Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure:
Up the Tollgate
Abi Frost

1 November 1963

Another bloody boring cockers up at Cheyne Walk. New dolly-print from Bazaar; Mummy in usual tasteless Pucci, yeuch. Goosed by Freddie Ayer, again. Then on to bloody boring Trat, as boring usual. How I long for the vibrancy of Real Life, the simple surging communal blood-life of the working people. Je m'en fous de cette vie bourgeoise; this etiolated, ersatz, expressionless existence. Shouldn't have had that third streqa, perhaps.

2 November 1963, morning

Awake surrounded by last night's absolute wreckage; give char her cards and walk outside in search of fresh air -- deep, clean, gut-searing breaths of it. Slam door forever on dreary Cheyne Walk. Sun much too bright. (Ask Mummy to complain to Council.) Blinded -- nay, dazzled -- by incandescent radiance, stagger as if floating in I know not what direction. Spinning in wild exalted transport I see as if in another dimension a raging centaur of chrome steel, black leather and dirty skin -- and then the whole world explodes, and it is through shooting stars that I hear, for the first of many times: "'Ere, watch wot yer doing you stupid posh cow! You've bent me fucking wotsit!" And then deep peace and silence.

My eyes flutter open, and he is bending over me, transfixed. My little daisy-print is rucked up around my thighs if not waist. Should have worn Foale & Tuffin trouser suit. Or, come to think of it, perhaps not. "Where am I?" I trill, though, in fact, I think I know; but I hardly dare believe it. "Yer in fuckin' Battersea, darlin', where d'yer bleedin' fink?" Oh rapture!

"Fuckin' Battersea?", I whisper, with a certain disingenuity, it must be admitted. "What a funny name! Is there some -- special -- reason for it?"

"No special reason needed, darlin'. Come dahn the alley and I'll show yer!" Oh bliss above the skies)

2 November, afternoon and evening

At 2.30, my new friend takes me to "the pub" for what he calls "afters", seems to mean lots of lovely vodkas and oranges, though I was really quite satisfied down the alley! Emboldened, I ask the burning question: "Are you -- are you really -- working class?"

"Cor strike a light, gorgeous, wot you fink, eh? They call me Big D. Can't tell you why." I think I can guess! About to suggest another look at that charming alley, when a hulking great lout comes and whispers in his ear, "Yer WOT? Gorblimey darlin', gotta see a man abaht a wotsit! Train ter catch, see. 'Ere, Mikeo, you see she's awright, awright?" "Awright," says the brute, "'Ear that, darlin'. Yer coming wiv me dahn Jackie's Mum's, awright?" All right! Gosh, what thrills!

Passing the alley, I make a little motion with my head, but Mikeo shakes his. "Give it a rest, girlie, Jackie'd 'ave both our guts for garters. Not to mention what Big Rozzie would do. And then ..." And then? "And then there's 'Ell. You don't want to cross our 'Ell, my girl, you don't!" Super! I can hardly wait!

3 November, morning

Woken at God knows what hour by frightful racket. Rather shocked to find self on windowsill squashed between a birdcage (with rather bedraggled inhabitant) and a simply HUGE aspidistra. (Spikey leaves. Rotten luck about my tights.) Opposite on what I must learn to call the "settee" are Mikeo and his "bird", Jackie, doing -- GOSH! Their friend 'Ell, a good-hearted brassy blonde, is putting on her stockings with an air of complete unconcern, as if that sort of thing happened all the time! Under the table are a bearded man in a ragged vest, an enormous woman with no teeth, about 15 cats and a dark girl with piercing eyes. "Why aren't you all in your own rooms?" I wonder aloud. 'Ell snorts derisively, and the dark girl rushes to explain: "Where was you born, lovie, Bucking'am Palace? We ain't got no rooms! Upstairs is Jackie's Mum and 'er mites, then in the kitchen there's the Lavender Hill Mob and that red-haired tart from the bottle factory -- then outside in the karsie there's the Leeds Mafia hiding out from Inspector Pickers--"

"Shut yer big mouf Kite before we shut it for yer!" yells Jackie. "Doncha tike any notice of 'er, missus, she don't know arf of wot she sez. That's Big Rozzie down there, an' Rocker Rob, the rest of 'em you don't want to know abaht if you knows wot's good for yer."

