Typical amateur photographs of a young girl growing up fill the screen. They are of Michelle, a blonde, sweet little girl. As time passes her Mum disappears from these pictures and her place is taken by Trina, Michelle’s stepmother.
Amongst these are:
Michelle aged 4 with Santa, green eyed and smiling, her voice over describes that she’s asking him for a little brother and a train set.
Michelle, white and pious (7), decked in lace, hands pressed together, making her first communion.
Amateur Super 8mm:
Michelle (9), wriggling in her chair, looking rather tiny as she’s sandwiched between Dad’s pals at a Barry Island pub.
Amateur Super 8mm:
Michelle’s anxious 10 year old face concentrating. We pull out to show her as she pushes sister Karen on the swings at Llanrumney playing fields.
Michelle (13), new perm, flick fringes, silly faces, too much lipstick.
Aged 15 with pierced ears, cuddling her younger sister Karen. Signed, “to Mum, Hope to see you soon, Love Michelle.”
Trina open-armed, Karen and Michelle in mid-jump as their father Dennis steps out of Cardiff Gaol. Trina looks on.
As the film animates, Michelle takes up her story in voice over and dialogue.
Michelle’s a blonde girl, quite shy really. She does a lot of drawing. She lives on the Llanrumney Estate with her stepmother Trina, Dennis her father and Karen her sister. Trina doesn’t like Michelle, she costs too much money. Trina is younger than Dennis. Dennis worships Trina. Michelle is in the fifth form of Llanrumney High. She’s sixteen, an Easter leaver and looking forward to it. “They don’t teach you nothing at school worth knowing,” says her Dad.
Her Dad, Dennis, is a right laugh, a bit fat, but jolly. Michelle wishes he wouldn’t drink so much. He’s useless when he drinks.
At school; careers interview
Michelle wants to do art. She’s brought a few sketches with her. The interviewer explains you have to have ‘qualifications’ for art college. Michelle is embarrassed.
At the council flat
Michelle is just finishing making her younger sister Karen a ‘Great Socialist Leaders’ mobile. Karen is delighted. She’s very into politics and Michelle has made good likenesses. Even so ... Michelle has had to move into Karen’s room, sleeping on the floor (or sharing the bed?) because one of Trina’s sisters is staying and has been put in Michelle’s room. Michelle and Karen are discussing how they can tactfully ask Trina’s sister how long she is staying. There’s someone at the door. A police officer looking for Dennis.
Michelle is excited as she tells Trina she’s on Y.T.S. She’ll get a wage. Michelle wants to do metalwork. Trina thinks Michelle should try modelling. “Rachel Hunter. She was an ordinary girl but she married Rod Stewart.”
Howells Department Store
Kerry-Anne and the girls in Howells Department Store are very bitchy; they’re from Ely, they don’t like Llanrumney girls - ‘slags’ they call them. Why did she choose to come and work here? She didn’t, she wanted metalwork but it was full. Kerry-Anne tries to give Michelle a really hard time.
Michelle is asking if she can be moved. There is a major communication problem because Elspeth, the Y.T.S. placement officer, is from Swansea and speaks with a soft Welsh accent, where words run into each other. Michelle only understands gutteral Cardiff street talk. Despite the communication difficulties, Michelle at length takes on board Elspeth’s point that, realistically, she really only has two choices.
Elspeth; lives in Severn Road in a done-up terrace, she’s ugly but dramatic looking, fond of wearing capes and having sex, talks Welsh at work to annoy, when she’s not working she goes to Chapter Arts Centre. She’s really into alternative theatre. She’s proud to be Welsh, all that arty blood, Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton, and is thinking of standing as a local councillor.
Much of Michelle’s social life is beginning of happen down here. She loves it. Her mother worked here as a singer and that makes her feel ‘at home’. There are pictures of her mother behind the bar. Michelle remembers being little and being happy here. Fifi, the drag queen who owns it, remembers her mother. She is affectionate towards Michelle, she calls her “Baby”, “Sugar”, “Sweetie”. Fifi’s big personality attracts many exotic characters to the club.
British Rail buffet on Cardiff station
Michelle’s next job. Flo, a fat ‘old bag’ who has been here for years, tells how they improve their wages by knocking off booze. Michelle is not keen. Flo makes is clear that she will have to do her fair share of knocking even if she doesn’t want to.
Buffet (next day)
Michelle and Flo knocking off a case of scotch. They are discovered by their boss, Mr Bender. Michelle admits everything. She gets the sack.
