I was born and raised in London, and apart from the occasional trip to the coast, when I was little, I have never been any further than here. I'm not even sure why my old man and mum found it necessary to go to the seaside, especially when they didn't really have the money to pay for the train tickets, and I was so young that I didn't really appreciate – what the old man referred to as – the change of air. After all, I've done okay up to now breathing in the shit air that hangs over London, so why the hell he made such a fuss about a trip to the coast is beyond me.
I come from a rough part of north London, from an estate that should have been demolished years ago, but is still standing, because people have to live somewhere. Dad was a hopeless alcoholic, who never did a days work in his life, and was never going to be a role model for me. Mum was a cleaner at my school, and when I think about her leaving home every afternoon, when I returned from school, to clean the classrooms, and brush the shit from the inside of the toilets, it makes me think that if having a job is all about doing things like THAT, then I'm glad to be unemployed.
My teachers gave up on me after a year, saying to my parents that I was a lost cause. They probably realised when they saw my old man, that with an alcoholic father, and a mother who cleaned toilets in the very school where I was meant to have been educated, that I hadn't been given the best start in life. So when dad died of liver failure, and mum turned to drink to ease the pain of losing her good-for-nothing husband, my life certainly didn't get any better – and I was only fourteen.
Trouble came when I was fifteen, when I was caught vandalising cars on the estate. The police came and told mum that the next time I was caught I wouldn't get off so lightly. I just carried on, and so when the police returned to our slum home on the seventh floor, they kept their word, and said that I had one foot in a youth detention centre, and that people like me were better off locked up, and out of the way. Mum couldn't have cared a less, because all she wanted to do was die. I managed to calm myself down, and although I still played with fire, I was too smart to get my fingers burnt.
At sixteen I got a part-time job at a garage, a mile away from where I lived, where I helped the mechanics repair cars, and kept the workshop clean. I've always been interested in cars, and I think the garage owner, Mister Green, probably thought that I was in fact a good lad, who hadn't been given the best possible start in life. For the first few months I kept out of trouble, but people like me can't stay good forever, and so when I stole the day's takings from the garage, it was start of things to come. Mister Green couldn't understand why I had done such a stupid thing, because he thought that he had always treated me like his own son. That made me laugh more than anything else, because I was nobody's son, but just a young man who couldn't avoid trouble for long, and who repaid human kindness with a kick in the balls.
The youth detention centre did nothing to cure me, and like most prisons, I came out even worse than I had been before I went in. The council gave me a flat in a tower block, on a crime-ridden estate, and from there I was supposed to reconstruct my life, and make myself into something that I could be proud of. What a load of fucking rubbish that was, and so having no interest in rebuilding myself, I set out to make money through whatever means I could.
I used to catch a bus to Oxford Street on Saturdays, in the summer, to see if the pickpocketing skills I had acquired in prison were any good. At first I was useless, but after practising my technique and throwing caution to the wind, I soon started to line my pockets with stolen wallets and purses. Then came the mobile phones, the portable computers, and whatever else I could get my hands on, to sell to one of my buyers on the market. After a while I decided that the time I was wasting in taking a bus to Oxford Street was time I could have been spending in the pub. So, I promoted myself, and after recruiting a couple of black kids from my estate, I told them that they could get fifty percent of whatever they managed to steal – BUT they worked for me.
That's how I know Tony. He's not from my estate, but every now and then, whenever he gets his hands on any credit cards or 'phones, he gives me a call, and we'll do a deal. Tony's a good at pickpocketing, because he knows where to look, what he wants, and is not too greedy. He'll do the trains on the underground, all Saturday afternoon, because he knows that's where the money is to be made. He keeps the cash for himself, but cards and 'phones he can't do anything with, so he'll pass them on to me. Passports are another thing that I can work with, because with a passport you can open up so many possibilities.
These days, I move around a lot more than before, and so when Tony gave me a stolen underground season ticket, it made me smile. He said that I know longer had to remain static. I didn't even know what static meant, but when Dave explained to me, I laughed. I prefer Tony to Dave, because Tony is like me – he would steal from his own mother, and to hell with the consequences. He's idle, a drinker, and doesn't care about what he says. Dave likes to give the impression that he's the same as us, but he's never been a pickpocket, and for me he's too cocky. The other thing with him is that he'll never look in your eyes when he talks to you, whereas Tony will stare at you, to show you that he doesn't give a fuck about how big you are, or who you are, because he's just the same.
I think that Dave does okay thanks to Tony, but their friendship is all one way. It's not Dave that goes out to steal, and it's not Dave who comes to see me with credit cards and mobile 'phones. He just sits at home and waits for Tony to come home with the money. I reckon that Dave thinks that we're just kids, getting a laugh from stealing from tourists, but when I showed him my iron bar once, and said that I wasn't afraid to use it, he knew that sometimes we have to take care of ourselves, and that a life of crime isn't without risks.
I know Tony would help me out if I really needed a hand, because him and me have got the same sort of background – raised on a crap estate, crap parents, and a shit start in life. He knows that it's on the streets where the money is to be made. But most people prefer Dave, because he's clever with words, not violent, and just another face in the crowd. I think he knows that I've got him worked out, which is why he's not so cocky when I'm around, and literally stands behind Tony if he's nervous of anyone around him. But he won't ever bother me, because I've got nothing that he wants, and he's not got anything that interests me.
Tony and me are the same age, and we both act like a couple of teenagers. I mean, he spends most of his life in his favourite pub, and me in mine, and we act and think like people twenty-five years younger than us. The crime and violence is something I've always wanted, because where I come from, there are no jobs, and that's how people survive. I don't even think that it's wrong to do what I do, because if I didn't do it, I would be a burden to society, and be costing the tax-payers thousands of pounds. Instead, I'm self-sufficient, and don't bother the authorities that much. It's years since I was at the detention centre, and since then, I've not once been in trouble with the police. My flat isn't even in my own name, so I'm fairly certain that I don't even appear on any government records. I'm just a man that's seen about town, going about his business, and not causing too much trouble. Okay, so I live off immoral earnings, and somewhere there are thousands of people who've had their pockets picked over the years, but they're still alive and breathing, and apart from being a bit poorer, those people probably got over having their money stolen, and moved on in life.
I don't like mindless violence, and I only use my iron bar if I really have to, and only when I need to protect myself. It makes me laugh when people talk about Glen and his iron bar, as though I spend most of my life laying into people for no apparent reason. Well, that's not the case, and because I steer clear of drugs, and shit like that, I seem to get by, without being involved in anything that I'd rather avoid. Criminals operate on different tiers, and whilst I take my hat off to those who deal in drugs, and make loads of money, I think that there's a good life to be made from pickpocketing. Tony agrees with me, and often says that greed is the downfall of many a criminal, and that all the while he's got enough money to buy a drink, and have a bit of fun, then that's good enough for him. It's a shame that he has to share his money with Dave, because Dave does nothing to bring any money into their flat, and seems to view Tony's activities as wrong, but necessary. I think one of these days Tony will realise that he can get by on his own, and Dave is just another of life's parasites.
Glen is a character appearing in "The Londoners" - An Ebook for Kindle by Luke Ryman