Thursday 30 August 2012

Down Among the Meths Men by Geoffrey Fletcher

A laurel wreath and hearty handshake to you, visitor. It's the end of August and here in the steel city a fair wind has wrapped itself round the seven hills, numbing fingers and toes and generally reminding people that they live in Northern Britain. And my tan from Australia has already worn off. Never mind, we're back and what better subject to begin with than the death drinkers of postwar London? Geoffrey Fletcher is better known for 'The London Nobody Knows', which was filmed by Norman Cohen in 1967 and is narrated by James Mason (his best performance since the Thunderbird wine advert on YouTube - look it up!). A large section of the film features homeless and indigent people at the Salvation Army spike in the East End and also meths drinkers in various bombsites and street corners. This material seems to be based on the book I have here, 'Down Among The Meths Men' (Hutchinson & Co, 1966 London). You want depressing? It's right here buddy. I read this over an afternoon and felt very off-colour afterwards - it's an unremittingly bleak story of people on the very edges of society living transient lives in total squalor. On the upside, it's written using Garamond, one of my favourite fonts. Look for the silver lining, etc etc. The main reason for posting about this book is Fletcher's illustrations, many done 'on the spot' as he attempted to befriend and interrogate the people he found on the street. They have a haunted, haunting quality which a prolonged sitting would not have produced.
The label in my copy says it belonged to the 'British Sailors Society', based in East London. A dire warning, perhaps? Be sure to miss me.