"Where's my bleedin' breakfast?" says Big Rozzie. "You -- girl -- got any money?" I nod -- I have my allowance. "Right, dahn the chip-shop for 47 rock and double chips then. 'Urry up -- we all 'ave to be dahn the factory at 'arf six. And ask the rest of them what they're 'aving!"

3 November, evening

Everyone gets back from the factory and sends me out for saveloys and chips! Gosh what nectar to the jaded palate! Then down the pub -- will Big D be there? Buy vodka and orange all round and settle down in eager anticipation. Twelve vodkas later Rocker Rob staggers over and puts hand up my skirt. Explain that I'm waiting for Big D. "Yer wot? Yer'll 'ave a long wait then, darlin', sure yer don't fancy a bit in between?" Begin to waver. He'd be awfully good-looking if you washed the bike-oil out of his beard and gave him a new vest. But Mikeo comes over and slugs him in the jaw, smashing several teeth. As Rob skulks off towards the bar, Mikeo sits down protectively beside me. "Lissen, darlin', Big D is away, know wot I mean?" Not sure I do but try not to betray ay stupid, sheltered ignorance. "But that don't mean you can be anybody's, right? Now you be a good girl and I'll see none of them bastards give you any bovver. All right?" Set the impression that if I'm not a good girl, he'll give me some "bovver". How thrilling!

Back to Jackie's Mum's. Sent out for pie and chips all round with bottle of pickled gherkins for Big Rozzie. Yum yum!

5 November, evening

Chips and rounds of drinks have worked havoc with my allowance. Have a quiet word with 'Ell and Big Rozzie. "No worries, girlie, we'll get yer a job dahn the factory," they say. Actually Rozzie does. 'Ell's rather busy with a couple of blokes from the pub. Jammy cow. But I must remember my status as Big D's bird and not take no notice of them stupid slags.

(Did I get that right?)

Terrible explosion in karsie. Kite says it's Leeds Mafia having a fireworks party with WPC McCauley. Jackie tells her to keep her filthy talk to herself.

6 November

My first day at the factory! Now I can look the workers in the eye!

The factory is about three miles away but you know you're going in the right direction because of the heavenly smell. It's a vast satanic mill with an enormous chimney and a big thudding pipe (what do they remind me of?) which discharges something sticky and purple into the river all day and night. It makes candles, fish-cakes and glue on different floors; our department takes out the fish-guts and wheels them in huge bins down to the candle department, I think.

I am stationed in front of an endless moving belt, down which comes a constant supply of glassy-eyed fish of various sizes and shapes. What they have in common is that they are all very, very dead. From clocking-on (!) to morning break I cut the fish open with a rather blunt pen-knife. Till dinner-time (witty working-class slang for lunch!) I chop their heads off and put them in a bin for the glue department; from dinner till tea-time (ten sugars for me!) I remove guts, then I wheel the guts over to the candle section which takes me to clocking-off. Foreman explains that next week I will do just one job, but it is the company's policy to train new workers and see that they have a thorough understanding of the entire production process. I agree that training is vital in this new technological age. He gives me a funny look.

Learn later that we actually get paid for this delightful activity! "Chalk up" 27 vodkas plus a gross of Babycham (for Rozzie) "on the slate" at the pub, in anticipation of pay-day! Yippee! Lovely chips for dinner. I mean tea.

7 November

Back at the factory, hooray. Kite says there are excellent prospects for promotion. Apparently there is more to the factory than meets the eye; there's a secret bit at the back where they scrape the scales off the fish for their radioactive material. This used to be Big D's job, she says, but then Jackie comes and socks her one. "That's right," cries Jackie's Mum. "Remember the War! Careless talk costs lives!"

"We wasn't born in the War, you silly old moo!" says Jackie,socking her one too. Tea pastie and chips. 'Ell having fun with boys from factory. Miss Big D.

