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6: Mr. Patricks' Toy Shop


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« on: January 23, 2023, 10:11:41 am »

THE business of the stories and sketches of which this book is composed is, first, the life of the Hill, of Rotting Hill. You must always supply, in your imagination, the jaded bustle of this key locality, the lumbering torrent of trucks and taxis and buses, the parasites, parade before the bored D.P.s staring out of the café windows of our overcrowded polyglot hill. Next is the big background of the city, which swells around the hill. Beyond that is the island of which the city is the capital: after that the rest of the earth—full of sub-machine-guns and atomic bombs, the grasping Yankee and the treacherous Israelite, the Russian Bear and the French Frog: an earth covered with Iron Curtains and other nightmarish features. To write of the Hill, the city must hang there like a backcloth in a play, with its theatres, cathedrals, palaces and Parliament.

The Hill is covered with houses, as is everything else as far as the pigeon's eye can reach, as it stands in our roof-gutter digesting our bad bread-crumbs, except for Hyde Park and the adjacent Gardens. In a sense there is no hill, for a hill you cannot see is not there. You must not think of it as prominent like the hill of Montmartre. Certainly on the west and south it is a long drop down from it, and you know it is a hill if you approach it from those directions. Even another steep little hill is stuck on top of Rotting Hill, but even that has no vista. For that its height is insufficient. So submerged in bricks and mortar, stucco and stone, is our Hill, that it would be better to say that it was once a hill, where sheep grazed, above the marshes of the Thames.

London is as unplanned as a bush landscape, having multiplied itself like things in nature do. No Baron Haussmann came to its help, or was ever wanted apparently by the English, to arrest the suburban and sub-human, welter, to compose a city. The Circus, that is London's Etoile, Piccadilly, is pathetically eloquent of something that just is not there.

It is the social mutations that are my subject; first upon our Hill, but equally as the potent dissolvents affect the ten millions-odd persons in London and the forty millions-odd otherwise on the island—that big coal-mine on which they are marooned, encompassed by the Atlantic and other waters: trading for food, machinery and whisky, tweed suits, and coal when the miners will work: heedless breeders, as the food grows scarcer, as though fifty millions was not thirty too many upon any sort of island.

The shops of Rotting Hill are still well enough stocked, there are provisions for the rentier spending his capital and for persons with good jobs. There is less food than there was two or three years ago, and two years hence there will be much less. The sidewalks are obstructed by hobbling women crippled by living in unheated winter rooms, and perhaps because of draughty undergrounds if they were driven there by the air-war, or surface shelters—war-rot got in their joints. For these the shops have much less food. England is busy (or its old politicians are) killing off its middle-class dowagers and superfluous women—it has doomed them to privation, England that is old itself and a little mad; and it looks with a fish-cold eye upon its pensioned workers, men and women. So to move with reasonable expedition along the narrow pavements of Rotting Hill is impossible, because of the overplus of invalids of both sexes, but mostly women.

---

Mr. Patricks is a mighty salesman, a pocket-Selfridge. He functions in the busiest part of Rotting Hill, strategically placed close to stations and bus stops, where the over-populated Hill discharges itself and refills itself again daily, rivalling any hectic centre of business in London. Thousands pass his door, buzz round his kiosk, where a member of his staff is always stationed, swarm inside for this and that. He stocks everything from paper-kites to shoelaces, from "Die Welt" to ice-cream. When sweets came off the ration he ordered tons of chocolate. It was the only instance of defective judgement I know of where this remarkable man is concerned, for chocolates and other sweets went on the ration again almost at once. As his brother-in-law said, with anything so irrational and unpredictable as the Food Ministry one never knows where one is. I still felt that Mr. Patricks ought to have known sweets would not stop off the ration long. But he is excitable. When he smells profit he pounces, with the rashness of a terrier. As the boxes of chocolate were being brought in, two days after the ration had been reimposed, and I watched him eyeing them, I laughed. At once he laughed too.

Physically, Mr. Patricks is quite tireless, as nimble as a monkey, as merry as a sardonic grig. This little spectacled Yorkshireman—for he is no Londoner and proud of it—has brought into the relaxed atmosphere of Rotting Hill the exasperated vitality of the great steel city, his place of origin. And his toy, newspaper, stationery, tobacconist trade is terrific.

