The Banner

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Part 2Nails

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying a book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 
2010  -

Copyright Robin Gordon 2010

Characters in order of appearance


Boys and girls of the YPF
The Halden gang

* * *

Où suis-je?  Qu’ai-je fait?  Que dois-je faire encore?
(Where am I?  What’ve I done?  What have I still to do?)
                -- Racine: Andromaque

* * *

= = ACT I  = =


    A street in Halden.  Tommo and Scouse.

Scouse:  Hey, Tommo, did you hear them Swarrell lads?

Tommo:  Yeah, I heard ’em.

Scouse:  Whistling “John Brown’s body.”

Tommo:  “Nails Palmer’s trousers” you mean.

Scouse:  Summat’ll have to be done.  A can’t understand why Nails doesn’t … Hey, Tommo, what’s up wid ’im?  Is it true he’s scared?

Tommo:  Course he’s scared.  He’s not been out wi’ the gang once since he got stripped.  He spends all his time wi’ that Janice Greenwood.

Scouse:  Her that works in the library?

Tommo:  That’s right.  He’s always with ’er.  Follows her round like a little dog.  Even goes to church wid ’er.

Scouse:  Mebbe he’s in love.

Tommo:  In love my arse!  How often do you see any of the lads in the gang going on like that?    If you fancy a girl you tell her so, and you either get it or you don’t.  And what about Marlene?  What does he need to go mooning round a tight-arsed bint like Janice Greenwood for, when he’s got Marlene?  He’s gone soft.  That’s what I keep telling ’em all:  Nails has gone soft.  He should be expelled from the gang.

Scouse: Some of the lads think it was your fault for coming out too early.

Tommo:  Don’t be daft.  They’re just taken in by his big talk: all this stuff about strategy and tactics and that.  They should have known summat would go wrong.  And then, fancy getting himself caught by bloody Sid Thatcher!

Scouse:  Who’s he?

Tommo:  The Queen of Swarrell.  You know him.  We saw him poncing around the cathedral with his boyfriend.

Scouse:  Him?!

Tommo:  Yeah.  So you see why they’re all laughing.  And Nails does nowt.  If you ask him he just goes on about turning the other cheek.

Scouse:  Hey, I wouldn’t turn your other cheek to Sid Thatcher – not if you’ve got no trousers on!

Tommo:  Listen, Scouse.  We’re gonna have to get rid of him.  I’ve got summat to tell you.

Scouse:  Shuddup a minute.  He’s here.

    Enter Nails.

Tommo:  Hey, Nails!  Here a minute!

Nails:  What d’ya want, Tommo?

Tommo:  Listen!  When are we gonna get our revenge?

Nails:  I’ve told you, Tommo.  I’ve put all that behind me.  I’ve seen the light.

Tommo:  What bloody light?

Nails:  The light of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Tommo:  But …

Nails:  Love your enemies.

Scouse:  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Nails:  Under the old covenant, Scouse.  But we are living under the new covenant: love your neighbour as yourself, and if any man wrong you repay him with kindness.

Tommo:  And if any man strip you?

Nails:  If any man asks for your cloak give him your jacket an’ all.

Tommo:  But they had your pants off!

Nails:  Better I should lose my pants than my soul.

Scouse:  But what do you think it’s like for us?  Aw, come on, man.  They’re still laughing over it down in Swarrell.  We can’t go by without them jeering at us.  They come up here just to laugh at us.

    Tommo whistles a few bars of “John Brown’s body.”  A spasm of anger crosses Nails’s face, but he recovers quickly.

Nails:  When I was a child I saw through a glass darkly, but now I am a man I put off childish things.

Tommo:  Like trousers.

Nails:  Vanity, Tommo.  Vanity.

Tommo:  I wouldn’t let anybody steal my trousers without a fight.

Nails:  Then learn from my example, Tommo, and change your way of life before it’s too late.  You should be thinking of settling down anyway.

Tommo:  Eh?

Scouse:  Marlene’ll not want to know you if you let them Swarrell lads get away with it.

Nails:  A’d rather not talk about Marlene.

Tommo:  He’s found a new bird.

Nails:  A should be grateful to them Swarrell lads.  If it hadn’t been for them A’d ’ave been out wi’ you lot in Sunday, an’ A wouldn’t’ve met Janice.

Tommo:  Are you getting’ it off ’er?

Nails  [suddenly angry and dominant]:  A’m warning you, Tommo!  You say one more word about Janice, just one word, an’ A’ll smash you!  Right?

Tommo:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Sorry, Nails.

Nails:  Yeah, well, just you remember.  Not one word.  You’re not worthy to do up her shoes for her.  One word, that’s all.  One word!

Scouse:  It’s the Swarrell lot you should smash.