8 November

Back at the factory. Wonder when they're going to promote me -- I seem to have got the hang of this quite quickly. Terrific fun plunging one's hand down slit in fish but it does smell rather. Big Rozzie takes me on one side during tea-break. After she's had my tea and biscuit she speaks: "That 'Ell. Your mite Kite sez she's in the family way." I say that although it's a squeeze at Jackie's Mum's, I really don't find 'Ell any trouble. I hardly trip over her at all now. "Nah. Wot I mean is, she's got a bun in the oven. Geddit?" Nod politely but really I don't. I thought she was a fish-slitter, not a baker. Or does she mean at home? But the only thing I've ever seen in our oven is Lavender Hill Mob's leathers drying out after rumble with Queenstown Road Mob. Very puzzling. Chips and pickled onions for tea. No sign of 'Ell's bun. Maybe selfish slag has eaten it herself.

9 November

Another day at the factory, slitting horrible boring smelly fish, Jackie laughs when I ask when we get to do more creative work. Burst into tears.

Ask Big Rozzie why we eat chips all the time. Chips delicious but wouldn't a little gazpacho or perhaps a cassoulet be a pleasant change once in a while? She looks at me with the air of one whose deepest feelings have been violated. Oh dear. Dash out and get her a few placatory skate wings with last of allowance.

10 November

Mummy must be worried about me. Take day off factory and cross Albert Bridge to dreary tedious bourgeois world which seems like another planet. Mummy most interested in all my news. "So you've found yourself an Angry Young Man, eh, darling?" Really Mummy! That wasn't even last year! Cook's coq au vin thin, insubstantial fare after hearty working-class meals in Battersea. Decide I'd better have seconds. Have thirds too on learning that pudding is only syllabub. Mummy has obviously missed me, so agree reluctantly to stay night.

11-19 November

Still in Chelsea eating,

20 November

Up bright and early at noon. Pack spotted handkerchief with garlic bread and croissants and set off cheerily singing to factory gate. Foreman seems surprised to see me. "You've got the bleedin' sack, luv!" Is this a new way of transporting fish-guts? Apparently not. Wait by gates for the others.

Big Rozzie comes out at tea-break. Refuses croissant ("foreign muck"). "Well, since yer 'ere, yer can go dahn Widow Chrissie's with 'Ell and Jackie termorrer. She's got ter 'ave it away with." Say I thought she had no trouble doing that at home. "Nah. 'Er little mistake. You know." Try not to look stupid but 'Ell has always struck roe as really rather competent at what she does.

In pub ask Kite who Widow Chrissie is, since we're going to see her. "She's a lidy wot 'elps poor girls wot's in trouble." Oh, some sort of social worker? Some new people have moved in at Jackie's Mum's so I have to sleep by Big Rozzie's tooth-glass. Rocker Rob tries to welcome me back but Mikeo socks him one.

21 November, morning

Off on number 19 bus to Widow Chrissie's place in "Norf" London. Feel sure I spot Kite slip in downstairs. Jolly unfriendly of her. Widow Chrissie is a curious woman, wearing queer gypsy-like clothes and lots of jangly jewellery. "Well, she can bleedin' afford it, can't she?" says 'Ell when I point this out. We all go to Chrissie's front room, which has a huge table and various china bowls. My job is to keep watch through the curtains and tell them if I see anyone outside.

Quickly spot a loitering figure and tell them I'm sure it's Kite. Jackie and 'Ell giggle furiously. (I was trying to be helpful.) "All right girls, we'll go right through it like it was real," says Chrissie. 'Ell lies down on table and Jackie holds her legs. Chrissie takes a long hook-thing out of her horrible black bag, and 'Ell screams. It's all terribly distressing, but Chrissie tells me to shut my face. "Don't be so fuckin' stupid, there's nothing really there at all."

'Ell screams again and I see Kite -- if it is she -- dash off round the corner.

"Ok, girls, that's it," says Jackie. "You get us a nice bag of chips -- with loadsa tomato sauce, then since we're 'ere we'll 'ave a few up the Tollgate."