His toy shop is the youngest child of Mr. Patricks' brain. It is in that he is at his best, though he rushes everywhere and does everything. He sells toys and is himself like a wound-up toy, which works ten hours a day and in fact only stops its mad rush when you lay it down on a bed. That is the sort of toy it is.

In personal appearance he is a small-size Everyman, drab and unnoticeable. When you know him, however, Everyman expands, puts on spiritual weight. In the case of Mr. Patricks he becomes a little well of explosive vitality. You do not have to lower a bucket into it, it bursts and spits gaily up in your face—so do not let us call it a spring but a tiny geyser. And there is no bad temper in his face.

His countenance is that of Jean-Paul Sartre without the wall-eye, of a sallow tan: you have to add horn-rims and a slight scrubby moustache. But with these modifications, he comes very near to Sartre, so much so that I sometimes even have the illusion of a wall-eye (unless one of his eyes does actually shoot off and stare skywards, I couldn't swear that it didn't). There is often, too, an anguished look. It is the existential mask. Lastly the hair is ruffled like a schoolboy's. That is Sartre-like, too.

Of all his Sartrian attributes it is perhaps his corrugated forehead which is the most important. It stamps him more than anything: it is the ruffled surface, ploughed up and graved by the restless contriving beneath, as much as his trousers which are always horizontally creased by his ceaseless violent locomotion. So we have a facial index of the strain involved in conducting a high-pressure petty trade, as much as big business: making good buys from smart Jewish travellers—computing the number of paper-windmills that will sell in a trimester, or toy dartboards in a twelvemonth—working out why the public would buy American Parker pens when you never knew if it was a smuggled article, but now that it is plentiful, oh, what a buyers' market! (the solution, of course, not public perversity, but because everybody stocks them): computing, too, how the baby-slump will affect the purchase of individual articles, knocking some out, bolstering others—guessing right as to the true nature of the slump itself—considering Cripps's health, as that regards a slackening of the pressure on tobacco. But I do not suggest that Mr. Patricks watches bulletins re Cripps's condition as would a good stockjobber: but he is no rabbit darting in and out of its hole. He is an intelligent agent.

This Sartre-faced petit bourgeois (as Sartre would call him) rushes into the office with a haggard look, a fountain-pen lying in the palm of his hand: stops in front of his big brother-in-law, and looks up into his eyes. "Her son has sent it back," he says. "Oh!" says Tom Carr. "He has, has he!" "Yep. Says she wants something that will go through a carbon." They both gaze at the pen, and then at one another, emptily. Mr. Patricks asks: "Shall I give her a Blacknose?" Tom is silent. Puzzled, I observe: "But this one would carry perfectly well through a carbon." Tom smiles. "That," he says, "is the point." He shrugs his big Scottish shoulders. "It would be impossible to convince her that it would. Her son is in Wales. He says you can't get a carbon with it. If you say you can, she says you're a cheat and a liar." He looks at me for a moment with a blackness charged with meaning. "No other pen sells," he observes pointedly, "for the same price."

Ten minutes later I stooped over a copy of The Leader, looking at du Maurier's illustrations to "The Moonstone", at the magazine counter. Mr. Patricks held up one of his giddy rushes to squeeze my forearm and to half-whisper "I got another ten bob out of her!" looking down the shop at her. The Sartre corrugations are gone—he is the schoolboy who has snatched an apple from a tree under the farmer's nose, or rung a housebell and skipped to the corner to observe the householder poke his head out and look angrily up and down the street. Many business magnates perpetuate I think the sports of childhood, just as general officers do. Mr. Patricks' beer would taste sweeter that night. He played Indians and took the scalps of the stupid. But he was not mercenary.

