Chapter Ten

Smudging

 

My discharge day arrived. Seven in the morning I was up and ready. It is customary to get a discharging prisoner out of the main cell block very early so that the other prisoners will not become too depressed at having to stay behind. I had breakfast in the special discharge area but before I left, I said goodbye to my good friend Tony. I made arrangements to pick him up 2 months later when his sentence was up. I was issued with my civvy clothes and I got changed into them. It felt so strange to be dressed in soft material again.

The big doors were opened and the releasing officer said “Good luck, lad!” and the doors closed heavily behind me. I felt alone and insecure. I was lost in my thoughts when a brand new Mercedes sports car pulled up alongside of me. “Hello Luv” I heard as Moe popped her head through the window. “Jump in. Let’s get away from here.” Within minutes we were speeding through the English countryside.

The sun was shining and we were free. We drove around for a few hours then stopped by a river to make love again. I sensed a difference though and a while later over a meal in a pub, Moe told me that she had met another guy. She was still not sure which way to go and so she asked me to go with her to a pub in Derby. She explained that she was the manageress of the new pub. The owner was her friend and he had offered to give me a job as the manager. I agreed and we went to the “Wild West Bar” in Derby. I soon realised what the job really entailed. The place was a madhouse. Once again fights every night. I stuck it for a week, long enough to realise that there was a lot more to life than being prepared for the next fight.

I told Maureen this and asked her if she wanted to join me. She said no and that she preferred to stay in a more secure position. I had enough cash to buy myself an old car and I managed to find one that I calculated would just about get me back to Blackpool. On the way back, I stopped at Nottingham. Even though it was difficult, I went to the bank where I had deposited all the money. I asked the teller for my account and some minutes later the manager came to the window and informed me that the board had withdrawn all my money with a court order and that the money had been returned to its rightful owners.

Well it would be pointless to try to explain the feeling of disaster that I felt. I felt physically sick. My vision went blurred and I left the bank as fast as I could. Once back in the car, I let the situation soak in. I was totally broke but I had enough to get back to my mother’s house in Blackpool. She was waiting for me with open arms. It was good to be mothered again after so long. My sister and brother in law and their son had stayed in Liverpool after the club was sold, so my mother lived on her own.

Jimmy my adopted brother had now become the only tattoo artist in Blackpool so he was very busy from early morning till late at night. I spent some time with him helping to clean up the bloodstains as he tattooed. I met a boy that had just opened a wig shop. Wigs were just becoming a fashion and so there was plenty of potential there. We became good friends and I used to help him by arranging wig parties. Two weeks soon passed by and I sold my old car, borrowed some money from Jimmy and bought a newer model.

I then set off back to Stafford. John and Tony were due for release. John was the first; I met him at the gate. He had been transferred back to Stafford for discharge. I told him about the loss of the money but he told me that he already knew about it. He said that he was the one who had told the police and apologised. He said that the police had beaten him up so much that he couldn’t resist. He seemed different to me. So long inside had left him spiritless. He told me that Christopher & Julie had died of a drugs overdose and that all he wanted to do now was to go and stay with his mother. I gave him a lift to his mother’s house and left him at the door. We arranged to meet sometime later in London.

I then returned to Stafford to pick up Tony. He was a different story; full of ideas and ambition. I ran him to his mother’s house and she invited me to stay for a while. Xmas was approaching once again and so Tony and I set about making some fast money. We went into business manufacturing children’s blackboards with chalk; also, matching toilet seat covers and floor mats. We sold these on the local markets. We made a few bob, but soon became bored with the small-mindedness of the people that we had to deal with, so we set off for London once again.

On arrival, Tony and I rented one very small room with a very thin single bed. We agreed to take turns each night to sleep in the bed or on the floor. After we had settled in, we scouted out the general scene and it was not long before we soon realised that our clothes were totally out of fashion. We mooched around the secondhand shops to find outfits that would be acceptably fashionable enough for us to have the confidence to put ourselves about. We found the gear and in our wanderings around the centres of London, we met various characters, some posing as guides and others trying to sell us theatre tickets – false of course. Others were trying to sell us drugs, which on closer inspection we found to be no more than cooking herbs; and there were the phoney gold vendors.

We became interested when we watched the various street photographers. They usually worked around the Piccadilly area and outside the American, Canadian & Japanese embassies. Their spiel seemed to work, for we were impressed at the amounts of money that they would take from their victims. They would select a likely-looking victim, usually someone who appeared to be a first timer to the big city. We posed as tourists to learn the patter first hand. It went like this. The photographer would plan his attack. He would be ready to pop out in front of you as you approached.