We go to a nearby pub. Lots of blokes and no Mikeo keeping watch. Up the Tollgate? First time I've heard it called that.

21 November, evening

Return tired but happy. 'Ell looking a bit pale and shaky -- she shouldn't really have gone above triples. Jackie hasn't eaten her chips -- still carrying them in their newspaper parcel.

Kite lets us in. "You all right, lovie?" she breathes at 'Ell. "Yer look fuckin' terrible." 'Ell runs her hand over her brow and allows herself to be led to the settee. "Is that -- it?" asks Kite, pointing at Jackie's parcel. "Yeah -- that's it," says Jackie, passing the parcel to 'Ell, who opens it and begins to eat the ketchup-crusted chips. Kite screams and rushes out to the karsie.

'Ell and Jackie fall about the room in hysterics. Mikeo picks Jackie up and swings her round the room, crying: "She fuckin' fell fer it! You pair of fuckin' brilliant tarts, you! Fuckin' 'ell, she fell fer it!"

"Fell fer fuckin WOT?" says a voice from under the sideboard. Big Rozzie draws herself up to her full menacing height and drags her enormous bulk into the centre of the tiny room. "It's all right you makin' a cunt of Kite -- but no fucker makes a cunt of ME!!!!" She pauses, as if unable to make up her mind which of us to rip apart first.

We are reprieved by a terrific racket from the kitchen. Into our room bursts the red-haired tart from the bottle factory. "Everyone dahn the Latchmere!" she screams as if possessed. "The Queenstown Road Mob's going up there and the boys are gonna kill the fuckers!"

"Yaaaah!" yells Rozzie, her blood-lust finding a new and better target. "Yazoo!" cries Rocker Rob, tearing a new hole in his favourite vest. "Kill the fuckers!" screams 'Ell, dancing the hokey-cokey on the aspidistra-stand.

"Not so fast! Wot's goin' on 'ere, then?" It's WPC McCauley at the door. Outside the window a searchlight is flashing, and a megaphone voice rips through the chaos of Jackie's Mum's. "PICKERSGILL 'ERE, Pickersgill of the Yard. Come on out, we know yer in there. On a count of ten, or I'll 'ave to get me big stick out."

That sounds fun! But Jackie, all innocence, turns to the WPC: "Wot's goin' on? There's only us 'ere!" The WPC sits down and eats the remaining chips, explaining that there's been a break-out at Wandsworth Nick. "Nuffink to do wiv us, missus," says Mikeo, "We was all up Norf London, wasn't we? Ask Widow Chrissie and the boys up the Tollgate." He whispers something about "faces" at the Latchmere.

The WPC seems satisfied by this, and goes out to ask Inspector Pickersgill if we can all have a lift down the Latchmere in his Z-van. While she's out, Mikeo gives me a strange look. "Interestin', innit? 'Ope you was a good girl up the Tollgate. Yer might be seein' someone yer know soon."

He can't mean -- can he? Gosh. Wonder if they can tell? Hope they can't.


Latchmere Road is quiet and still, as we climb down from the Z-van. The boys from the back kitchen are ranked with their bikes on top of the hill, awaiting the destined foe. Inspector Pickersgill kicks down the door of the dark and silent pub. "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello," he barks authoritively. "I 'as reason to believe you is servin' drinks outside lawfully constituted licenced 'ours. It's 'is rahnd --" indicating Rocker Rob "-- and mine's a pint of Guinness." We all sit down and sip our drinks in silence, except Rozzie who slurps a lot.

Suddenly I notice a figure at the door. Pretending to investigate the juke-box, I investigate him instead. It is! "Ahtside, quick! Got me bike rahnd the back!"

Soon his huge machine, oil-smeared but ready for action, is throbbing away between his thighs. Quickly I mount it and we tear off like raging thunder. Afterwards we go for a ride on his motor-bike. That's super fun too. Yippeee!

22 November, small hours

"I think -- we must have a talk," I say, struggling with a recalcitrant zipper. "We must talk about you -- and me -- and the, er, difference in our backgrounds -and our future...."