Now, for London Mr. Patricks feels all the typical contempt of the industrial North: contempt for courtiers and money-jugglers, for Threadneedle Street and Birdcage Walk, for Lombard Street and Mayfair. Cockney humanism he scorns as soft. As unclassconsciousness, a bad voter, the creature of another, unregenerate day, of donkey barrows and Pearly Kings—and Pearly Kings of course would be, as he saw it, satellites of the authentic fairy-tale anachronism whose image and superscription adorned the money in his till. He is sarcastic but tolerant of such things. He knows that peers all hired their robes and coronets from Moss Brothers who stocked the required fancy-dress—his brother-in-law had told him: and all that goes on there he regards as typical of London. The arch-spivs in hired regalia at coronations, and the Lord Mayor in his fairy-tale coach, with powdered footmen, completes his picture of this spiv metropolis. His politics are not aggressive, though he does not hide them. When, in a by-election, the socialists gained Hammersmith, his brother-in-law told me they had lost a lot of customers. People came in with long faces exclaiming, "What do you think about Hammersmith!" To which they would answer, "What have we got to think about? Our party has, of course, got in again." After a horrified stare, customers would bolt out of the shop. It did seem to me that for a day or two the shop was a little empty: though some customers, I think, would merely go to the Irish House at the corner, have a stiff whisky, and come back and buy a socialist steam-roller (rolling both ways a dozen times) for little Freddie, or a half-ounce of labourite snuff.

"Spiv" is a sound Mr. Patricks enjoys making. When he is dealing in sociological generalities—which he rarely has time to do—"the spiv" plays an important part. This is, of course, because most of his customers are spivs: and they are the spivs of all nations, what is more. There are female spivs as well as male spivs. There is a shrill old Frenchman, for instance, who Mr. Patricks says is in the black market in quite a big way: he is always accompanied by two dogs, one named Josephine and the other Napoleon (alas, the latter is stonily indifferent to the former). Business acumen is admired by Mr. Patricks, but this old French rascal is an adept at wasting the shopman's time without any adequate financial return. He and his dogs track him down, even if he retires into the office. Napoleon will enter the office and bar his exit to the basement stairs, eyeing his trousers significantly. He once bought a fountain-pen, changed it six times for cheaper and yet cheaper pens every time, and ended up with a ball-pen at seven and sixpence which he always brought in for repairs. Mr. Patricks hates Napoleon and Napoleon hates him—and if the Corsican does not end by taking a piece out of his calf I shall be very surprised.

When he knows you Mr. Patricks will roll a cigarette, and the city in which he has lived and traded for seventeen years is a subject he is by no means indisposed to touch on. He does not speak about the costers or the Crown: that was my gloss, though it is altogether faithful to his thought. What he will tell you is that London is "not creative": his forcible Yorkshire accent caresses the word "cre-a-tive". "What does it make?" he will urgently enquire of you. And he answers his own question: "Nothing!" (In Sheffield, which the Patricks family have lived in since it was a hamlet, everyone is engaged in "creation", that is understood, or in catering and caring for heroic "creators".) He demands disparagingly, his brow a ploughed field of brown furrows—"But what do they do here after all? They're a lot of spivs—well, isn't that what they are?" And I know of course that he looks upon me as a spiv of sorts: I have much too much time on my hands, to hang about toy shops and to look at newspapers—though he does catch signs of my name or face, in the latter sometimes—not to merit the epithet. "They're all fiddling, aren't they?" To which one is obliged to assent—to "fiddle" being to break the law. "All are trying to sell to somebody else, something the law says they mustn't sell, or trying to swindle someone out of money they did not make. They're parasites on the rest of the country, that's what they are! London is not the head of England is it? If it were destroyed the rest of the country would get on better without it!" And he will switch off the diatribe to turn and cry to some hovering customer, so as perhaps to make him jump, "Yes, Madam! What can I do you for?" and to proceed to sell something he has not made at possibly a thoroughly spiv price. But he has the wit to recognize the inconsistency and he would laugh with you at himself, if you were to point it out.

Before Mr. Patricks became a shopkeeper he was an engineer. When young he worked with the Yanks in engineering outfits in Caracas and elsewhere in that region: he knows what it is to "create" where nature—the great Spiv—is at its most disordered, violent, and uncreative. As a loyal socialist he is, I think, neutral regarding the "intellectuals", the brain-trusters, ruling us at present: but from his brother-in-law, who is franker, I know that they both would rather have plainer men. They would rather have simple non-intellectual fellows who were not such insanely orthodox taxers, and left cigarettes alone. But Mr. Patricks would not confide in an "educated man". He has a sort of pudeur about that side of his politics.