Nails:  A’ve told you.  A’m not goin’ in for street-fightin’ an’ that.  A’ve joined the Church.  I’ve been converted.  And I’m not doing anything that she wouldn’t like – so you can keep yer soddin’ noses out o’ my business.  Right?

Tommo:  Yeah.  All right, Nails.  All right.

Nails:  Right then.

    Exit Nails in righteous anger.  Pause.

Tommo:  A told ya: he’s shit-scared.

Scouse:  Oh yeah?

Tommo:  Course he is.  Come on!

Scouse:  Where?

Tommo:  Find Marlene.

Scouse:  What for?

Tommo:  Tell her about Nails.  Tell her he won’t fight.  Tell her he’s got a new bird.

Scouse:  You must be bloody mad.  She’ll half kill you.

Tommo:  Scared of a tart?

Scouse:  Don’t be daft – but you know what she’s like.  She nearly goes off her head of anyone starts whistling that song.

    Tommo whistles a few bars of “John Brown’s body”.

Tommo:  Listen, Scouse.  I fancy Marlene.  She’s the best-looking, sexiest bint in Halden, an’ if I can get her away from Nails Palmer, A will.

Scouse:  Thinking of settling down, are you?  Getting married?

Tommo  [feinting at Scouse’s crotch]:  A’ll ruin your prospects.

Scouse  [dodging]:  Gerroff!

Tommo:  Come on then.

    Exit Tommo, whistling “John Brown’s body”.  Scouse follows and joins in.


    Outside Halden Public Library.  Nails is waiting.  Janice comes out of the building.

Janice:  Michael!

    Janice hurries over to Nails and gives him a quick, bright peck on the cheek.  Nails makes an involuntary movement with his arms, but checks the impulse to hug her as being not respectful.

Janice:  I wasn’t expecting you.

Nails:  A was passing, so A thought A’d wait an’ walk home with you.

Janice:  You are sweet.

    She hooks onto his arm and they walk along the street.

Janice:  Are you coming to the dance tonight.

Nails:  What dance?

Janice:  At the Young People’s Fellowship.  It would be so nice if you came.  I’d like you to take me.

    Nails darts a swift, sideways, lubricious grin at her, but, seeing she is not making a pun, quickly wipes it off.

Nails:  A’d like to, but …

Janice:  … but …?

Nails:  Well …  I don’t know that your Young People’s Fellowship is really my sort of scene.

Janice:  You’d enjoy it.

Nails:  Yeah … but … we don’t really get along wi’ them religious boys an’ girls, me an’ the gang.

Janice:  Oh, Michael, you’re a religious boy yourself now, aren’t you?

Nails:  Well, yes … A suppose so.

Janice:  You’re one of us– [She squeezes his arm].

Nails:  A suppose A am, pet.

    He attempts to nuzzle her ear.  She obstructs him by patting her hair straight.

Janice:  You’d enjoy it, I know, Michael.  You’ve never really known the joy of fellowship, have you?

Nails:  There was the gang …

Janice:  I mean true fellowship in Jesus Christ.

Nails:  A still get embarrassed when A say “Jesus Christ.”

Janice:  It shows you love Him but don’t know him very well yet.  Come to the dance.

Nails:  Yes, all right – and A’ll dance with you all evening.

Janice:  Hey, hey, you’ll want to dance with some of the other girls when you see them.

Nails:  A bet A won’t.

    He nuzzles at her ear.  She pats her hair to obstruct him.

Janice:  We’re so glad you’ve become a Christian, Michael.  Mr Mouse was saying only yesterday what a great influence for good you could be.

Nails:  A still can’t believe that’s his real name.

Janice:  You are funny.  – [She gives his cheek a quick peck].

Nails:  A thought it was a nickname.

Janice:  Like you’re called Nails?

Nails:  Yeah.  Cos he’s just like a scared little Mouse, even when he’s putting on his What-ho, you chaps? act.

Janice:  Puir, wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie?

Nails:  Yeah.  Dead scared o’ Canon Tollgate.

Janice:  Oh Michael, you are funny.  You’ve only seen him once, and you’ve never actually spoken to him.  He isn’t scared, you know.  It’s just that he’s meek and humble.

Nails:  And the meek shall inherit the earth?

Janice:  I don’t think you like Victor Mouse.

Nails:  Like you said: A don’t really know ’im.

Janice:  He’s nice.

    They walk on in silence.  Hotrod and another youth come towards them from the opposite direction.

Hotrod:  ’Lo, Nails.

    The other youth nods.

Nails:  Lads.

    The youths pass on.  A few yards beyond Nails Hotrod begins to whistle “John Brown’s body”.  The other youth joins in.  Nails stiffens and stops, anger blazing in his eyes as he checks his impulse to turn and attack the youths.

Janice:  What is it?