Flo let off with a warning. Michelle gets a fine.
Still; newspaper report of Michelle and Flo’s appearance in court. Conversation over. We pull back to show someone is holding it and reading from it. We are in ...
Everyone, especially Fifi, seems impressed. Fifi says she’ll let Michelle paint a new mural for the stage to pay off her fine. She wants all her regulars depicted. The infamous ‘Hole in the Wall’ gang, prostitute Diamond Kate who is convinced she is Joan Crawford, the Bird man, hoods Karl Marx and the Senator, and the singers Tom Jones and Bonny Tyler who started off their careers there. Fifi sticks the newspaper report to the wall with bluetack. We close on the report, then pull back to show it now wrapped round a fish supper at ...
The council flat (two weeks later)
Trina reads about Michelle’s court case on the newspaper round her fish supper. She is furious. One crook in the family is enough. Michelle’s father, Dennis, objects, but is too pissed to be of any consequence. Trina throws Michelle out of the flat.
Payphone at the club
Michelle, helped by Fifi, is trying to call her mother. The most recent number she has for her is in Scotland. There is no reply.
Michelle has stood in three wrong queues before she got the right one. The clerk is harassed. He’s has two emergencies so far today, and two other families who bought their own council houses fell behind with the mortgage and have been kicked out by the bailiffs. He advises her to sign on and use her housing supplement to pay the rent.
Michelle meets Roxanne, a dark haired hippy who asks her to move into a flat in Grangetown. Roxanne is really into being new age but she can’t get mellow. Whatever she takes, she just gets louder and more abrasive. Roxanne and Michelle set out to view the property.
Fat Mick’s flat
Fat Mick’s flat is full of exercise equipment, old takeaway food cartons, and young dossers. Fat Mick likes having a lot of people staying, he can nick their giros more easily. Roxanne has her own room here and suggests Michelle move in with her. They go together to Westgate Street. Michelle is refused. She hasn’t completed her youth training. She has no money. Back at the flat that evening Roxanne suggests having a seance just in case Michelle’s mother is dead.
‘The court conviction is the main problem,’ lisps Elspeth. ‘It may be really going to be quite difficult to get you a job. Leave it to me and can I get back to you in a couple of weeks?’ The reason for the delay is that Elspeth is about to leave as co-driver with Bosnia Aid Cardiff, heading for Eastern Europe to give all those ‘poor people’ in Yugoslavia some food parcels. ‘Don’t worry about it too much, though. I’ll get you something, definitely, once I get back.’
Cabaret night. Big trade. Fifi is in a frenzy of preparation. Shopkeepers, students, ‘bohemians’, taxi drivers, television scene shifters, out of work actresses, all are here tonight. And mixed in with them, the folk from just the other side of the law; and further, petty criminals, massage parlour attendants, drug barons from homes overlooking remote coves in the west, yardies, a few Brixton bosses, prostitutes from the Customs House, the occasional ‘retired’ detectives and bent coppers.
It’s not the best moment for Michelle to ask Fifi if she has any news of her Mum and Fifi is too distracted even to really think about it. ‘Ask me again tomorrow. Have you tried writing?’ ‘Yes. It came back “Not known at this address”.’
Michelle has given a false name and is now lying about her court conviction. She gets a job - as the ‘Happy Bunny’ promotion girl for ‘Happy Bunny Burgers’.
The Happy Bunny Burger cafe and takeaway joint
The American P.R. man, Chuck, is concerned. Things were bad already but they had hoped that this special promotion ... instead of that it has bombed. And as for the Happy Bunny Burger Rabbit girl - who hired her? The three P.R. men stroll over to find a load of children in tears. They’ve been upset by Michelle, dressed as a 5’3” rabbit with buck teeth she’s meant to be a promotion mascot but has merely succeeded in frightening the children and is distressed by this.
The P.R. persons talk among themselves. ‘They said this was the most depressed area in Britain?’ ‘Yes. The research showed there’s nowhere more depressed. Traditional industry closures, massive redundancies, high unemployment.’ They scratch their heads trying to understand why no one is buying their Bunny Burgers which, being made with rabbit, are the cheapest in town. £1 a meal, with chips. ‘Well, for a start, let’s fire the mascot.’ Michelle is fired by the shortest, ugliest P.R. person. Only at this point do we discover that Michelle had lied about her identity and her court conviction at the Job Centre.