---

On the way to Mr. Patricks' shop is the chemists, Willoughs Brothers. I am not deserting Mr. Patricks in favour of Willoughs Brothers, I merely stop there to buy a pair of nail scissors. A conversation I had with Mr. Willoughs indirectly involves the politics of the master shopkeepers I have been writing about, and touches on his birthplace.

If I shall be dwelling for a moment upon quite trivial things, nail-scissors and toilet accessories, let Socrates "great mountain asses," be my precedent. I am often reminded of Cleanthes complaint, in the Symposium, for men's snobbery with regard to common things is only successfully challenged, at times, by the painter: the writer is seldom allowed to get away with a pedestrian subject-matter (however elevated his motive may be), the equestrian is exacted. The most august problems of politics, however, are implicit in a simple pair of nail-scissors, as I have just discovered, and the housewife's sugar cube leads one irresistibly to the tragedy of the entire Caribbean area, as a loaf of bread of dirty grey—half-way to black—holds the story of a lost or rapidly vanishing civilization within its dry bran-laden crust. Yesterday a whole world of small everyday objects we took for granted: whereas today they have swollen until they have taken on portentous dimensions. A card of safety-pins or a man's utility shirt hardly can be described as pedestrian, and I beg their pardon.

Willoughs Brothers are across the road from the public clock in Rotting High Street: they have been there as long as the clock, which ticked out the landed society at the Repeal of the Corn Laws, and ticked in the Liberal era, which conducted to the Welfare State. I stepped in and crossed the shop to Mr. Willoughs. I asked him if I might see some nail-scissors. Mine have for some time been defective: but as practically everything is that way, I have grown used to the waste of time involved in using them. The nails do not cut, they fold over the blade of the scissors. The blades far from kissing, keep as far apart from one another as possible. I explained the position to Mr. Willoughs.

When I went up to him, that almost ham druggist, a stock white-haired Hollywood feature-player, blanched in the service of Esculapius, bent his eyes upon me gravely: for he saw that service, which he was ever ready to bestow, was about to be solicited. When he had heard my—oh, my desideratum, he coughed lightly and said "Well!" As he looked at the ceiling, he expelled in a short quiet bark some tired air from his lungs. Then he eyed me with a scrupulous man's dramatic frustration. "I am waiting, Mr. Lewis, for another consignment of French scissors," he said briefly. "French scissors?" I enquired, genuinely surprised. "Yes," he answered shortly, "I don't know when I shall get them though. Perhaps next week." "Where else round here," I enquired, "do you think I am likely to find some?" "I don't know. But I don't recommend you to buy any scissors in Rotting Hill, Mr. Lewis. They're English. And they're not good! All the English scissors I have had have been bad!"

This was a patriot speaking: he resented British manufacturers deteriorating from the once extraordinarily high level to such trashy levels that even the French were to be preferred. He did not desire to conceal and condone it. In this I agreed with him. To hide up defects is destructive. Of course, Mr. Willoughs delighted in ethical melodramatics: he looked pained and resolute. But had practical advice too. "Go to Weiss in Oxford Street. They are surgical instrument makers. They are the only reliable people I know of." "Well!" I said. Said he, "I know."

From nail-scissors we went on to speak of other symptoms. For instance: replacing the metal screw cap on any tube or bottle was invariably difficult. It stuck, it joggled about: those small daily operations were not accomplished smoothly, there was friction and time wasting. The cause? Badly-finished goods was the only answer. The caps of tooth-paste tubes never fit neatly. I waste half a minute every morning coaxing the cap on to mine, that is three and a half minutes a week—say fifteen minutes a month, three hours a year. Ink-bottles which I use a lot are nearly as bad. As popular counter-irritants to the bad bread and flour (there are hundreds of new ones on the market) are other examples of time wasting ill-made metal stoppers and caps. But the instances of careless manufacture are legion.

