The Grass Arena - Excerpt 1

Skippering is illegal; also rough. Some skippers are fair; most are bad. One feature common to both - they are all lousy. It is hard to describe to a clean and healthy person just how uncomfortable and degrading it is to share your clothes day and night with a load of parasites: apart from the terrible irritation there is the nasty feeling of self-contempt. Fights break out in the night; the police come in, nick you or throw you out. depending on their mood; any nutcase can walk in, burn the place down while you're in a drunken stupor. You try to sleep in the attic with the birds but end up in the basement with the rats. One day Long John told me about a rough skipper he used now and then when he had some pills - a coal cellar under the road no house above. There was a bombsite. You got to it over a wall and then through a hole in the wall. It was approximately seven foot long. six foot wide and four feet high. There was an old mattress. wet and soggy. It was continually damp - water running down the sides. The butchers used to throw chicken heads and remains over the wall where they landed in a pile at the entrance. This attracted some wildlife -not the sort you see in pet shops. There were long, hungry looking rats. mean crazy- cats, sly eyed mongrel dogs and loads of pigeons and gulls. They worked shifts too: rats and cats at night: birds and dogs in the day. I started to sleep there. No one would ever come near it, I thought not even the police, a good place to curl up in. It allowed me to switch off.

One night I was sick. Awoke about 4 a.m. Big fat Tessa - Ginger Payne's woman - was lying beside me on the damp mattress, which had to some extent been dried by the combined heat of our bodies. Her face and nose bashed in. She has two very deep razor scars - one down each cheek - which she got from Ginger. I was fumbling in my pockets for a dog-end. She awoke...looked in her bag to see if she had been robbed during the night. She gets a few quid on the game. Things seemed to be in order. So she gave me a fag and a light. Pulled out a bottle of wine. What a delightful awakening! Drank the bottle between us. But it didn't cure me, it benefitted my companion more. Leaning over rummaging in her bag, she seemed to have become completely rejuvenated by it. Swiftly pulling out a shiny little mirror she began powdering her face, vigorously patting it over the badly stitched gashes on her battered cheeks. Then breathless from her efforts in the narrow light she turned towards me. Though she herself would have warded tenderness off with a broken bottle (if you tried to put it on her.) She put her arms round me, snuggling up, started kissing. I wasn't ready for this, had not thought about such a thing happening. All her snot and saliva going into my mouth and face. She started getting more sexy. Fuck this lark, I know God said love thy neighbour, but you couldn't when they were all full of snot and slobber. I could bear it no longer. Struggling to escape from under her, I saw Hogan up against the back wall, grinning, enjoying my discomfort. My efforts were making me breathless but I got out at last... Tessa shouting and screaming, full of passion still, but of a different hue, having accepted her hospitality I must now suffer for it. While Hogan roared with laughter.

Sitting in the park, thinking I'd like to be in bed with Sophia Loren. Maybe Hogan will put it about, say I'm a powder puff. The lads would fuck Tessa. They'd fuck anything, there's still a bit of lust left in the dust. I like attractive women, but attractive women don't fuck with park bench winos.

Ginger came out today; caught me pissed. Caught me with a bottle too. Needed stitches in my head. A few days later I caught him in the park, drunk. Broke his nose and kicked a couple of his ribs in - now we're even. Heard the Sham was in hospital; got run over by a lorry. He's lost the will to live; he's also lost an arm, poor cunt. He should do well begging though.


In a world of illimitable ferocity (Statistically one murder a month) The writer thinks it's hardly worth commenting on. It was the norm of life in the Grass Arena. To counteract the causal savagery, Healy, fortunately has at his command compelling prose.

Web Masters Comments


The Dipper looked like something out of Dickens: Long overcoat flapping around his ankles, big mop of hair standing up stiff with dirt, wide-opened surprised look on his face. He's a good pick-pocket, can take a person's watch off their wrist without them feeling a thing. He's fast and quick witted. Drinking in the park one day with a prostitute called Sheila, who's a bit religious; he laid a trail of peanuts up into her bag. A squirrel came down and gobbled them up, and got into the bag for more. Quick as a flash the Dip shut it and turned to Sheila.

'Sheila, are you a prostitute?' he asked all innocent like.

She patted him on the head gently. 'No, no, dear, whatever gave you that idea?'


'Yes dear?'

'Give us a fag'

She opened the bag: SWUSH! The squirrel shot up and out in a flurry blur. Sheila nearly fainted.

Excerpt from: The Grass Arena by John Healy. Published by Faber & Faber First

Published 1988. Reprint 1988. First Published in Paper back 1990. Reprinted in 1990.

© John Healy

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