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The Hooligan Nights, if we're to take the disclaimer in the Introduction entirely on the square, is "not a novel, or in any sense a work of imagination", but how much of it was real. It doesn't help at all that when the Times got around to a full review, they didn't seem to take the main conceit--a young south London street thug laying his life out to the author--entirely at face value, taking the pinch of salt approach even further than I would: "Mr. Clarence Rook, we take it, is a London journalist, given to the study of life in the slums, and whatever story his book contains is a true story of actual happenings, though Young Alf and the author may not have had those conversations in odd corners which are reported from chapter, and the thief may never have 'given himself away' so shamelessly." It makes you wonder if they thought to send anybody in London a wire before this write-up of the so-called Mr. Rook (if that is his real name) went to press. The only thing that can be verified as on-the-nose is that The Hooligan Nights was a massive bestseller in England, so the safe route is to treat it as a docudrama--truth leavened with truthiness.

Anyway, the author's claim to the story is that he was introduced to "young Alf" through English publisher Grant Richards, who had come in to posession of a manuscript from a boy who claimed to a leader of London's capital H, first-generation Hooligans. Richards facilitated the initial meeting for Rook, who decided the general public might be interested in an account of the "constant and pitiless" warfare that they wage in London.

As for whether it's advisable to air something soooooo imitatable in public, Rook's argument for his case is fascinating...and, if you follow the self-defense of the modern entertainment industry, maybe just a little bit familar in places.

I do not know that there is any particular moral to be drawn from this book, and in any case I shall leave you to draw it for yourself. But please do not accuse it of being immoral. When the Daily Chronicle published portions of the history of young Alf early in the year the editor received numerous complaints from well-meaning people who protested that I had painted the life of a criminal in alluring colours. They forgot, I presume, that young Alf was a study in reality, and that in real life the villain does not invariably come to grief before he has come of age. Poetic justice demands that young Alf should be very unhappy; as a matter of fact, he is nothing of the sort. And when you come to think of it, he has had a livelier time than the average clerk on a limited number of shillings a week. He does not know what it is to be bored. Every day has its interests, and every day has its possibility of the unexpected, which is just what the steady honest worker misses. He need not consider appearances, being indeed more concerned for his disappearances, he has ample leisure, and each job he undertakes has the excitement of novelty and the promise of immediate and usually generous reward. It would, I think, be very difficult to persuade young Alf that honesty is the best policy. I am not responsible for the constitution of the universe; and if under the present conditions of life a Lambeth boy can get more fun by going sideways than by going straight, I cannot help it. I do not commend the ways of my young friend, or even apologize for them. I simply set him before you as a fact that must be dealt with. Young Alf has interested me hugely, and I trust he will not bore you. (pp. vi-vii, my emphasis)
Hey, people are gonna get mugged whether I'm talking about it or not. Why blame me?

Having gone through that all too necessary prelude, Chapter 1 ("Young Alf") presents our intrepid journalist skulking about the south London streets, keeping an appointment to meet our protagonist at the Elephant and Castle, where the young man has a "kip" ("that is, there was a bed, which was little better than a board") at a place that sounds little better than a flophouse. This is young Alf (not his real name, we're told), barely more than seventeen, and at least a partial inheritor of the leadership role of well-known criminal and thug Patrick Hooligan (don't worry, we'll get to him before too long). They join up at the bus roundabout and head in the direction of Lambeth Walk. So far, so good...and then Alf opens his mouth.
As we swung round a corner I noticed a man in the doorway of a shop - a bald-headed man with spectacles, and in his shirt-sleeves, though the night was chilly.

'Ain't caught yer yet?' was the remark that young Alf flung at him, without turning his head half a point.

'You take a lot o' catchin', you do,' retorted the man.

Young Alf looked round at me. I expected to hear him laugh, or chuckle, or at the least seem amused. And it came upon me with something of a shock that I had never, so far as I could remember, seen him laugh. His face was grave, tense, eager, as always.

'That's a fence,' he said. 'I lived there when I was a nipper, wiv my muvver - and a accerabat.'

'Was that when--' I began.

'Don't talk,' he muttered, for we had emerged upon Lambeth Walk. (pp. 3-4)
OH NOES! IT'S DIALECT! We're screwed! Seriously, are you bovvered? Because I know I was...

From here, we're given a bucketload of the atmosphere of 1890s Lambeth Walk, which is painted here as a slightly dingy but vibrant and engaging 300 yard stretch of street--"the promenade, the place to shop, to lounge, to listen to music and singing, to steal, if opportunity occur, to make love, and not infrequently to fight." Street hawkers abound (including sheet music bootleggers...some things never change) , and we're very helpfully informed that while there were many crooked men out and about on that Saturday night, at least they weren't "more than reasonably drunk." Only half in the bag, in other words. Isn't that a relief.

As they make their way through this scene, Alf is keeping a good distance from Rook; the reporter forgot that he needed to dress to depress for the occasion, and the two together would stand out like a sore thumb. Anyway, the main drag isn't their final destination.
I expressed my regret, and, buttoning my coat, started down the court as young Alf melted into the crowd in Lambeth Walk. It was not a pretty court. The houses were low, with narrow doorways and windows that showed no glimmer of light. Heaps of garbage assailed the feet and the nose. Not a living soul was to be seen until I had nearly reached the other end, and could just discern the form of young Alf leaning against one of the posts at the exit of the court. Then suddenly two women in white aprons sprang into view from nowhere, gave a cry, and stood watching me from a doorway.

'They took you for a split,' said young Alf, as we met at the end of the court. 'I know'd they would. 'Ello, Alice!'

A girl stood in the deep shadow of the corner house. Her head was covered by a shawl, and I could not see her face, but her figure showed youth and a certain grace.

"Ello!' she said, without moving.