The Hayes, next afternoon
Michelle likes to people-watch - to make up scenarios about their lives. A pushchair stops in front of her, it is her cousin Jackie. She’s just been for a meal in the ‘Berni Inn’. Jackie is the same age as Michelle but she’s married with a baby. Jackie is condescending and hints that Dennis has been bragging in the pub that he chucked Michelle out because she was light fingered. According to Jackie, she is banned from her Dad’s place until she mends her ways. Michelle tries to hide how upset she is.
The King’s Head
It is Michelle’s 17th birthday, she is celebrating in the King’s Head (the queer’s pub) with Roxanne. She feels comfortable, there is no way her Dad or Trina would come in here. Despite it being her birthday, Michelle is depressed, she has no money, Elspeth isn’t back. Roxanne is trying to persuade Michelle to trust her.
In the streets
The girls walk across past the Holiday Inn and down to Bute Street. A car pulls up alongside them and ...
Road by railway arch
Roxanne goes across to talk to the driver. ‘Wait there a moment,’ she says. Michelle shrinks back against the wall of the railway arch and watches. Michelle realises Roxanne is giving the man a hand job. She feels queasy. 10 minutes later and 15 minutes again after that Roxanne walks towards her with 15 quid. Michelle is impressed by the cash and tries to hide her disgust.
The Club (later that night)
They are watching Fifi’s act in the club. People are pleased to see the young women. There are a lot of London hoods in tonight.
At Fat Mick’s (late that night)
Michelle stares at her reflection in the mirrors flanking the clapped out exercise machines. She’s sitting on an exercise bike and pedals faster and faster and faster.
At ‘The Cottage’ pub
It’s only temporary, the Scouse landlord tells her, the regular girl is on maternity leave. But Michelle is pleased to have a job again.
Michelle has come down Bute Street with Roxanne, just to keep her company. She gets talking to the other girls; Sheila from Port Talbot, a mum who only does Thursdays for extra cash; Clare, she’s got a little boy, is very pretty and lives with her girlfriend Vicki; Angie, who is older, into smack, a bit of a mess, but a right laugh.
Roxanne and Michelle walk back up under the railway bridge and a car slows down as if to proposition them. Michelle looks up. Her face changes. From her point of view, the world seems to go into slow motion. It is Dennis. As in a nightmare, Michelle sees him smile at his mate, he says something crude. He hasn’t realised that this is his daughter yet. Michelle is caught in the glare of headlights, and as he looks back from his mate, Dennis’s face changes as he recognises her. Then he is shouting at her and climbing out of the car. Roxanne urges, ‘come on Michelle, leg it!’ As they run along the hard pavement, Michelle can hear her father shouting after them ... ‘fucking scrubber!’
At ‘The Cottage’
Michelle gets on well with Tony, the landlord. She keeps the regulars happy, remembering their particular likes in glasses and their special drinks and the special terms for them, black and tan, lager top, big head, no head, flat, frothy. Tony thinks it’s the sign of a good pub if, whenever a regular comes in, even before he has sat down or got his money out, his regular tipple is already set down on the counter in front of him. ‘Capture their hearts, conquer their wallets,’ says Tony. Michelle is doing well, she’s got every drink right. An Italian boy called Tams comes in, a regular, and with him Gish, a Rasta from Glasgow. Gish is good looking. He hates Brains beer, declaring it to be rubbish. He orders vodkas with pineapple and later is to be seen snorting cocaine out of a page in his filofax. Michelle already fancies she loves him. Tams mentions he’d like to be a comic. Michelle says she’ll have a word with Fifi about it.
At the Club
Michelle has been coming here every night after closing time, hoping she’ll bump into Gish. Tonight Tams is having his tryout and Michelle gets to be walked home by Gish. He’s so good looking and a good kisser (possibly we hear this on voice over), she tells Roxanne later. She loaned him some money for something.
At ‘The Cottage’
Michelle, the customer’s side, being served by the regular barmaid. Possibly still on voice over, we hear how the pub doesn’t need her any more. Tony was matter of fact. Paid her off, no bonus.
Sequence of cameos; Gish and Michelle ‘in love’
Possibly in voice over, we learn how Gish is broke. He has nowhere to live. Gish doesn’t think that the way Roxanne earns cash is wrong. You’ve got to get ahead whilst you’re young. Roxanne’s smart. She’s a business woman. Being in love seems to take a lot of money.
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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