to the Skibbereen. That’s the beauty of it. It’s all Freeman’s. Courtesy of Adolf Hilter.”

And just to show you what our heroes were doing at much the same time here’s another extract by way of a contrast.

The commandant of Belsen concentration camp was waiting at the gate. From their vantage point beside the leading armoured car, Steve and Dusty had a good view of the proceedings and the man. He was exactly the sort of creature they expected – thickset, stocky, arrogant, cruel – and he dominated their attention, dressed in the immaculate, be-medalled uniform of a high-ranking officer, with a well brushed  cap and brightly polished jackboots, his face a mask of brutal insolence, heavily jowled and fleshy, with small eyes and beetling eyebrows. He showed no sign of fear at all and had turned his back on the camp and his prisoners, as if they were nothing to do with him, as if they didn’t exist.

Behind him, the camp spread out its stinking and obvious presence, lines of cheap wooden huts, an expanse of bare, flattened, long-dead earth – where was all the grass? – and hundreds of prisoners, waiting, still and terrible, like half-clothed skeletons, stick-limbed and filthy their skin the pale yellowish-white of old parchment, heads shaven, faces gaunt and scabby, eyes sunk into purple sockets. Some were standing, their arms dangling at their sides as if they no longer had the strength to lift them, many more were lying on the ground, too weak and ill to even sit up. And the stench cloyed around them, sickening and pervasive.

The troops at the gate were so appalled at the sight of them that there were bereft of speech. They looked from their own sturdy bodies and well-fed faces to the emaciated skulls and weary eyes before them and couldn’t believe that they were seeing such things. How could anyone be reduced to such a state? They didn’t look human. But that thought, true thought it was, was too shaming.

The commandant was the only person who wasn’t abashed by the filth and starvation behind him. He clicked his heels to greet the brigadier and introduced himself as Joseph Kramer, looking as though he was proud of himself. Then he introduced his companions, a line of SS men and another of SS women, chief of whom was a pretty blonde, young and plump and looking most attractive in her trim uniform. ‘Irma Grese.’ It was all polite and proper and pompous, as if they were at a garden party.

The brigadier’s way with such people was cold and absolute. He turned to the military policemen who were waiting behind him. “Arrest them,”’ he said and climbed back into his staff car.

“Now what?” Steve asked the sergeant.

“Now we escort the food truck in,” the sergeant said.

“Poor bastards!” one of the privates said, looking at the prisoners with anguished pity.

“Don’t let any of them touch you,” the sergeant warned. “If you get lousy, you’ll get typhus an’ I’ll bet they’re crawling alive.”

It was true. They could see the lice, walking across those bare bony backs, climbing an exposed arm, squatting on a child’s forehead, evil, disgusting creatures, large as thumbnails and dark with blood.

“He’ll get the hygiene section in,” the sergeant said, nodding towards the brigadier’s car. “De-lousers, medical corps, casualty clearing station, the lot. The wires’ll be red-hot now he’s seen this.”

They inched into the compound , driving very slowly because the prisoners who could stand were staggering towards them, holding out withered hands and calling to them, “Shalom! Shalom!” signing, taloned fingers to cracked lips, that they needed food, their eyes imploring.

“It’s coming,” the sergeant called to them. “Quick as we can.” But there’s so many of them, Steve thought, as they drove gently on. There must be thousands here. How can we possibly feed so many?”

”Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”



One thought on “Spivs and heroes

  1. ‘Avalanche of Daisies’ was the first of your books I read! I remember feeling as if a door had opened into a world that was both strange (I was born postwar) and familiar (I’d listened forever to the family stories), but above all a good read.


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