Nails  [controlling himself]:  Nothing.  It’s nothing.

Janice:  You get angry every time you here anybody whistling that tune.

Nails:  It’s nothing.  Don’t worry.

Janice:  But I do worry.  It’s not like you, darling.

Nails:  It’s just something from the old days.

Janice:  Oh, Michael.

Nails:  There’s no need for you to worry.  It’s just something that happened.  I get angry when they whistle that, but I won’t let it get the better of me.

Janice:  You can do so much for the Lord if only you can master your passions, Michael.  I know you can.

Nails:  Perhaps.

Janice:  You can bring so many to the Saviour.

Nails:  I’m not a saint.

Janice:  You could be.  You are.  You’re one with the communion of saints.

Nails:  Janice, I’ll try to do what I can for the Lord.  He knows it’s not much, but what I can do I will try.  But I must have some help.  A can’t do it alone.

Janice:  We’ll all pray for you, Michael.

Nails:  I love you, Janice.

Janice:  I … er …we all love one another, Michael.  That’s what being a Christian is all about.

Nails:  Janice, you know how I want you.

Janice:  Give me time, Michael.  Give me time.  I don’t know yet what my heart is saying to me.



    The Young People’s Fellowship dance.  A large bare room.  Youths and girls dancing to the sound of a record-player.  Some girls dancing together.  Other girls and rather more youths are watching from the sides.  At the end of the room furthest from the door the Curate, Victor Mouse, is talking to John and Anne and two other couples.  The whole gathering glows with perspiration and youthful vitality.
    Enter Janice and Nails.  They pause just inside the door.

Nails:  A don’t know anyone here.

Janice:  You soon will.  Come on!  I’ll introduce you.

    Janice looks around.  The wallflowers have moved away from the door and are watching her and Nails.  Alan & Des are talking.

Alan:  Nails Palmer!

Des:  What’s he doing here?

Alan:  I hope there’s not going to be any trouble.

Des:  He’s by himself.

Alan:  Are you sure?  He could have his gang outside.

Des:  He goes round wi’ Janice Greenwood now.  She’s brought him.

    Janice and Nails standing alone by the door.

Janice:  Let’s dance.

    Janice takes Nails onto the dance-floor.  As they dance he is acutely aware that he is being regarded with considerable speculation by everyone in the room.  Although the dance-floor is crowded, space opens up around Janice and Nails.  Several couples leave the floor and join groups around the walls.
    A group of girls, including Julie and Norma are talking together.

Julie:  Just look at her!  Showing off her latest acquisition!

Norma:  I thought she was after Victor Mouse.

Julie:  So she is.  It’s all just to impress him.

Norma:  I don’t see how.

Julie:  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  If she brings Nails Palmer to Christ, a lot of his gang’ll follow.  She’ll be the great white missionary heroine.  You know what Mousey’s like about converting people.

    Julie and Norma look over with venom at Janice who is still dancing with Nails on the almost empty floor.
Nails is unhappy, but Janice enjoys being the centre of interest.

Janice:  Happy, darling?

    She gives him a quick peck.  He does not reply either by word or action.
    Mouse’s group look around the floor.  Mouse rapidly indicates Nails and Janice and then the sides of the room.  Two couples separate from his group and each moves down one side of the room, one couple pretending to dance but the other obviously splitting up and walking around to do Mouse’s bidding, which is to get the dancer’s back onto the floor to avoid embarrassment to Nails.
    Nails notices these manœuvres and is even more embarrassed.

Nails:  Can’t we go somewhere else?

Janice:  Don’t be silly, pet.

Nails:  Everybody’s staring.

Janice:  Of course they’re not.  You’re just imagining things.  Come on!  When this record’s finished we’ll go and talk to Mr Mouse.

    They dance on, Janice triumphant and happy, Nails awkward, self-conscious and miserable.  The music ends and Janice leads the unhappy Nails to join Mouse’s group.

Janice:  Victor, this is Michael Palmer.  Michael, Mr Mouse.

Mouse:  Hallo, Michael.  I’ve been hearing quite a lot about you from Janice.

Nails:  Um … she’s told me quite a lot about you too, Sir.

Mouse:  Oh, no, no, no!  Don’t call me Sir!  Makes me feel a hundred years old.  Everybody here calls me Victor.  [He looks around]:  Don’t they?

    There is a murmur of unconvincing assent.

Mouse:  Well, how are you enjoying our little dance?

Nails:  Oh, er … yes, er …thank you, yes.

Mouse:  We’re always happy to have new blood.  I hope you’re going to come along to our regular YPF meetings.

Nails:  Er … yes, Si… um … yes.  [Aside to Janice]:  What’s YPF?

Janice  [without lowering her voice]:  Oh, Michael, you are forgetful.  Young People’s Fellowship.  He didn’t know what YPF stands for.