“Hold it there” – “Thanks, welcome to London. I’m the official photographer, Give me a smile please” - CLICK – “Now sir, just one more” closing in for the close up. “Smile please” – CLICK – then closing in even more, “Thank You”. Then pulling out a pen and duplicating book at the same time almost spreading the book with clean page open, “Pop your name here please. Thank you”. Then whilst he’s doing that, makes some idle chatter like, “it’s a lovely day isn’t it”? Then when he or she has put down their name, “Oh and your address please”. After the address has been written down, the smudge worker takes back the book and begins to make some notes himself. Whilst doing this he makes some more idle chatter. “Can I be of any help to you by the way? Can I recommend a good club to you”? Blah, Blah, Blah. Then whilst terminating the notes the smudger, with a deadpan face says, “That’ll be £2 each shot, that’s £4 thank you.”

Now the punter usually pays and if he does pay immediately, the smudger goes in to sell him the specially framed enlargements. If the punter refuses to pay, the smudger says. “I’m sorry sir but you have to pay. I’ve used the film you see and my manager’s over there”. The smudge worker’s partner is awaiting his cue and he arrives.

“What’s wrong Mr. So & So. “Oh erm, the er customer refuses to pay sir.”

So turning to the customer with an agitated expression he says, “Sir pay him, it’s his job you know.” Well there are various other ways but normally by now the punter gets the message and feels obliged to pay. Of course two small photos are posted and so it is not strictly speaking illegal. However one is always ready to dash off into the nearest subway entrance if the police do arrive on the scene. I have seen a good smudger take £68 off one customer in 5 minutes.

Having seen how the system worked, Tony and I bought an instamatic camera and went to work. I was the manager for the first day and we were very happy with our first day’s takings of £73. This was more than a professional worker made in a week. The next day we bought another camera so that the two of us could earn more. We made £100 between us and I met a new girlfriend. Zelda was her name and she was a professional stripper. We lived together for a few weeks and I would accompany her to her nightly engagements around Soho. In order to promote Zelda’s work, I affixed an old Victorian bath to the roof of a  borrowed blue Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, and drove around the streets of Soho with her in the bathe covered in soap bubbles. As we did this she was also blowing bubbles.

I worked with Tony on the smudge for a couple of months or so but I always felt guilty about the legal holdup. I decided to visit Blackpool again. On my return to Blackpool, I went to stay with Jimmy. He had been given the formula for removing tattoos painlessly. It consisted of three mild acids, bandages and sticking plasters. The tattoos could be removed painlessly at home and by oneself. The formula had been given to Jimmy by a Japanese tattoo artist who told him that it was commonly used out there in Japan. I decided to try it out on myself. It worked and so I printed out instructions explaining how to use the ‘Tattoo Removing Kit’. The most important instruction was to only try to remove 1 square inch per month. This gave the skin tissue time to repair itself.

I advertised the kits in many magazines and newspapers. Some of the publications would not carry the adverts but my main market was Health & Efficiency mag and Tit Bits. The orders came pouring in. The kits cost me less than £1 to put together and I sold them for £5 each. I was kept so busy bottling and packing and the money was pouring in. I was even beginning to receive letters thanking me for the wonderful product that had removed such unsightly marks that had been put on as children or in prison. Sometimes swear words or obscene pictures but mostly names of girls and boys who were past lovers.

Everything was going well until I had a visit from one of the well-known daily newspapers. They were doing an exposé on various illegal happenings. I was not a doctor or pharmacist and therefore I was not allowed to sell medication. I didn’t want any problems and so I stopped my business. The reporter had told me that he was going to inform the magazines which I used to advertise in that they were publicizing illegal adverts. I left the flat that I had been using as a base so that I could not be traced very easily.

I had met a very beautiful girl the week before and she was unemployed and therefore free to join me in my next project. The chemist who had analysed the tattoo-removing liquids for me and then sold me the products to make up the kits, had a sort of forecourt in front of his shop. I asked him for permission to use it as a pitch for photography and he agreed providing that I pay him a percentage of the takings. Anna my new-found girlfriend and I went into business together as smudgers

We bought a ‘bush baby’ which is a small furry animal with enormous eyes. At a glance he resembles a monkey but on closer examination it can be seen that it is a completely different species. Nevertheless ‘Smudge’, as we called him, was the most cuddled animal that I have ever been in contact with. We earned our daily bread by offering ‘Smudge’ to the people to hold or cuddle. Once he was in their arms, I took a picture of them with the unusual animal. Children were our main customers during the day but as night approached, we put ‘Smudge’ to bed and Anna changed into her evening clothes. These were the shortest of miniskirts and tight revealing blouses. Now it was her that pulled the punters, not ‘Smudge’.

