Pinteresque. Photo & text: David Secombe (3/3)

Parson’s Green, SW6. Photo © David Secombe 2002.

From The Caretaker by Harold Pinter:

DAVIES: I got plenty of references. All I got to do is to go down to Sidcup tomorrow. I got all the references I want down there.

MICK: Where’s that?

DAVIES: Sidcup. He ain’t only got my references down there, he got all my papers down there. I know that place like the back of my hand. I’m going down there anyway, see what I mean, I got to get down there or I’m done.

MICK: So we can always get hold of these references if we want them.

DAVIES: I’ll be down there any day, I tell you. I was going to go down today, but I’m … I’m waiting for the weather to break.

David Secombe:

This poignant little exchange from Pinter’s play has become so familiar that Sidcup has forever after been associated with surreal suburban promise; a place of deliverance for the pitiful tramp Davies. Pinter’s choice of Sidcup as the place of Davies’s dreams was not random: it was the HQ of the Royal Artillery during the post-war period, so Pinter is implicitly giving Davies a military history. Not that it matters: the choice of the bleak Kent suburb of Sidcup as a land of milk and honey is as cruelly inappropriate as Eric Idle’s appropriation of Purley as a hotbed of vice in Monty Python’s ‘Nudge’ sketch.

 According to Michael Billington, Pinter based the play on scenes he witnessed at a house in Chiswick where the author and his young family were living in the late 1950s. The landlord’s brother – Austin – was the caretaker of the flat the Pinters were renting, and one day:

“Austin brought a tramp he’d met in a cafe back to the house and the tramp stayed for two or three weeks. Pinter knew the tramp very slightly and then one day he looked through an open door and saw Austin with his back to the tramp gazing out into the garden and the tramp busy putting stuff back into some kind of grubby hold-all, obviously being given his marching orders. All this matters because it then becomes the bones of the plot of The Caretaker.” (Pinter at the BBC)

It is rather pushing it to suggest that the gent in the above image has anything to do with Harold Pinter, but my encounter with him had a Caretaker-like quality. I was wandering around Parson’s Green, killing time on a cold afternoon before an appointment on the west side of town, when I was accosted by the man in the hat. He spoke to urgently me at some length; it could have been a request for money, for a cigarette, or just for attention, but I could not understand anything he said. Finally, I produced out my camera and took his picture, prompting him to move off. Having lost interest in soliciting my company, he went and urinated on a tree. A small, authentic London encounter.
… for The London Column.