    The group laugh.  Nails is embarrassed.

Mouse:  No need to be embarrassed, Michael.  How could you know?

Nails:  No.

Mouse:  I hope you’ll bring some of your friends along when you get to know us.  You’ll find there’s nothing quite so satisfying as winning new souls for the Lord.  Isn’t that right, Janice?

Janice:  Yes, Victor.  You really feel that you’re about your Master’s business.

    The music starts again.  Janice, who has turned to Mouse to answer him, looks as if she expects him to ask her to dance.

Mouse  [trying to draw Janice’s attention to Nails with his eyes as he speaks]:  What about a dance, Janice?

Janice  [eagerly]:  Ooh, yes please, Victor!

    Janice sweeps Mouse away.  Nails is left with the three couples.  There is an awkward silence.  One of the boys takes his girl’s hand and gives it a slight tug, then they move out into the dance.  The others stay with Nails, who stands looking after Mouse and Janice.

John:  Um … were you a member of any other church?

Nails:  No.

John:  Oh.


Anne:  Er … Janice is a nice girl.

Nails:  Yes.

Anne:  How did you meet her?

Nails:  At a café.

Anne:  Oh.


John:  Do you play football?

Nails:  No.

John:  Oh.  Er … neither do I.


Nails:  I used to support Halden United.

John:  Oh.  I’ve only seen them once.

Nails:  Oh.

    Silence.  The other couple move off onto the floor.  John nudges Anne and indicates Nails.  She does not respond.

John:  Not dancing, Michael.

Nails:  No.

    Silence.  John and Anne look at each other.

John  [to Nails]:  Um … excuse us, would you?

    John takes Anne out among the dancers.  Nails stays where he is watching the dancing couples enjoying themselves.  As they whirl past him he hears snatches of conversation.

Anne:  … didn’t want me to dance with him?

Girl:  … doesn’t look very happy …

Boy:  … where she found him, that’s …

Janice:  … say the funniest things, Victor.  Where do …

Boy:  … don’t think he’ll stay, do …

Girl:  … fighting like hooligans …

Boy:  … on, just one kiss …

Boy:  … Palmer …

Girl:  … convert him she can convert any …

    Nails turns away from the dancers to the side of the room where some girls are talking, including Julie and Norma.

Julie:  You see?  She’s left him now.  Gone off with Mr Mouse to boast of her triumph.  If she really cared about him she wouldn’t just leave him standing there.

Norma:  Somebody should go and talk to him.  He’ll go back to his gang if nobody talks to him.

Julie:  Why don’t you, then?

Norma:  Er … no.  I’ve got to go and look for Robin.  See ya.

    Julie looks hard at Nails.  He averts his eyes and looks over to where Des and Alan are talking.  He can only hear odd words of what they say.

Alan:  … out ’s trous’s …

Des:  Sh!

Tony  [joining them]:  Who’s … … trousers?

Des:  … … …  [inaudible].

Alan:  … z Palmer … s …s … s …

Des:  … … …eard … …z … … … Palmer … … … …out ’is trousers!

    They draw their heads close together then dart another quick glance at Nails, see that he is looking at them, and melt uneasily into the crowd.  Nails looks back at the dancers.  Suddenly Julie appears beside him.

Julie:  Hallo.

    Nails is startled.

Julie:  Did I make you jump?  I’m sorry.  It’s a bad habit I’ve got of creeping up on people.  I’m Julie Bates.

Nails:  Michael Palmer.

Julie:  I know: the famous Nails Palmer.  We were green when we heard Janice had picked you up.

Nails:  Oh?

Julie:  Yes.  Another magnificent trophy to add to her list.  She’s over there now with Mr Mouse.  Don’t they make a lovely couple?

Nails  [bitterly]:  Yes.

Julie:  They’re always together.  She does so many good works just to impress him – you know: converting the heathen and that.  Well, you know what he’s like about evangelism.  He thinks it’s our highest Christian mission.  Oh!  –  [As if disappointed]:  They’ve gone through into the back office.  Never mind.  Would you like to dance?  I hope you don’t mind me asking you, but I thought you might be shy since you’re a stranger here, so to speak.  Not that I expect you’ll be a stranger for long.

    Nails looks towards the office door, but Janice does not reappear].

Julie:  Come on!  The record’s nearly over.

Nails:  No.  A don’t want to dance.  A’ve got to be going.  See ya!

    Nails hurries away, leaving Julie open-mouthed.  Des, Tony and Alan move out of his way in some alarm, but he ignores them and pushes his way through the dancers towards the door.  Some turn to protest at being shoved aside, but move out of his way as soon as they recognise him.  Nails escapes from the hall.

-  End of Act I  -

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Nails: Act II

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