Mr. Willoughs silently went to a drawer beneath the counter from which he produced a tube of "Ipana" tooth-paste, an American article. Swiftly and smoothly he unscrewed the cap, and ran it back again upon the tube. "A precision job," he observed, looking up at me. (He did not want to make a sale, on the contrary, this was "under the counter", reserved for Lady Jones. I acquired it. As he had shown it to me it was difficult to refuse it.) Mr. Willoughs takes life seriously: he likes things to fit for ethical reasons.

Returning to the nail-scissors as I was leaving the shop he said solemnly: "And Sheffield goods were once the best in the world!" Whereupon I left, amazed at the situation. A responsible London shopman was dependent upon goods imported from France, such steel goods as scissors, of English make, being worthless. He did not want to jeopardize the reputation of Willoughs Brothers by selling Lady Jones and other valued customers scissors the blades of which would wobble about.

As I entered Mr. Patricks' shop I heard his theme song:

      In Scarlet Town where I was born
      There was a fair maid dwelling.


As he rushed down behind the counter the whistling of this Border air made his rush more enjoyable. "Young man I think you're dying" was reached as he charged into the kiosk. As his in-laws were Scottish, and he lived with his wife, Tom Carr and his in-laws, "Barbara Allen," I assume, may have been a favourite of the old gentleman's, who came from just north of the border: near "Scarlet Town" perhaps.

I lost no time in repeating what I had heard at the chemists', including his lament as to that once pre-eminent steel centre, Sheffield. Mr. Patricks, licking a cigarette paper, forcibly dismissed these sentimental aspersions upon Sheffield steel—partly because he was a good socialist. "Sheffield goods are still," he insisted, "the best in the world. We know," he argued, "we come from Sheffield. All the people we know work in the factories." From his lips, this carried conviction. If they were half as active as he was it would bore them to slack.

But the fact remained that English-made scissors were inferior to French products: and the scissors I had bought a year or two ago were rotten scissors. "Most of the top-quality goods are reserved for export," I reminded him. To that he assented: he had never seen what was being produced, he agreed. Then his brother-in-law, Tom Carr, threw some light on the subject. Carr is an ex-gunner officer. He is a newspaper-man who threw up his job to come and help his brother-in-law. With the drastically restricted paper ration, on top of the other drawbacks of newspaper-work today, he preferred to make twice the money selling snuff and Christmas cards—and of course newspapers. It is not easy to get the newspapers out of the blood: he passes in review the entire Press at breakfast-time daily. It is with an eye of a Labour man he makes up his headlines.

Carr's information was that since the war, in Sheffield a number of mushroom firms had sprung up. To acquit Sheffield of any complicity he described them as "Jewish"; but we so often describe gentile villainies as "Jewish" that conscience obliges me to insert a caveat. These new spiv companies turned out a shoddy line of goods: of course they would be marked "Made in Sheffield". They were mostly quite small—and of course I was reminded of the Stanley investigation, in which there was mention throughout the proceedings of the construction of factories as if it were a bagatelle. These new shoddy parasite factories would not account for everything: but it was very useful information. It did suggest that a new and spurious England, as it were, was growing up side by side with the traditional England whose "word was as good as its bond" and whose goods were of so lasting a character that a suit of clothes would endure perhaps for twenty years, a penknife or scissors were ground when the knife-grinder came round, but were never re-bought, and a clock, a kettle, or a chopper was an heirloom. I have French nail-clippers I bought in Dunkirk in 1917, when I was a soldier, and they have never been ground. Thirty-two years of clipping: what steel! I remember wondering—after a time—how it came that the French could produce so Britannically solid an article. I shall never be guilty again of that particular naïveté.

That evening I dined at a house where I met a minor member of the Government. The 1949 money crisis had broken the day before. The U.S. annual remittance to Great Britain had, it seemed, with some suddenness, ceased to be enough to keep Britain going. Britain would either have to stop having so high a standard of living (so said the Press, though we all know that the Belgians, French, and even Germans, lived better than we did) or our statesmen might advocate that the 25 billions' worth of gold buried at Fort Knox be set rolling again or some part of it. Probably, however, the "crisis" was some bluff: as my fellow guest] politician looked as if he couldn't care less I took it to be some bluff. I asked him if there was a crisis: I hoped he would agreeably dispel my lack of fear. Actually he said something very interesting.

