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Welcome back to "Hey! That's Imitatable!" In the spirit of giving young readers a bad education, Chapter 10 ("On Pitching A Tale") is built around the theme of having a plausible yarn in place and ready to unspool at a moment's notice before you even set foot out of the door on the day of a caper. As a demonstration, Alf tells a story which took place not long after he moved away from his mother and started taking his kip with a friend. On the night in question, he was crawling along the ledge of a wall towards a house marked for plunder when he felt a hand grab his foot. It was connected to a beat cop in his "silent shoes".

' "Now then, what's the little game, eh?" 'e says.

'I was fair knocked. Cause you understand, I 'adn't got me tale ready to pitch. See? So I made out as if I was cryin', so's to get time to fink. An' then the slop 'e shook me shoulder an' says:

'"Now then, what were you doin' on that 'ere wall?"

'Be that time I'd fort of me tale, so I gives over cryin', and I says:

' "Please, mister p'liceman," I says, "don't you go an' let on to my faver."

' "Your faver," 'e says. "Who's your faver, an' where is 'e?"

' "In there," I says, pointing to free houses furver up the row. ' "E's waitin' up for me, an' if he sees me comin' in at the front 'e'd lam me someflnk cruel. I know faver," I says.

' "Well, you come along 'er me an' we'll find 'im," says the cop. "I'm not satisfied wiv your explanation," he says.

'So we went round to the front, an' the cop kep 'is 'and on my shoulder, an' knocked at the door. A old man wiv whiskers come an' opened it.

' "Ello," he says, "what's wrong now."

' "Look ere, faver," I chips in; "this yer cop's pinched me cause I was comin' in the back way, fear you'd lam me. You won't lam me, will yer? I wasn't on'y 'avin' a lark."

'The old 'un 'e put his lamps over me. "This your boy?" says the cop.

' "Jest you lemme get at 'im," says the old 'un. "I'll wail his young skin proper. You lemme get at 'im, that's all."

'"Then that's awright," says the cop. "Want's lookin' after, 'e does. You lay it on fick."

'"Fick's the word," says the old 'un. An' then off goes the copper. Got out o' that awright, didn't I?'

Young Alf's face assumed a look of preternatural cunning.

'But,' I objected, 'that wasn't your father, was it? I thought you told me--'

'What do you fink?' said young Alf. 'Never ardlly spoke to 'im in me life. On'y he kep' the 'ouse where one or two of my pals kipped, 'mong 'em bein' Maggots. An' I knowed 'e was strite. See? 'E tumbled soon as I called 'im faver. What?' (pp. 114-6)
What indeed. See, back in the days before everybody ate a Twix to buy themselves some lying time, you had to use the tools society gave you. And if society gives you a crying jag and an elderly improv comedian, then dammit, you run with it.

Alf reels off a few other jobs that demonstrated the art of thinking on your feet. He has a tale about cleaning out a Clapham house while the wife browbeat the husband over keeping odd hours (moral: choose carefully your moment to strike) and an impromptu decision of sneaking back into a deserted pub after spotting the morning's take on the counter, then doubling back the next day to chat about potential thieves in the neighborhood to be sure he was beyond suspicion (moral: "The boy who notices succeeds."). But the meat of this chapter involved another of Alf's girls--he always has a few around for when he gets bored--and an attempted trip to see the Epsom Derby.

A lot of Alf's money went towards being the life ot the party, which usually centered at a pub off the Westminster Bridge Road, and even the owner was coaxed to down a few on Alf's behalf on more than a few occasions. It was on one such occasion that Alf got it in his head that he and Kate, a girl who was employed at a cardboard box factory (really, that's all we're given on her), were going to see the ponies.
'Well, the landlord had a smart stepper an' a cart, an' one evening I finks to meself it'd be a bit of awright if I took Kate down to the Derby wiv a bit o' class. See? There was the pony eatin' 'is ead off in the stable be'ind, an there was the cart ready an' waitin'. Now, what did I tell you? Didn't I say if you wants a fing you got to go and take it? That's what I done.'

'But how did you do it?' I asked.

Young Alf set down his glass and thrust forth his lips contemptuously.

