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Authors: Alex Wheatle

The Dirty South

BOOK: The Dirty South
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Alex Wheatle
was born in 1963 to Jamaican parents living in London. He spent most of his childhood in a children's home, which he left at fourteen to live in a hostel in Brixton. At eighteen, he was involved in the Brixton uprising and went to prison for three months. On his release, he continued to perform as a DJ and MC under the name Yardman Irie, moving in the early '90s on to the performance poetry circuit as The Brixton Bard. His second novel,
East of Acre Lane
, won the London New Writers Award (2000).
The Dirty South
is his sixth novel.



A complete catalogue record for this book can
be obtained from the British Library on request

The right of Alex Wheatle to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by him in accordance
with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

Copyright ©2008 Alex Wheatle

The characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, dead or alive, is
coincidental and not intended by the author.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

First published in 2008 by Serpent's Tail,
an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
3A Exmouth House
Pine Street

978 1 85242 985 0

Designed and typeset at Neuadd Bwll, Llanwrtyd Wells

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays, Bungay, Suffolk

The paper this book is printed on is certified
by the © 1996 Forest Stewardship Council
A.C. (FSC). It is ancient-forest friendly.
The printer holds FSC chain of custody SGS-COC-2061

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

To all those who have suffered the ultimate loss


Shout outs to Laura Susijn, Nicola Barr and to Pete Ayrton and all at Serpent's Tail for believing in me and venturing where others feared to tread. Honourable mentions to Kolton Lee, Clint Dyer (let's make that bloody film!), Catherine Wearing, Jonte Richardson, Courttia Newland, Stephen Thompson, Anjela Lauren Smith, Simone Pennant, Clyde Minott. Respect to Raymond Stevenson, Lucia and the rest of the crew working on the Don't Trigger Campaign. Salutes to Blacker Dread and the other organisers of the Brixton Summer Splash. Polite bows to all those people, including the police, who work hard to make Brixton a safer place. Shake of the hand to all at the Streatham Youth Community Trust. Big respect to Charlie and the rest of the Burru drummers who backed me at that memorable night at Brixton Library. Respectful nods to Henry Bonsu, Devon Thomas, Tim O'Dell, Michael Groce, Julia Jacobs, Mark Norfolk, Vanessa Walters, Dreda Say Mitchell and to so many others.

Last but not least a special thank you to Veraldo Barnett, DJ of Radio Mona 93fm, located at University of the West Indies campus, who allowed me on a steamy Kingston night to play whatever reggae I pleased for an hour. One of the best nights of my life.

…so don't you forget, no youths, who you are And where you stand in the struggle

Bob Marley

Chapter One

y name is Dennis Huggins and I was born in 1983. Right now we are, as my granny would say, in the year of our Most High 2006. I'm in Pentonville Prison in North London. They say there are more black men behind bars and in mental institutions than there is in universities in England but I reckon it was a white man who researched that shit.

The English tutor said I should write my tale and she offered her help. But burn her help, I don't need it. Patronising bitch. 'Cos I am black she didn't think I could write too good, didn't think I had an academic brain. When she finishes her shifts she probably wants to tell her white friends and family how she's helping poor, ghettoised black brothers with their English. Burn her! The only way she can help me is leaving me alone so I can get on with my tale.

So I'm gonna write an honest account of what's really gone on in my life, the mistakes I've made, chances I had and why I ended up in this grimy place. I just hope that my mother doesn't read it.

Before all you know-it-all pussies start thinking that this is the story of some young black guy who didn't know his paps and lived in a Brixton ghetto – you're wrong. Yeah, I lived in Brixton, or Bricky as we call it. But in a nice street. Leander Road, just behind Tulse Hill estate. Bricky does have decent streets but with
all that fuckery stereotyping and media shit, you well-booted living in Berkshire and wherever wouldn't know that… Actors, bankers, librarians, secretaries, doctors all live in my road. Even gay people or chi chi men as we call them on the road. So I ain't the product of a grimy sink ghetto. Nor the product of a single mother family…

Sure, Bricky does have its ghettos. Tulse Hill estate where a trailer load of eastern European people and white trash families live. At night you see their whores stepping for trade on Upper Tulse Hill Road. Myatts Fields estate where all the crack houses used to be; fuck knows where they all are now since the Fed clamp-down. Angel Town where every second brother seems to be packed with a gun. Stockwell, where the rude boys show off their guns in the local youth club and Vauxhall where the Portuguese shottas sell the best hash in London while dodging the moves of the chi chi men who prowl and hang around in those ends. The Camberwell end of Coldharbour Lane where so-called Muslim gangs cruise and jack any shottas and run protection rackets.