He said matter of factly that there was a crisis. He listed the main causes—such as bad selling methods of England in foreign countries. But his first-named contributory cause was the impossibility of getting people to work. The workers would—not—work. Another of the causes he mentioned for the crisis was that the English were not turning out satisfactory goods for export. Our foreign customers were fighting shy of our goods. So much was this the case that the famous "gap between exports and imports", far from closing, was widening daily. It is obvious how that alone would lead to crisis. This had nothing to do, presumably, with cause No. 1. For this had to do with quality: whereas their slowness had to do only with quantity.

I could not but think, of course, of nail-scissors. I wondered if our goods for export were as badly finished as those in the home market. I decided it was probably not that but a crisis of stupidity. The manufacturers knew little about foreign countries, rashly dispensed with the help of intelligent advisers, and so produced unsuitable goods. Even the American businessman uses brains, if he can find them, but natural antipathy of the Briton for brains operates in business as it does in politics, art, and in every department of life. It is easy to see how English goods might be to foreign buyers wanting in style and intelligence.

The conversation turned to the home market: whereupon I mentioned what I had heard about the mushroom firms beginning to infest Sheffield. If such a parasite growth had shown itself there, it was doubtless to be found in every great industrial centre. Our politician responded with an emphatic yes. When up in Sheffield recently he had heard a lot about the small speculative firms. But then we proceeded to praise the Grand Hotel in Sheffield, with its excellent dining and dancing room and good orchestra: its food and cellar so far superior to anything of the kind in London.

---

From its roots in everyday life, amid nail-scissors and tooth-paste, we have worked upwards, as it were, to a fact of great political significance. The Socialist Government are deeply frustrated by the phenomenon of working-class slackness—of which they are the innocent cause, as representing the working-class Party, and being in Power. Having at length elected a Labour Government (as formerly called) with teeth in it, and willing to bite with them, the working-class lies comfortably back and takes its ease, celebrating the departure of the slave-driving capitalist. Encouraged by its communist shop-stewards, it turns a deaf ear to exhortations to work on the part of their new socialist masters. If bothered too much, they strike, usually under communist leadership. Neither the Trade Unions nor the Administration meanwhile incommodes the communists (the Administration for fear of losing communist support at the election). So, of course, anarchy grows, far more deeply and insidiously than is visible. For habits of indiscipline are being formed in the working-class which one day will bear fruits. The country looked for socialism, and it has found anarchy.

Since coming into office the Government has been engaged in an all-or-nothing gamble. With what they could gouge out of the nation in taxation, direct and indirect, with American subsidies, they have popularized socialism, have produced a socialist elysium. Without a revolution this was the only course. Countless "jobs for the boys", free dental plates for all, canteens and high wages—they created the honeymoon atmosphere of the Welfare State—an atmosphere not conducive to hard work, and its manufacture eating up money at a terrifying rate.

Some Ministers have eyed this carnival askance. To have to pay so heavily for the privilege of bringing social justice to the working class seemed to them absurd: and the danger of failure, owing to exhaustion of the exchequer as a result of this insensate spending, very great. Mr. Aneurin Bevan, recently discussing a "blood-bath" in the event of a Tory victory, conceded that he personally had never greatly believed in the possibility of ruling without coercion. This meant, of course, that the totalitarian state is perhaps inevitable, to end the welter of indiscipline and insane spending. And we must not say, "Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose". It is never—whatever else it may be—the same thing.