"Yeah, I bin finkin' so too. Get yer knickers off." Moved by his rough tenderness, I obey without demur -- but then a torch-beam and a rough snarl of "Wot's all this then?" stops me in mid-wriggle. WPC McCauley and Inspector Pickersgill have come to take my love away!

"NO, NO!" I cry. "Take me instead! He's just a poor misunderstood victim of his socio-economic circumstances! Don't take him back to that horrible place!" The WPC looks puzzled. "What 'orrible place? The Oxford University Science Laboratories? We just wanted you ter git out of our bleedin' van and let us 'ave a go!"

"But -- haven't you come to take him back to Wandsworth Jail?"

"'Im? Bust out of Wandsworth? I should coco! Bleedin' college boy! Couldn't bloody bust into jail, that one!"

Big D turns to me, abashed. "That's what I was trying to explain to you, my dear, before we were so rudely interrupted," he mutters in an unfaailiar -- or not so -- accent. "You see, I found my life so dull, so restricted -- provincial grammar school, minor college at Oxford, you know the sort of thing -- and I wanted to express myself, to WRITE, so I took to sneaking away from Oxford to come down here, and broaden my experience, meet the real people, fuck lots of juicy working-class slags -- no I don't mean lots, there was only you, honest, really --"

"HOW FUCKIN' DARE YER, CUNT-FACE?" I scream in a blinding rage. How could he think I was one of those -- like 'Ell, or Jackie, or the girls at the factory? Bloody common little grammar-school oik!

As we gaze bitterly into each other's eyes there is an angry roar from lower down the hill. The Queenstown Road Mob, in battle formation!

At the Mob's head rides a vast sweaty animal of a man, everything I thought Big D was but he was not! Riding pillion behind him is a strange figure, a woman in an oddly familiar Pucci pant-suit. Oh, no! It's Mummy!

Oh, to die for shame!

22 November, afternoon

Oh dear, perhaps I was too hasty; perhaps by my cruel and snobbish words I have driven away the great sensual love of my life. After all, with a wife from the right sort of background he might easily learn to transcend the disadvantages of his humble birth. Anyway, this is the 1960s, and who gives a hoot about such things in this day and age? With a decent haircut and a proper suit he might almost pass for a Wykehamist. Well, Charterhouse, if people didn't look too close.

The red-haired bottler (who is apparently an Adult Education Lecturer researching a film-script) says there are things called O levels which you can "take", and then you take more things called A levels and then you can do an exam and go to Oxford. Perhaps I could do them all and be by his side. She says it takes a mature person of reasonable intelligence a couple of years, if they work hard -- but in my case, she really couldn't say ... Wonder what she means by that?

On the other hand I think I'll just go back home to Cheyne Walk, get Cook to rustle me up a little something, have a bath and maybe draw my allowance and have a bit of a splurgette at Bazaar. Then I'll summon up a few old chums on the blower and we'll have a lovely natter, then go to the dear old Trat and maybe on to Annabel's. Yes. That really would be much more fun.

Editor's Note: This diary may be the original material for the notorious "kitchen sink" novel of the early 60s, "Up the Tailgate", by Nell Didun-Treal1y. Though the novel itself is long out of print, readers will be familiar with the 1967 film, directed by Tony Grit-Seeker, often shown on TV. The cast list included:

Polly, Suzy Kendall; Big D, Ray Brooks; Mummy, Nyree Dawn Porter; Mikeo, Dennis Waterman; Jackie, Maureen Lipman; 'Ell, Adrienne Posta; Kite, Rita Tushingham; Big Rozzie, Rita Webb; Rocker Rob, Oliver Reed; Jackie's Mum, Patricia Hayes; Widow Chrissie, Marsha Hunt; Red-haired tart, Susan George; Man in pub, Michael Caine; Inspector Pickersgill, Sid James; WPC McCauley, Barbara Windsor.

Published by the Institute of Research into Proletarian Vitality, 95 Waterlow Buildings, round the back of Allen & 'Anbury's factory, Bethnal Green.

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