From Rags to Bitches: Pack instinct and a curly lip

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Each week we are serialising Vic Barlow's new book From Rags to Bitches on wilmslow.co.uk . Here is the fifth chapter. If you missed previous chapters these can be viewed by clicking on the 'From Rags to Bitches' tag below.

From Rags to Bitches

Chapter 6: Pack instinct and a curly lip

Shortly after I finally left school I was persuaded to join a couple of pals for my first foreign holiday. Spain, they said, was full of gorgeous girls, crazy about British boys. I never quite pinned them down on how they acquired such knowledge but it was very compelling to a spotty 17-year-old youth. Spain, I decided, was a rite of passion not to be missed.

My first priority in preparation for this momentous trip was the acquisition of leather pants as worn by Gene Vincent. After weeks of searching I finally found a pair I could afford. They were jet black, very tight and made from PVC.
To complete my black 'leather' ensemble I acquired a matching black PVC waistcoat and went for my first passport photo confidently expecting Brian Epstein to grab me off the street and groom me (it was an acceptable word back then) for stardom.

"Sit perfectly still," said the photographer. "And do not smile."

I hit him with my best pose.

"And don't smirk."

The left side of my mouth curled involuntarily.

"No smirking!" He was getting agitated.

I tried again.

"That silly smirk is just not working."

Had this guy never seen Elvis?

In the end he just took the picture and charged me half a week's wages.

So finally, after months of preparation, I left for Spain with Dave and Ashy, my two amigos. I think the whole trip cost us a tenner each but we had to travel by coach, train and boat, which took almost 36 hours.

Whilst the accommodation proved reasonable enough someone failed to inform the 'gorgeous young girls' of their passion for British boys as I discovered on the first night when the girl I asked to dance kicked me in the shin.

"We need to do some recognisance," Ashy suggested, clearly an expert in the art of senorita wooing.

'Those girls dancing over there at the front will say yes to us," he said confidently.

Being an apprentice sheet metal worker he held seniority so I followed him sheepishly across the dance floor.

"Hasta Luego senoritas," he said holding out his hand to the prettiest of the group.

She looked at her friends with raised eyebrows, then at Ashy.

"Hasta Luego," he repeated.

"Are youse talkin' to me?"

I couldn't help noticing the dolphin like click in her pronunciation of 'talkin'. Probably some Latino idiosyncrasy.

"Hablas ingles?" said Ashy

I was well impressed.

"Yeah und Deutsch e Etaliano... but mainly Scouse."

Ashy instantly turned on his John Lennon impression.

"Fancy a dance?" I asked hoping she might fancy me more.

"What's wrong with ya lip?"

"Nothing."

"Yeah there is, it keeps curling up."

"It's just natural," I lied.

"He needs to get dat looked at," said one of her friends.

"Yer wouldn't want to kiss him wid a lip like dat...it might be catchin," chimed in another.

If my confidence had been shaky to begin with it was now non-existent. Maybe I'd fare better tomorrow on the beach?

Next day Dave and Ashy trapped off with a couple of German girls before lunch. I was pretty sure my luck would turn with so many exotic looking females parading on the sand.

I wandered the beach curling my lip (to the left) whilst swigging a bottle of local beer. In my head I was James Dean. In reality I was a skinny kid from Denton wearing a Beatles tee shirt and PVC pants.

"Are you all right?" asked the girl I was chatting up at the beach bar.

"Yes, course, why you asking?"

"Your lip keeps twitching like you have some kind of palsy."

"I'm fine."

"Bells!"

"No, I am honest."

"That's what it's called... Bells Palsy. It's an inability to control the facial muscles."

"How come you know so much about facial muscles?" I asked.

"I'm a nurse."

"Really?"

"In Newcastle."

I'd heard all about nurses from my mates and knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.

"And my legs are extremely hot, " I said, hoping to get a private examination.

"It'll be those plastic pants you're wearing, " she said.

"I'm not incontinent. Honest."

"Let's leave it there shall we? I'm on holiday," and with a slink of her Geordie hips she was gone.

It was late in the afternoon and sunbathers were drifting back to their hotels to slather themselves in aftersun before hitting the clubs.

Meandering along the beach I realised that people leaving it were instantly replaced by stray dogs arriving. Not just the odd stray, but entire packs, all of which appeared to have their own territory.

A few minutes observation told me they were scavenging for food left by the hordes of holidaymakers. For some obscure reason I found myself fascinated by the process. Strong mature males took the best finds regardless of which dog found it. Younger dogs and females got whatever was left.

After almost an hour of scavenging the Alpha male left the beach and the pack followed ready or not. Those that dawdled were swiftly chastised and in some cases nipped into compliance by Alpha's entourage.

The only available choice appeared to be, come voluntarily or face the consequences. I thought it a little harsh before realising that were the pack allowed to disperse freely there would be no pack at all.

Dave and Ashy went AWOL for most of the week so I had ample time to monitor the town's dog population. What I noticed was that all dogs accepted within the pack had to be sociable with their own kind. Nervous, aggressive, unsociable dogs were ostracised. When danger comes knocking lone dogs do not survive.

Initially, I thought the toughest male dog would naturally be the accepted leader, but I was wrong. I spotted a couple of really strong young candidates but they were rejected in favour of an equally tough well-balanced older dog that made less noise but showed more bite (who was also good a curling his lip).

I was told most of these dogs had owners at one time but had been lost or left behind by families on the move and had formed a pack for safety. It seemed to be working pretty well.

Some years later when I travelled further afield I noticed packs of domestic dogs formed after every natural disaster. These dogs had not trained to be members of a dog pack; it was in their DNA. They were motivated by sheer instinct. It was clear every dog wanted the security of a strong pack.

(Anyone claiming domestic dogs do not have natural pack instinct has never been on holiday with Dave and Ashy.)

Photo: Vic with Leather waistcoat and curly lip.

Tags:
From Rags to Bitches, Vic Barlow
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