This is the second style sketch written by guest blogger, Ritchie Foster. Here he interviews Derek, who has lived in the Catford / Ladywell area of south east London all of his life.
I sit down to interview Derek in the kitchen away from everybody else in the main room, but I can’t help being distracted as I can clearly hear Jimi Hendrix belting out ‘Hey Joe’. Sweepingly, I feel ‘Songs that won the War’ might come to most people’s minds when picturing environments like this (a supported housing scheme for older people) rather than Jimi expanding his consciousness. So it’s little nuggets such as this that break loose the expectations and make these projects stand out. At the weekend I mentioned this to my 15-year old neighbour who plays guitar. His response was, quite simply, “That’s so cool”. I think so too…I lean over and shut the door to give Derek my undivided, intending to join the party later on.
Derek is a tall man – as you can see in the photos – and a funny man. He is the sort of guy I imagine Del boy affectionately calling ‘a Diamond Geezer’. He was, is, and always will be, a proper saarf east lad, born and raised.
Not the biggest fan of school, Derek started out at Holbeach Road in Catford. I ask him about the uniform and he cackles, “I had no shoes to wear – y’know those sort of shoes you wear in the winter? I was wearing them….but it’s the summer!”
I don’t mean to laugh, but his delivery and the thought of a young Derek with shorts on, accompanied by fur-lined snow boots, gets me – I guess it’s the equivalent of someone wearing Ugg boots with shorts in the middle of summer.
I ask the obvious question: “I bet that was uncomfortable?”
Derek blows out his cheeks and rolls his eyes. But between the chuckles he states matter-of-factly, “Well, I had no choice”. His mother couldn’t afford to buy him a new pair of shoes, which was commonplace, he tells me. It’s his ‘leave your sympathies at the door’ kind of attitude that we often hear through the media has been lost.
We start talking about clothing and how fashionable Derek appears in the photos. But Derek’s fashion sense was not to everyone’s liking. The first time he met his future wife’s father, he went down like the Titanic. “He said to her; ‘Who the hell you got there?’”
Derek’s less than clean cut image of oily work boots and stained jeans caused Linda’s father to completely ignore his son-in-law to be. Derek continued dating Linda and saw her father again almost a year later. But Linda’s father did not recognise the roughneck he hadn’t wanted around his daughter. “I had my jeans and my boots on and then I just decided to become a mod”.
“Before that, you were more like a greaser?” I ask Derek.
“Yeah, a greaser I guess”.
It’s weird that I am momentarily shocked by romantic imagery of this cross-cultural re-birth. Surely that was not allowed I think. But really it’s just like everyone else’s experiences of youth when you go from one style of dress to the other; from boy-pop band to the ‘serious’ artist producing music for the soul. We all try to find ou
rselves, our place. Derek happened to flick from a sort of Teddy Boy to a Greaser by proxy and then settled on seeing himself as a Mod. But Derek couldn’t ride a scooter because of bad eyesight and he is adamant that his music of choice is, and always has been, pure rock and roll. I ask Derek if he was trying to impress the soon to be father-in-law?
“Oh no, no, no.” he protests, “I just changed!”
I give him the benefit of the doubt, and we stick with talking about the Mod period, as it is when Derek talks fondly of buying clothes.
“How did you afford the clothes?” I ask.
“Just down the road here on Algernon, there used to be a timber yard. I used to work there.”
I already know the response, but I ask, “Did you like it?”
He replies, “It’s just a job ain’t it?”
I move on. “So where do you go to buy your clothes?”
Derek says he used to go to Burton’s in Catford. “It ain’t there today. They used to have one down Lewisham, didn’t they, but that one’s not there anymore.”
He tells me how it was different to the stores of today, as he would purchase clothes that were tailored for him. “Oh yeah, you get measured up and put your order in.”
I ask Derek: “So what was your go-to outfit, describe your look?”
Derek smiles and straightens up in his chair “I never wore a tie. Just a shirt”
“Did you wear it buttoned up?” I point at my own example.
“No. Top button always open. I liked it open.” He would often wear this with a jumper. His choice of trousers was traditional, a single pleat cut.
Derek smiles when I ask ‘Like Farah’s?‘ I tell Derek that I wore the same brand as a child and remember them because of the F-monogram they had, and how I told my friends that the F stood for Foster. We both laugh and I thank Derek as I have not thought of that memory in a very, long time.
“And a smart pair of shoes,” Derek continues, “…black brogues with plain, dark socks”. His hair was cut simple, short and straight.
This clean, simple look endured with Derek. He married Linda aged twenty, sporting a jawline cut from granite. His daughter Sharon was born the same year, followed two years later by Keith. Pictures of him on the beach with the kids wouldn’t look out of place for some new, retro-band’s cover-art.
I could have touched on Derek being a ladies man, but this isn’t the ‘memoirs of a diamond geezer’. The reason I tease is to make the point that the saying ‘been there done that, and I’ve got the T-shirt’ rings true. Young people look at older people and cannot imagine they have already done it before and so have many others. I’ll just say that if there was reality TV around all those years ago, Derek would be blushing right now.
Were you wondering about the title of this piece? In my eyes Derek is simply a nice, stand-up bloke, which, using a Cockney Slang Translator, translates into: a sugar and spice stand up heap of coke. It made me smile.
Derek, I thank you.
Words and photo story by Ritchie Foster (photos reproduced with Derek’s permission)
(photo below: Zoe Gilmour 2016)