---

Meanwhile—to go back to the Toy Shop—I discovered the deft fingers of Mr. Patricks, ex-engineer, busy with a defective toy bus, the smoke from a cigarette curling up against a half-shut eye. The honeymoon atmosphere permeating the factories militates no doubt against the production of flawless toy buses—unless the spiv factories, the small parasite outfits, are to blame. It was plain to me by this time that to identify the culprit in any particular case would be impossible. This socialist shopman, for all his furrowed forehead as resilient as a rubber ball, conducted his business under conditions almost of Keystone slapstick. Sometimes knocked clean off his feet by some particularly austere buffet from the Board of Trade (which Ministry in conjuncture with the Treasury, acted as the official brake upon Honeymoon spending), he came up smiling though dishevelled. The market, again, was a maelstrom of contradictory currents. Shortage would suddenly be replaced by glut—so that, when hemp was scarce, he might lay out some money on a batch of skipping ropes, only to find next minute that skipping ropes became so plentiful that he made a loss on his speculative batch. The disconcerting gluts sometimes might mean that goods unacceptable to the foreigner had been thrown back into the English market. But he has the discipline never to blame his Party, now the Government. Not once have I heard criticism from him: he only allows himself, and that very rarely, an impolite view of Cripps. Seeing that he is a little capitalist himself, engaged in an individualist activity which would earn him a bullet as a kulak if the Left Wing of his Party replaced the Right Wing, his attitude is paradoxical.

The toy bus rushes along the floor, stops, from its abruptly opened door protrudes a tin conductor. Its doors shut abruptly, with a little tin bang, and off it rushes once more. Such in theory is what happens whenever you wind it up. But the door has stuck and will not open. Or once having opened, and thrust out its flat uniformed figure, it will not close its door and resume its mad career. As a rule I find Mr. Patricks seated on his little haunches, demonstrating some such gadget to a watching babe of nine or ten. Or his cheeks are swelled out, inflating a toy balloon. If it bursts because he has emptied his lungs into it, and it is smaller than his lungs, his response is that of a child. He will cut a caper, twirling around and clapping his hands, and then thrusting them between his knees. He looks on such occasions more than ever like Sartre—in bacchanalian mood (perhaps at the moment of delivering a sportive haymaker at Mlle. de Beauclair). The children enjoy it too, but with less brio.

Mr. Patricks had a moment of confidential expansion.

"There's no such thing as a good toy today," he grumbled. "None are properly finished." "Don't they work, then?" I enquired. "Oh yes," said he, "they work up to a point: though I often have to fix them, and the damned things come unstuck. But look at this!" He held up three irregular bits of tin attached to each other, hanging down dejectedly, to me incomprehensible symbols.

"What is that?" I asked him. "Is it a plane crash—surely not?"

He shook his head.

"That's a lorry," he informed me, as he dropped it with a rattle into a brimming tray. "They make them in bedrooms. Yes, that's right, there're lots of them do that. Foreigners. The best toys come from France. That"—pointing—"is a French toy. But they're not good."—"No?"—"No. The toys today are rot-ten!"

His Yorkshire accent broke rotten most expressively into two autonomous vocables charged with disgust. As he was talking I remembered that we have in a neighbouring flat German-speaking tenants who hammer dully all day. Possibly toy-makers. One of the bedroom industries of Rotting Hill. Another bedroom industry I feel sure is matches: whittling pieces of black-market wood and dipping the tips in some over-inflammable substance. The best brands now are plentiful: but a year ago most Rotting Hill matches exploded in your face. No doubt there are cigarette-makers: and of course there are cabinet-makers. In the distance, perhaps three flats away, we hear some very heavy banging. Mr. Patricks' "French" toy stock might come from Soho, chopped out and painted in a cellar. But Mr. Patricks sells his "rotten" toys like hot cakes. Other people's therefore cannot be any better.

The Patricks' toy shop is thronged with the children of prosperous spivs. The stream of showy-looking kids, with the school-caps of local spiv-schools for the sons of black-market gentry, and big fawn-jacketed blondes of eleven, some decked out to look like miniature Gorgeous Gussies, with Corgies or Wolfhounds on a smart leash, never slackens: side by side with these are the gangs of shuffling ragamuffins, clutching a copper in their filthy little fists.

All it is my guess like his Yorkshire blarney too. Is there a blarney stone up in Yorkshire I wonder. If so Mr. Patricks has most certainly kissed it—and has skipped away as replete with mischief as a Sartre-faced elf. He treats his customers with the freshness of a high-salaried radio quizzer. But like myself, they seem amused.

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