Derek is a sugar and spice, stand up heap of coke

This blog is borne from conversations which have taken place around Meet Me at the Albany’s artists residency at a sheltered accommodation in partnership with Lewisham Homes.  Ritchie has spent a long while getting to know the residents, and this is a story shared by Derek.

Derek 1

Derek is a sugar and spice, stand up heap of coke

By Ritchie Foster

I sit down to interview Derek in the kitchen away from everybody else in the main room, but I can’t help being distracted as I can clearly hear Jimi Hendrix belting out ‘Hey Joe’. Sweepingly I feel ‘Songs that won the War‘ comes to mind for many of the general public when picturing environments like this, rather than Jimi expanding his consciousness. So little nuggets such as this that break loose the expectations, make these type of projects stand out to a wider audience. I mentioned this to my 15-year old neighbour at the weekend who plays guitar. His response was quite simply “That’s so cool“. I think so too. I lean over shut the door and give Derek my undivided, intending to join the party later on.

In the short time I have spent here visiting on Wednesdays, Derek has stood out as one of the main characters in the narrative arc of The Roseview. He is a tall man, as you will take note from the photos attached and a funny man as I hope will come across further into this piece. He is the sort of guy I imagine Dell boy affectionately calling a ‘Diamond Geezer’. He was, is and always will be a proper saarf east lad born and raised.

Derek 5Not the biggest fan of school, Derek went to Holbeach Road School in Catford. I ask him about the uniform and he cackles out and starts telling me “I had no shoes to wear” going back to school after term-break so “y’know those sort of shoes you wear in the winter? I was wearing them….but it’s the summer!”. I don’t mean to laugh, but his delivery and the sight of a young Derek with shorts on accompanied by fur-lined snow boots got me – I guess it’s the equivalent of someone wearing Ugg boots with shorts in the middle of summer. I ask the obvious question “I bet that was uncomfortable?” Derek blows out his cheeks and rolls his eyes implying it obviously was. But between the chuckles he states matter-of-factly “Well I had no choice”. His mother couldn’t afford to buy him a new pair of shoes, which was commonplace he tells me. It’s this leave your sympathies at the door kind of attitude that we often hear through the media has been lost.

Derek and myself both share the same first job, the almost obligatory position of paperboy. Derek started at twelve years old like me, but the similarity stops there as Derek had a couple other jobs alongside this one. He cleaned up at the end of trade at Catford Market.  “They sold jellied eels” Derek grins delightfully, as he sees me grimace like a toddler unfazed by the airplane-trick. We digress into foods we both dislike.

We talk about Derek’s next job. “It’s all houses now” Derek tells me of Catford Dog Track, for a “bit of money in the pocket ” he used to “watch over the cars”, but “if they didn’t win, they wouldn’t give you any money”.

There was a time up a ladders as a roofer, but I move on. I want to ask Derek about how he used to get into scrapes as youngster, hanging around the Teddy Boys. “Well, let’s tell another story first” interrupts Derek “I used to box at the same club as Henry Cooper used to box”. He asks me if I knew who Sir Cooper was, and then seems visibly excited when I profess I do.

“Before he died, he used to still come up through Catford” Derek announces. I ask if it was like a Rocky type thing, with Mr. Cooper being mobbed amongst the market stalls, but Derek quickly dispels this image, describing how the former Commonwealth Champ had no airs and graces. He acted like any normal guy visiting home, but it was this attitude that endeared him to all the locals. They appreciated one of their own.

I ask Derek if he had any amateur fights in the ring.  “Probably about four” he tells me. Derek’s record to this day stands at; four fights, four wins, no losses. “No head guards.  It’s not like now”. More poignantly Dereks continues “I used the boxing to control myself, because I keep on fighting outside” he says “I didn’t used to cause no trouble, trouble would come to me!”.Derek 8

“At age fourteen I was known around the area” Derek was building a little reputation as bit of a fighter. “Johnny Wade I think his dead now. He used to get all the girl’s if y’know what I mean. He used to dress nice”. Interrupting himself Derek points out “He shopped in Burton’s!”. “Anyway” he begins again “Some blokes started on him. He was only a little bloke and they had to pick on him didn’t they?” Derek pauses and leaves a dramatic beat before “I couldn’t have that!”. We talk about how Derek is a principled man, doesn’t like bullies and women being mistreated. All of which occurred upon this occasion.