I didn't start off my life in a three-bedroom terraced house. My family lived in the Palace Road ends just off Streatham Hill until I was five. I don't remember much about that place save one time when my mum took me to the corner sweet shop for a treat. Mum was taking out her P's to pay for my crisps and a chocolate bar when two brothers ran into the shop armed with long shanks. I remember the shopkeeper's reaction. Mum was all upset and by the time we got home she was bawling and shit, hugging me to her chest and asking me if I was alright. I wasn't really scared, just buzzing to see them two brothers in action. After that, my parents were proper determined to move into a house and away from an estate. Many of my parents' old friends had moved to Croydon and Thornton Heath, which we now call ‘Little Bricky'. But Mum didn't want to move too far from her own parents – even though they never approved of her marriage – who live in Elm Park, just a two minute walk away from our gates.

My mum is now a legal secretary and she works for some solicitor firm in Clapham Junction… When she gets home from
the office she's always bitching about the white people at her workplace and how she has to be better than them just to get equality… Fuck equality my paps would say, he wanted justice. Anyway, I've never seen any of Mum's white colleagues step through our front door nor any of my paps' work bredrens. Mum earns about twenty-five grand a year but she was always cussing me about wasting the odd potato or a spoonful of rice from my dinner plate. When I was a kid she always checked me from scalp to toe making sure I was neat and shit to go out. She still would if she could find a way to see me every morning in prison. An unwashed mug in the sink was a worse crime than chatting back to my teachers in my mum's universe. I might have given my mother a world of grief and frustration but I have never sworn at her, not like how those white trash kids swear at their mothers. Got too much respect for her. Despite the life I have chosen to live she's a good mother and I don't wanna hear no different.

My paps is a librarian at the Lambeth archives. He has to use a walking stick after some accident he had when he was eighteen. He's never talked about it but I know he was a shotta of some fame back in his day. In Bricky it seems that every black brother between the ages of forty and fifty knows my paps but it always fucks me off when these brothers don't wanna spill the shit about him. Once, Uncle Royston told me a little when he came around my gates and he had too much to drink. Apparently, Paps' so-called accident was the result of an encounter with a Bricky crime lord who ended up dead. I thought all this was so heavy and my respect for Paps grew. I wasted no time in telling my school mates. ‘My paps used to be a famous shotta! What did your paps do? Fuck! You don't even know your paps, you sad pussy!'

‘Fuck you!' they would say. ‘Your paps is Bricky's version of Stephen Hawking with his fucked-up legs and hop-along shit. I wouldn't want no paps if he was a spastic.'

‘At least I know where I come from,' I would retaliate. ‘Them fucked-up alcoholic men who hang outside Bricky library and beg old white women for twenty pence could be your paps, you fucking fatherless pussy.'

My own paps can lecture a bit though. I always preferred Mum's five minute screaming and then the slamming of doors whenever I did something wrong. Paps would sit my black ass down and talk all calmly and reasonably, making me feel as stupid as a dumb-ass ghetto brother faced with quantum physics. He lectured me for two hours after I jacked this new Kosovan kid's dinner money at school; the boy couldn't chat no English so I thought it was an easy jack. I was eleven at the time and I didn't need the money… It was the buzz, the adrenaline rush. Simple as.

Behind his back I always call Paps the preacher. Forever going on about what it was like for him when he was seventeen or eighteen, but refusing to chat about his life as a shotta. If he talked about that I would have paid attention like a dick in
Destiny's Child
's dressing room. I was never going to be interested in the numbers of young black unemployed in 19 fucking 80, long forgotten riots, funny-named TV characters like Yosser Hughes, crazy garms like silk flower shirts, fucked up afros and how Margaret Thatcher messed up the country. Burn that shit.

BOOK: The Dirty South
13.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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