Alternately hilarious, shocking and sad, Crystal Jeans’ latest novel is
set in Cardiff. But perhaps not the Cardiff the urban planners and WAG
mavens would use in their shiny advertising campaigns.
Each chapter is narrated by different characters linked by the street on
which most of them live and the appearance in them all (to greater or
lesser extent) of the title character the alcoholic vagrant who for one of
the neighbours is an unusual subject of desire. Set in various homes,
streets and parks, and a nearby care home for the demented elderly
the story lines are darkly humorous and occasionally rude and crude –
up front portrayals of people on the frontline of urban poverty,
disenfranchisement, drug culture and unappreciated but essential work
lives. Lit up with authentic characters and appealing voices, and the full
gamut of human relationships platonic, romantic and sexual this is an
unputdownable journey into the underside of contemporary Wales.
Hatima slammed the phone down. This time Gayle had apparently sprained her wrist doing the housework and would not be able to make her shift today, but truly she was having a hangover, everybody knew she was alcohol-dependent. She picked up Mr Evans’ care plan and fanned herself – it was hot in this office even with the fan aimed at her face, and it was messy too because Connie was bloody lazy – look: there were her coffee cups on the desk, three of them half-drunk and left to go sour in the heat, and sometimes Hatima wondered if Connie did this on purpose because she was unhappy with being deputy manager only; very bitter, some of these women were. Oh, but it was so bloody hot! It could not be the weather only, because the British sun was a piss drop compared to what she had grown up with, so possibly it was menopause? ‘Go to the GP, Mum,’ Deena had said to her yesterday, ‘you’re driving me fucking mental.’ ‘You are driving yourself mental, with no help from me,’ Hatima had responded, stretching across the dining room table and tapping Deena’s beer bottle with her fingernail, ‘Always you are drinking, like a man, it’s very bad for your liver.’ Deena had smiled in that sly way and said, ‘Always you are mental, like a mental person, it’s very bad for your daughter,’ and then Miz had dropped his newspaper and said, ‘Stop taking the piss out of your mother,’ but Hatima had seen how his eyes were shielding laughter. The door opened and Connie came in, ripping off her plastic apron and balling it up. She stood directly in front of the fan, blocking all the cool air, claiming it all for herself, and Hatima, noticing the sweat patching her underarms, wondered if possibly she was also having the menopause? ‘Gayle called in sick,’ Hatima told her, and Connie closed her eyes, turned around, pulled open the collar of her tunic and let the fan’s air blow down her top. Her undergarments were too tight and her bottom bulged through her slacks in a way that was very unattractive, Hatima thought, and truly she was fat and past the age of fifty, but young-looking with lovely skin the colour of damp sand, and really it was a shame she wasn’t making the best of herself. ‘She was at the Butchers Arms last night,’ said Connie, her back still turned, ‘I saw it on Facebook,’ and now she turned around, adding, ‘I think we should give her a warning,’ and Hatima said, ‘What you mean is I should give her a warning,’ and Connie said, ‘Well, you are the manager,’ and there was that bitterness again. ‘I will talk to her first,’ said Hatima, taking her cigarettes out of the desk drawer. ‘Also, head office rang earlier, and they are asking that we go to Llandough hospital to assess a
woman in the stroke ward for respite.’ Hatima plucked a Post-it from her crowded PC screen and handed it to Connie, ‘She is having vascular dementia and limited mobility. Please, you will do this for me,’ (not a request, she made sure, it must not be a request). ‘I can’t,’ said Connie. ‘If Gayle’s not here then I’ve got to do the lunchtime meds.’ And Hatima slid past her, swiping her thigh on the desk edge to avoid touching her colleague’s body, and said, ‘You will find time, Connie, please.’ Again, not a request. ‘Hat, I almost forgot,’ said Connie, following Hatima out of the office. Hatima slowly turned around, one of her shoulders stooped
and Connie tightened her mouth to conceal the laughter trying to come out, because for a second there,
Hatima had the look of Colombo turning around to ask his killer question – One more thing, Mz Jeffries. ‘Ted’s flushed his pad down the toilet and his bathroom’s flooded.’ She stayed long enough to enjoy Old Sourpuss’s miserable reaction then turned swiftly on her heel and headed to the common room.
Thank you, Crystal Jeans and Random Things Tours.
About the author
Crystal Jeans was born and brought up in Cardiff. She lived in Bristol before doing first a Creative Writing BA then an MPhil at the University of Glamorgan. She works in a care home, which inspired a collection of poetry about dementia (Mulfran Press). She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2010), had poetry published by Seren Press, and two short stories published by New Welsh Review.