I describe what the media call ‘The Postcode Wars’ and ask if it was similar at the time. “Yes” Derek exclaims matter-factly. He suggests it could have started back then with the Teddy Boys of the 1950s, and then into the Mods and Rockers of the 1960s. But something distinctly different now to then “We used our fists” I ask rhetorically ‘So no teenagers running around with guns then?‘ Derek answers “It’s crazy. That would never happen!”.

On a lighter note we start talking about clothing and how fashionable Derek appears in the photos. But Derek’s fashion sense was not to everyone’s liking. The first time he met his future wife’s father, he went down like the Titanic. “He said to her; Who the hell you got there?” Derek’s less than clean-cut-image of oily work-boots and stained jeans caused Linda’s father to completely ignore his son-in-law-to-be. Derek continued dating Linda and only saw her father almost a year later. But Linda’s father did not recognise the roughneck he didn’t want around his daughter.

“I had my jeans and my boots on and then I just decided to become a mod”. ‘Before that, you were more like a greaser?‘ I ask Derek “Yeah, a reaser I guess”. It’s weird that I am momentarily shocked by romantic imagery of this cross-cultural re-birth. Surely that was not allowed I think. But really it’s just like everyone else’s experiences of youth when you go from one style of dress to the other, from boy-pop band to the ‘serious’ artist producing music for the soul. We all try to find ourselves, our place. Derek happened to flick from a sort of Teddy Boy, to a Greaser by proxy and then settled on seeing himself as a Mod. But Derek couldn’t ride a scooter because of bad eyesight and he is adamant that his music of choice is and always has been pure rock and roll. I ask Derek if he was trying to impress the soon-to-be father-in-law “Oh no, no, no.  I just changed”. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I will stick with the Mod period as it is when Derek talks fondly of buying clothes.Derek 7

“How did you afford the clothes?”  I ask “Just down the road here on Algernon, there used to be a timber yard. I used to work there.” I already know the response, but I ask, ‘Did you like it?’. He replies “It’s just a job ain’t it?”. I move on. ‘So where do you go to buy your clothes?‘. Derek says Burton’s in Catford.  “It ain’t there today. They used to have one down Lewisham didn’t they, but that one’s not there anymore”. He tells me how it was much different to the stores of today, as he would purchase clothes that were tailored for him. “Oh yeah, you get measured up and put your order in.”  I ask Derek ‘So what was your go-to outfit, describe your look‘. Derek smiles and straightens up in his chair “I never wore a tie. Just a shirt” ‘Did you wear it buttoned up?’ – I point at my own example. “No. Top button always open. I liked it open” He would often wear this with a jumper. His choice of trousers were traditional, single pleat cut. Derek smiles when I ask ‘Like Farah’s?‘ I tell Derek that I wore the same brand as a child and remember them because of the F monogram they had and how I told my friends that the F stood for Foster. We both laugh and I thank Derek as I have not thought of that memory in a very, long time. “And a smart pair of shoes” Derek continues “Black brogues with plain, dark socks”. His hair was cut simple, short and straight.

Derek 2As you can see in the photos attached this clean, simple look endured with Derek. He married Linda aged twenty sporting a jawline cut from granite. His daughter Sharon was born the same year, followed two years later by Keith. Pictures of him on the beach with the kids wouldn’t look out of place for some new, retro-band’s cover-art.

I could have touched on Derek being a ladies man, but I don’t want to turn the air blue and this isn’t the ‘memoirs of a diamond geezer’. But the reason I tease, is to make the point that the saying ‘been there done that, and I’ve got the T-shirt‘ rings true. Young people look at older people and can not imagine they have already done it before and so have many others. I’ll just say that if there was ‘reality TV‘ around all them years ago Derek would be blushing right now.

If you were wondering about the title of this piece.  Don’t worry I haven’t gone bonkers. In my eyes Derek is simply a nice, stand-up bloke, which roughly translates into a sugar and spice stand up heap of coke using a Cockney Slang Translator. It made me smile. Derek I thank you.



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