'When you goin' to get merried?' asked young Alf.

'When it comes,' replied the girl softly.

The voice that falls like velvet on your ear and lingers in your memory is rare. Wendell Holmes says somewhere that he had heard but two perfect speaking voices, and one of them belonged to a German chambermaid. The softest and most thrilling voice I ever heard I encountered at the corner of one of the lowest slums in London. (pp. 8-9)
Ooookay, that came out of nowhere, but I'm sure we'll double back on that outburst a little later...

This is Alf's neighborhood, thirty yards off the Walk, and the mission tonight involves skulking around the apartment where Alf and "'im" (whoever 'e is) lived while dabbling in the funny money trade, the one guy making the coins and Alf passing them. It's at this point where Alf gets around to a story alluded to earlier by a man at one of the meat stalls...and reminded of again by a whiff of a rotten hunk of animal flesh lying in the corner.
'It was Friday night last week,' he began, 'and me and two uvvers was coming along the Walk, down where the butchers are. There was one butcher there that I tumbled was a stranger soon as I ketch sight of 'is dial. He wasn't selling 'is meat over-quick, 'cos all the time he was necking four-ale in the pub cross the way. He'd got 'is joints laid out beautiful on a sort of barrer. Well, we 'ung about, watchin' 'im go cross the road and come back again, and presently I says to the uvvers, 'That bloke don't seem to be doin' no trade worf mentionin'. Let's 'elp 'im.' Well, the uvver boys didn't want asking more'n once to do a poor bloke a good turn, so we just scatters and waits a bit till the butcher went cross the way again for 'is wet; nor we didn't 'ave to wait long neither. Soon as he goes into the pub we nips round and shifts his old barrer, and 'fore you could say knife we had it froo the arches and in the stable-yard here. We got the meat upstairs, and then we run the empty barrer outside, and left it standin' in Paradise Street, where it couldn't do no one any 'arm.'

'But didn't anyone see you shift the barrow?' I asked.

''Ow was they to know we wasn't in the employment of the butcher?' he retorted. 'Besides, the uvver butchers wasn't likely to make a fuss. They didn't want no strangers comin' and interferin' wiv their pitch.' (pp. 13-14)
The interloping butcher didn't get any help from the regular meat stall vendors, and his strategy of tearing up and down the Walk while sticking his head into (and bending his elbow in) every pub didn't help his case either, while being chided by the "sympathetic" boys. It was a maneuver appreciated by the other butchers...until the lads finished the evening by selling the hapless newbie's stock at a deep discount.

It's worth noting that our journo, in spite of the "he is who he is" pose in the introduction, does betray a faint whiff of moralism here, but only for a second.
'Rather rough on the butcher, wasn't it?' I suggested. 'But you probably didn't think of that.'

His eyes glanced quickly from mine to the yard below, and back to mine again, and for a moment - perhaps it was the moonlight that caught his face and gave it a weird twist - but for the moment he looked like a rat.

'I got meself to fink abart,' he said; and if I went finkin' abart uvver people I shouldn't be no good at this game. I wonder which of them silly young blokes it was forgot that leg of mutton I chucked outer winder.'

He peered over the sill, and the dog began barking again. But the step in the lane outside passed on. And young Alf turned again to me and expounded his philosophy of life.

'Look 'ere,' he said, if you see a fing you want, you just go and take it wivout any 'anging abart. If you 'ang abart you draw suspicion, and you get lagged for loiterin' wiv intent to commit a felony or some dam nonsense like that. Go for it, strite. P'r'aps it's a 'awse and cart you see as'll do you fine. Jump up and drive away as 'ard as you can, and ten to one nobody'll say anyfink. They'll think it's your own prop'ty. But 'ang around, and you mit jest as well walk into the next cop you see, and arst 'im to 'and you your stretch. See? You got to look after yourself; and it ain't your graft to look after anyone else, nor it ain't likely that anybody else'd look after you - only the cops. See?'

A cloud came over the moon, and threw the room and the yard outside into darkness. Young Alf became a dim shadow against the window.

'Time we was off,' he said. (pp. 16-18)
They head out the way they came in, and soon prepare to part company. Mr. Rook has a train to catch, and Alf and some of the boys are making plans to provoke a good ol' fashioned street fight with the boys over by Westminster (by dropping an (ach-HEM) "unprintable" remark). And since he was planning to be on the button-pushing side, he's not entirely unprepared for a dirty fight.
As we came under the gas-lamps of Upper Kennington Lane, young Alf opened his coat. He was prepared for conflict. Round his throat he wore the blue neckerchief, spotted with white, with which my memory will always associate him; beneath that a light jersey. His trousers were supported by a strong leathern belt with a savage-looking buckle.

Diving into his breast pocket, and glancing cautiously round, he drew out a handy-looking chopper which he poised for a moment, as though assuring himself of its balance.

'That's awright, eh?' he said, putting the chopper in my hand.

'Are you going to fight with that?' I asked, handing it back to him.

He passed his hand carefully across the blade.

'That oughter mean forty winks for one or two of 'em. Don't you fink so?' he said.

His eyes glittered in the light of the gas-lamp as he thrust the chopper back into his pocket and buttoned up his coat, having first carefully smoothed down the ends of his spotted neckerchief.

'Then you'll have a late night, I suppose?' I said as we passed along up the lane.

''Bout two o'clock I shall be back at my kip,' he replied. (pp. 19-20)
Here comes the candle to light you to bed. Here comes the chopper to chop off your head. Or something to that effect. And so they parted company, Alf cutting a "lithe, well knit figure" (really now) as he melted back into the crowd.

Well, isn't that just a cozy way to bait the hook. I'd move onto the next chapter right away, but it's getting late and I got meself to fink abart.

Next: the origin of the Hooligan species. More or less.


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