As I have said, Anna was extremely beautiful; she was Polish by birth and with her long blonde fine hair and the deepest blue eyes, she was not a common sight on Blackpool’s Golden Mile. When she smiled at the single guys as they passed by, they froze in their tracks. She would then ask them if they would like their photograph taken with her. As she said this, she would make bodily contact with the punter and almost automatically he would put his arms around her.

I would then make my presence felt. “Okay you two lovers,” I would say. “Give us a smile”. Then – CLICK! The amorosity of the punter would determine how many photos I took. If the punters actually tried to kiss Anna, I would step in and tell him not to hog the merchandise as she was my best friend’s wife. I went on to say that my best friend would be along any minute now or that he had just finished his evening work as ‘Black Mountain Man’ the champion wrestler. This usually did the trick and the punter paid for his picture without further ado.

As the season drew on, the cold North winds affected not only us but also ‘Smudge’. About that time there was a new pub opening on the sea front. It was a very big affair with three bars and a restaurant. It had been called the Talk of the Town. It was situated in front of the Central Pier in Blackpool and this was just about the busiest place on the promenade. Anna and I went to see the manager and offered him a guaranteed £50 per week tax free, cash in hand, no questions asked, if he would let us work in the pub as photographers. He was a bit apprehensive at first but we persuaded him by telling him that Anna was a contestant in the Miss Blackpool beauty contest. We explained that she would attract more customers to his pub as the contest took place every week throughout the season at the swimming pool. It was a true fact that Anna was winning a place every week and that I was also there to take the photos of the competition. I sold the photos to the other contestants and their families.

We did very well in the pub. We worked with colour photos and most nights we would sell about 500 photos at 5/- each. One day, whilst I was at the developers, I noticed some broken old wooden cameras thrown in a heap on top of the office roof. I asked the owner if I could take a closer look. He told me that they were the old machines that they used to use on the piers many years ago. He said that if I wanted to get rid of them for him, then I could have them free of charge as he was fed up of seeing them. I borrowed a van and moved them to my mother’s house for closer inspection. I discovered, through making enquiries, that they were the very first wooden hand-cranked cinematograph cameras. They were the sort that had been used by the early pioneer film-makers to shoot the local newsreels. When Pathé news became popular, they became obsolete and so the still photographers had made a few simple alterations and used them on the piers to take snaps of the holidaymakers. With the modernisation of still photography they were once again thrown on the junk heap. I was thrilled with my find: having worked in London, I had an insight into the development of the antique business. I could see that very soon, antique cameras would also become valuable collector’s items. In the meantime, I was going to clean them up and rent them out to camera shops for their window displays. I surmised that there must be many more old cameras lying redundant around the coastal resorts of England in a similar situation.  With this in mind, I put an advert in several local papers in coastal resorts: “Wanted. Old cameras or photographic equipment in any condition.”

I received two replies, one from Brighton & one from Skegness. I bought a van and set off to buy them. Anna stayed behind to look after our photography business. I bought 30 cameras for 10/- each which I brought back to Blackpool and cleaned them up. I sold twenty of them in London for £100 each and the others I rented out.

 

One of the companies that I bought the cameras from told me of their business. They had an arrangement with various shipping companies that specialised in holiday cruises. They would supply a photographer and all the darkroom facilities to develop and process film on board the ship. The photographer would take the photos of the passengers throughout the voyage, either ashore as they visited the various shore side attractions or on board by the swimming pool or at the cocktail parties or in the ship’s nightclub or casino. I was ready for a change and so I applied for the job as one of those photographers. I was accepted and given instructions to join a ship of the Aznar Line, the SS Monte Umbe, bound for the Mediterranean and all interesting ports of call to and from Malta. The cruiser carried 400 passengers and I reported to the ship about an hour before she sailed from Liverpool. I was late because I had called in to see some of my old friends on the way. One of them gave me a present of some acid and told me that as I would be at sea for Xmas, I could have my own private head party.