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The Warp

Cathy Novelisation (1)

Cathy stood by the start of the motorway, waiting for a lift. She shifted from one foot to the other, walked a little, turned as lorries and cars passed.

She was young and attractive, and she was excited. She was in escape.

With a hiss of its air-brakes a lorry drew to a stop ahead of her. Cathy ran after it. The door on her side swung open. From his seat inside, the driver said, ‘Well, well, well. Where we going then? Are you touring?’

Cathy was a little nervous. She asked, ‘Where are you going?’

The driver said, ‘Down to town.’

Cathy looked him over a moment, friendly yet shy. Then she said, reckless, trusting him, ‘OK.’

She climbed in, inexpertly, tossing up her parcel first. In her tight skirt she didn’t find it easy. She was in. She slammed the door. The lorry began to move off.

And, as she gazed ahead, and they passed trees, hills, fields, Cathy thought to herself, ‘Well, I suppose I was fed up. Didn’t seem to be much there for me; one coffee bar. Closed on a Sunday ...’

Once, while he was changing gear, the driver glanced at her, sizing her up. He said, ‘Was you by any chance interested in music?’

Cathy said, ‘I don’t mind it.’

He leaned to switch on the radio.

And, as warm air wafted over them from the engine, Cathy thought, with a moment’s guilt, how she hadn’t even said she was going. Now she thought, ‘Never mind. I’ll send them a postcard when I get there.’

And now the driver slowed down and they turned in towards a caf.

The driver settled Cathy in at a table awash with tea, strewn with bits of bun and old chips. He went to the counter to get her a cup of tea.

Cathy was playing with the sauce, pouring it in a saucer, messing around. Jed, an elderly driver, with George, his handsome young mate, passed by, laden with plates of egg and chips, fried tomato, bacon slices, cups of tea. As they passed, Jed said, ‘Very nice.’ He stopped a moment, continued, ‘Very nice. No, I mean it. Well attired and turned out. Delectable. Am I right, George?’

George looked away embarrassed.

A thin spare woman limped in, in a tatty black suit and carrying an Air France handbag, fixing the men in turn with the pools of her black eyes.

‘You get quite a lot of excitement in this line,’ said Cathy’s driver when he got back to her. ‘Floozies for instance.’

‘What’s floozies?’

‘Well, them that go with the drivers in the cabins. Rent out the cabins to them, five bob a time.’

‘What for?’

‘Well, you know. Excitement.’

Cathy said, ‘Those floozies. Tell me. Why do they do it though? It don’t seem no life to me.’

The driver said, ‘Oh, some like it all right. They’re the ones like get fed up with ordinary life, they want something more, like, special. Exciting. The ones get fed up with things back home.’

Cathy said, ‘I got like that sometimes. Both my friend and I did. We got so when we was watching the telly, there was a strange sensation. It was as though all those people behind the screen were laughing at us. Even in the comedy shows. Like, they’d escaped, but they could see through the screen to the little coops we’d got left in.’

The driver said, ‘I used to feel like that. Not now though. This is the life. Things I’ve seen. Don’t mind me mentioning this. I’ve seen two bints stark naked, being soused with hoses in the light from the headlamps of the trucks.’

‘Well! Don’t mind what you say, do you? Poor girls! But who were they? Why were they doing it to them?’

‘Oh, they was just two foreign girls. One of the blokes picked them up.’

‘Poor things.’

‘They was askin’ for it. Oh, they was slags.’

The lorry reached the outskirts of the city. They passed through subtopia and then the dingy downtown area. And Cathy began to sense the heartless quality of the city, its hopes, brutality, excitement, squalour.

And so she became one more of the thousands and scores of thousands of girls and boys, just one more part of the great migration towards the cities, away from the empty country where nothing happens.

Cathy got her first job in a garage. Her wages were six a week plus what she made out of tips.

One day she was pumping out petrol into a Jag when an old Dodge lorry lurched into the forecourt and there was a young man at the wheel. There was music coming out of the cabin.

Cathy said, ‘Where’s that music? What is it? Where’s that music come out of?’

The driver said, ‘You want to know where that music comes from? You want to know where that fabulous music comes out from?’

Cathy said, ‘Yes. Where is it? Where’s it come from?’

Cathy felt that she’d like to get to know this young man better. She was pleased when he asked her out. And in the days that followed, they did get to know each other better.

She liked about Reg his good looks, his ‘don’t care’ quality, and the feeling that he was a free man.

What Reg liked about her, as he drove with her beside him, he liked her for being different from everything else in his life, different from the iron and rusty coppers and old bedsteads and old tables and sideboards, and cardboard boxes.

And Cathy got to love him, they started going steady, got themselves all fed full with pop songs, people began to see them together.

Cathy thought, looking him over, ‘Mad. I was mad to leave the country and come here. Look what I’ve got landed with. But I’m glad I came ...’

The warden said, ‘I wonder if you said this? You see it’s about this place. I wonder who told these lies.’

Cathy said, ‘It wasn’t me.’

‘Listen, young lady, I’m not as stupid as I may look. It was a blonde, wasn’t it, who talked to the reporter? A blonde like you.’

‘I dunno who it was.’

‘We’ve had some other reports about you, I think. Yes, to do with Mrs Selby.

‘I was just telling her about the poor little baby that died.’

‘Er, Mrs Ward, I see that your husband hasn’t been paying the fees.’

‘Paying the fees? He certainly is.’

‘We would know if he was or wasn’t. Didn’t he tell you he wasn’t paying?’

‘I didn’t see him. Not for him to be able to.’

‘Didn’t you see him? When did you last see your husband?’

‘Not for a while now.’

‘What’s going on then, young lady? Are you married or aren’t you?’

Cathy lost her temper then. She cried, ‘Shut up! Shut up!’


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