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Rear view mirror: Proper freezin’ like

Cab driver Tony Shumacher clocks a midnight dole queue on County Road

Written by . Published on June 2nd 2011.

Rear view mirror: Proper freezin’ like

“I’M thick, dead thick me. Real proper thick,” she announced as she looked over my shoulder at the crossword.


“Yeah. Got kicked out of school when I was 13. They gave up on me. Said I was disruption.”



“Nothing, did you get expelled?”

“No, I was put on suspension for spitting at a teacher, and I just never went back.”

Her Majesty’s Department of Work and Pensions had finally got its arse in gear and had flashed the weekly cash -  or the daily cash for those claimants who can’t take the full hit of £65 a week

I tapped my pen against my teeth and stared out at the queue outside County Road Post Office. The fact that there was a queue at a Post Office wasn’t that unusual, it was the fact that the queue was there at ten past midnight on a rainy Tuesday morning that left me baffled.

“Are you stuck?” said my new mate in the back seat. She leaned forward again to look at the crossword I’d half finished in the paper on my lap.

“Do you know how much longer your fella is going to be?” I pointed with my pen to a hoodied-up figure in the queue across the road.

“He won’t be long, he’s waiting for his money, it goes in at midnight. Don’t worry. He’ll pay for waiting time!”

“I know he will,” I replied.  “What’s with the queue at the cash point?”

“Everyone’s money goes in at midnight; there is always a queue at this time.”

“Rush hour” I muttered to myself, and she didn’t hear, or pretended not too.

I’d picked them up at some grimy late sixties flats about a mile from where we now sat, the sort of flats that always seem to have green mould growing on the outside and propped open ground floor doors with broken intercom panels.

They’d come out as soon as I’d pulled up, him striding purposely and her limping behind, his and her track suits and sneers.

liverpool-at-night.jpgI’d been waiting for six minutes now, a cabbie’s eye on the green digital clock, watching the minutes... and my life, tick away.

“I wish I could do a crossword,” she was close to my ear, leaning through the seats, so close I could smell tobacco and chip fat, she looked over my shoulder and studied the page. “I’m proper thick as fuck.”

“That’s twice you’ve said that now, if you keep saying it you will start to believe it.”

“I can read and write, can’t do no maths though. I hated maths,” she sniffed and flopped back into the rear seat.

“I hated maths as well.”
“What was you good at?”

“I got an O’level in geography,” I replied, less than proud but safe in the knowledge I had the edge in academia.

“Maps and that. I hated that too.”

“You hated a lot about school didn’t you?” I moved on from tapping the pen to clicking it.

“I liked history, and art. I did a boss painting of David Bowie, they stuck it on the wall in the corridor.”

“Do you still paint?”

She laughed a wheezy laugh and coughed a rattly cough as an encore.

“Nah, don’t have time.”

I looked across at the queue it was starting to move. Her Majesty’s Department of Work and Pensions had finally got its arse in gear and had flashed the weekly cash -  or the daily cash, for those benefit claimants who can’t take the full hit of  £65 a week in one go.

“Maybe you should go back to college, what would you like to do for a job?”

“I like kids, I’d work with kids, but I can’t go to college. I like the weed too much," she declared.

“All kinds of people go to college, it’s not like school it’s relaxed. I bet you’d get a grant off the dole to go back.”

“I’m not on the dole, I’m on the sick, I’ve got depression, from the weed and that.”

“Maybe you should pack in smoking it then?”

old-dole-queue.jpgI was conscious that I was starting to sound like her dad, so I returned to watching the shuffling line edge forward. It reminded me of old black and white photos of depression-era soup kitchens. Instead of flat caps and overcoats it was black nylon and northface hats. The cash machine was ladling out modern gruel to keep a lost generation alive.

“I’ve tried packing it in, but he was doing a bit of dealing last year so I got back on it.”

“Did you feel better when you stopped?”

“My chest was better, but we moved into that flat and the damp started it off again, so I just started smoking again. I hate it.”

“The weed?”

“Yeah, and the flat, all of it.”

Her boyfriend was crossing back over the road towards us, waving some cash and smiling like a returning hero from the war.

“Goodison Rd, please lad, I’ll be dead quick and then back the flat, what do I owe you so far?”

“It’s about seven quid, mate.”

“Here’s a tenner,” he said as he placed a damp note on the passenger seat next to me as I drove. I picked it up and slotted it into my wallet, I didn’t want to give him time to change his mind.

“Just here, mate.”

I stopped and he was gone in a flash, darting around a corner like Spring Heeled Jack, out of sight so quickly, that if it wasn’t for the tenner in my pocket I’d have never known he’d been there.

“Where’s he gone?” I asked. 

“To score some weed.”

I must have shaken my head, because she limped to his defence: “He’s done really well! He was on heroin and he got himself off that, he doesn’t do anything except weed and the ale now, and he hardly even does the ale. He doesn’t rob nothing no more, he’s straight. He got us the flat and loads of stuff for it. The only thing he’s got is his weed.”

“Fair enough, love.”

We sat with the radio between us for a while; I was listening to a report on the cost of Tomahawk missiles when she piped up again.

“They shouldn’t be wasting money on them, they should be spending money on the likes of us, my back window has been bust for three months now, and they won’t fix it.”

“Why won’t they fix it?”

“He broke it when he lost his keys, they said we’re responsible and we should fix it, but we can’t afford it they are bang out of order, it’s proper freezin’ like.”

He came back before I could shake my head again, we set off back to their home and he weighed me in with a couple more quid, “for waiting lad”.

I drove for a mile or two to with the windows open to get the smell of skunk out of the car. Proper freezin’ like.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

womanjJune 2nd 2011.


Darth FormbyJune 3rd 2011.

Not really! Just a mail readers wet dream.

Reader XxxJune 3rd 2011.

Well written, Tony. It's easy to forget how the other half a per cent live.

AnonymousJune 8th 2011.

"Mail readers wet dream?" I don't think so, more like a social comment on people left to drift through life by governments of any colour.

Dust GirlJune 9th 2011.

fantasic read and well written! Excellent! More please!

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