'Went an' took it. Didn't I tell you? Early next morning, fore anyone was about, there was me in the stable at the back of the pub 'arnessing the nag. I got away awright wivout anyone seeing me; wouldn't 'ave worried me off me rocker if they 'ad. 'Cause I'd got me tale ready to pitch.'

'What was the tale?' I asked.

''Arf a mo,' said young Alf. 'I'm comin' to that. Well, Kate was waitin' for me where I'd told 'er, an' in ardly no time I was on the road wiv the smartest little filly in the Walk by me side. Goin' fine, we was.'

Young Alf cocked his head, clicked his tongue, and assumed the attitude of one who sits behind a spirited animal and enjoys it. The men at the other end of the room ceased their conversation, and turned to listen to young Alf's narrative.

'Passed everyfink that was goin' down to the Derby, we did. An' Kate larfin' fit to bust 'erself. Gawblimey! fair old beano it was, wiv no error.' (pp. 124-5)
Well, maybe one error, because he got word from another driver that he was wanted behind. He knew then and there that the bung called him in, and although he tried to play it cagey ("I whips the pony round, and trots carm an' peaceful back along the road."), the splits weren't having any of it. When they recognized the dog cart, they grabbed the pony by the head and Alf by the collar.

Alf actually getting run in...that's a proper novelty. But sitting in stir overnight gives a boy a chance to think, and by the time he stood before the law, he had a definite plan.
' "Yes, your worsh'p," I says, quite pelite, "I should like to arst the prosecutor whether he was sober the night fore I took the trap."

The bung didn't say nuffink, an' the beak 'e looked at 'im an says my question over again.

' "I arst," I goes on, "I arst the prosecutor if 'e wasn't so drunk the night 'fore I took the trap, that 'e didn't know what 'e said nor what 'e didn't say."

'You should a' seen the bung when I put that question to 'im.

'Then the beak says! "The prisoner arsts if you was intoxicated on the previous evenin'. Was that so?"

'An' then I chips in: "Why, he told me, your worship," I says, " 'e told me I was welcome to the trap to go for a drive down the road to the Derby, as 'tween frens," I says; "told me so that very night in 'is own bar."

'Wiv that the beak put 'is lamps over the bung, an' says, solemn as you please, "Was you intoxicated?"

'That fetched the bung, you unnerstand; cause there was people in court that'd sin 'im on 'is back time after time froo drink.

'"I must admit I was somewhat overcome," says the bung, lookin' sheepish.

' "Do you remember," the beak goes on, "do you remember everyfink as took place on the night in question, an' more partickerly the time when the prisoner says you promised 'im the loan of your 'awse an' trap?"

'Then the bung 'ad to own up.

' "I can't swear that I'm clear as to everyfink," 'e says. "Fact is," says the beak, "you don't seem to know what 'appened, an', bein' a doubt in the matter, it's my duty to discharge the prisoner."

'So I got off. An' ow did I get off? Jest cause I'd got me tale ready to pitch. I know'd all the time they couldn't prove anyfink against me. Not them.'

'But was the landlord drunk?' I asked.

' 'E was one of them blokes,' said young Alf, 'that can't never be certain wevver they was drunk last night or wevver they wasn't. See? There's lots like that. An' that's what made me fink of me tale.' (pp. 128-30)
The moral: I WIN.

A man in a brown coat, who had been sitting in the room with Alf and Rook and listening in with some interest, brings up a "Jawge o' Mitcham", and when Mr. Rook says he'd like to hear that story, Alf obliges (Chapter 11 ("George of Mitcham")).

It was a straight-up enough con: Alf, with Maggots as his wing man of eeeeeeeeevil, sidled up to a guy named George who was down in the city for a holiday,
'Well, I slides up, an' puttin' me 'and out, I says: " 'Ello, George," I says, "who'd ever a thought of seeing you in these parts!"

'George 'e shakes 'ands and looks round at the comp'ny. "I'm pleased to see you," 'e says, "but damme if I can call you to mind."

' "Well, George," I says, "that's a fair knock-out. You comin' up to Lunnun from the ole place an' droppin' in 'ere premiskious, an' meetin' one o' the ole lot an' you don't reckernize 'im. That's a good 'un, I says. "That is a good 'un, an' no meestike."

