You’re lost. Taken a wrong turn in this scary part of the city. The peasouper has played it’s trump card. You’re in trouble. You’re in Docker town. You see a light and a sign. You push a door and you’re in. The smoke’s so thick you have to swallow hard or your throat is in danger of closing and never being able to open again. Your blurred eyes squint and water as they gradually focus on their surroundings. A woman sits at the end of the bar dressed in clothes that ought to belong to her daughter. Waiting, hoping, praying that someone will buy her a drink. Very few do. There’s a man just two feet away from her in a suit two sizes too big for him. He’s lost weight, convinces himself that it’s because he’s “looking after himself.” Truth is, he’s never been overweight in his life and he’s using the toilet more than he used to. He orders another scotch, large of course, no ice. Three men are sat by the fire. It’s not alight even though it’s freezing outside. They’re working men. Hands rough and scarred, from unloading barges that come into the dock nearby. All drinking the cheapest beer the landlord offers. Voices are raised from another corner. Two men square up to each other, each hoping that the other won’t actually throw a punch. A bigger man steps between them and pushes them apart. They’re both glad of the interruption. The landlady shouts out “Oi, not in here, take it outside.” Her blouse buttons straining to keep back the enormous white breasts that she knows keeps the workers coming in. There’s a blackboard on the far wall. In chalk it says “ Food Served Here.” It’s actually sandwiches. Cheese, ham or egg. There’s a man drinking from a pewter mug that he keeps behind the bar, makes him feel like he’s at home, because he has no real home. But here everyone knows his name. It’s an hour before midday and yet at least three people are slumped in a chair too drunk to move. Dockers pubs open early. You can hear music, a piano is playing and through the haze you see a man sitting on a stool playing something vaguely familiar. People are singing along. All out of key, but so is the piano.
Welcome to Docker Town.
You decide to leave and the cold air hits you like a punch from a heavyweight boxer. It takes away your breath and you gasp repeatedly until your lungs decide to get up off the floor and carry on. The street outside is full of men. Old men, young men, desperate men. All wanting and crying out for one thing. Work. Some will be lucky today some won’t. The lucky ones will go home smiling the others won’t go home. A man stops you and grabs your arm. “Spare a couple of coppers guv?” You try to pull away but his grip is firm. “Please Guv!” His voice has gone from a question to a cry. You keep walking. You dare not look at his face. He lets go and falls to the floor. Other men just step over him as though he’s not there. One colour describes your surroundings. Grey. Thick smoke and fog hangs in the air and you soon realise that it was healthier being inside the pub. Up ahead is a crowd of men standing by a lamppost. All wearing caps and boots, hunched over with hands in pockets. You pass them. One of them shouts at you. “Any work guv?” They think you’re management because you’re dressed differently to them. You don’t stop. Just waive your hand. You can see the dock gates up ahead. So close. Close to normality. A woman to your left is standing outside a derelict building. “Want business love?” You make the mistake of looking up at her. She smiles. A toothless smile. She raises her tattered skirt above her knee. Hoping for a reaction. You move on hurriedly. She shouts out after you. “Stuck up bastard, I can do more for you than your missus can indoors.” You reach the gates and leave.
Goodbye Docker town.