'Wiv that he begins to get uneasy in 'is mind, an' 'e says, "I s'pose I oughter apologize," 'e says.

' "S'pose!" I chips in, "you jest take anuvver look at my dial."

' "Why, I rather fancy," 'e says, "now I get anuvver look at you, I've seen you down Mitcham way."

' "Good old Mitcham," I says. "Course you 'ave. What do you fink?"

' " Pon my word," 'e says, "it's most extraordinary, but I can't recall your name, on'y I know your face well as anyfink."

' "You wait a bit," I says, "an' you'll fink of my name. But what are you goin' to 'ave long'er me, George? Tain't often I come across a ole fren' from the ole place."' (pp. 132-5)
George, now properly confused but not wanting to look like a tool, asked what Alf had been up to lately. Alf said he was "dealing" (which technically wasn't a lie, but wasn't true in the way George assumed), and George said he had a pocket watch which he'd let go for fifty bob. This was Maggots' cue.
' "That's a sight too big for 'im, George," says Maggots.

' "Not a bit of it," says George, "why, you don't get measured for watches up in Lunnun, do you?"

' "I don't fink it's too big eiver," I says. "Just you put it in here, George," I says. "Never 'ad a watch in his life, that cove didn't; an' 'e wants to make out your lever's one of them ole turnips as fick as a Dutch clock."

'An wiv that George slips the watch inside my vest pocket.

' "There, is there any show about that?" he asks.

' "See it a mile away," says Maggots.

'Kiddin', 'e was, of course you unnerstand.

' "Well, it hasn't anyfink to do wiv you," I says, wiv a rare put on that seemed to please ole George fine. "Tell you what I'll do," I goes on, "I'll 'ave glasses wiv you, that I'll stan' over there by the door an' you won't be able to tell which pocket the watch is in. On'y you let George put the watch into whichever pocket 'e likes wivout your lookin'. See?"

' "Done!" says Maggots.

'With that I turns round, so's the uvvers couldn't see where George put the watch, an', artful like, 'e slips it into the side pocket of me coat.

' "Now then," says George, "it's glasses round again if you can see the watch. " (pp. 134-6)
To (ha-ha) give his chum a proper view for the contest, Alf backed up to the door...and, of course, backed out through the door and down the street. As he usually does with these stories, Rook asked what happened to George, and as usual, Alf said he didn't come back to see. The man in the brown coat, who had heard this one before, was more than happy to fill in the blanks.
'Jawge got took up,' said the man in the brown coat. 'Began creatin' a disturbance in the bar, an' 'ad to be chucked out. An' then 'e got took up.'

Young Alf's face expressed supreme indifference to the fate of George.

'Haven't been down Mitcham way litely, eh?' said the man in the brown coat.

Young Alf's mouth worked convulsively; but he made no reply. He does not like being chaffed.

'I suppose you'd always select a countryman for a trick like that?' I suggested

'Well, countrymen ain't generally reckoned to be any smarter than they oughter be, but I think they've smartened up a bit lately; on'y the countryman's got a keener lot o' lads to wait on 'im. See? If you try somefink wiv a watch on a countryman he'll generally take it on. Seems a sort of weakness o' theirs. You arst 'im if he wants a nice ticker cheap, a gold watch angin' up at five pound an' worf five times the money. An' then you show 'im the ticket, an say 'e can 'ave it for a quid. Chance of a lifetime you tell 'im. More'n 'arf the times 'e'll 'and over the quid.'

'And doesn't he get the watch, then?'

'Not 'im. There ain't no watch, cause the ticket's a fake. See?'

'And what about the pawnbroker? Doesn't he take any steps when he finds his tickets are being forged?'

'Oh, 'e don't trouble is 'ead, not likely. More'n 'arf likely the fake's been worked be one of the boys that brings 'im nice useful little fings for pledge. See?' (pp. 136-7)
If this was one of those public-service short subjects from the 1940s, you'd see Alf leaning in for emphasis when he starts going on about countrymen. With appropriate cutaways to the scam in action, of course...because you need to be hit over the head with this for your own good.

Next: Using your spare time for fun and profit...the Hooligan way!


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