Not Not While the Giro was James Kelman’s first major collection of short stories to be published in the UK, and takes the reader from the pub to the Labour Exchange, from the snooker tables to the greyhound track. Written with irony, tenderness and enormous anger, this book confirmed Kelman’s stature as one of the most important fiction writers of the times.
Out of print
Year of Publication
This book can be purchased or ordered from your local independent bookshop or from Waterstones
This excerpt is taken from: pp145-8 Polygon paperback edition (1983)
An extract from the story entitled ‘Keep moving and no questions’
I was watching this drop of water on the tip of an old woman’s nose. It didnt quiver. We were sitting on a bench at a busstop outside St Pancras Station. The rain had stopped some twenty minutes ago. I got a bar of chocolate from a machine. Fifteen pence it cost me. The old yin took the piece I offered and chewed on it for a long time. She had no teeth and was probably allowing this chocolate to slide back and forth over her gums, wearing it down while increasing the saliva flow. She never spoke. Stared straight ahead. I was to her right. I doubt whether she knew I was watching her; doubt whether it would have bothered her anyway. She didnt smoke and I found this surprising. I lighted my own. Although she moved slightly her gaze never altered. The drop of water had gone from her nose. Then the rain again, a slow drizzle. I rose from the bench, making more noise than necessary when I lifted my bag; for some reason I reckoned a quiet movement might have disturbed her.
Along towards Euston I walked. Night lights glinting on the pavement, on the roads and on the roofs and glass fronts of office buildings. And on the moon as well; a moon in full view, to be beheld during this drizzle. I was no longer ambling now. And a good thing this; it was somehow sending me on ahead of myself. Yet at the same time I was aware of the possibility of missing out on something a more leisurely stroll could perhaps have allowed me to participate within. On up, Tavistock way. Nobody about. A brisk pace. My boots were fairly able; no misgivings about stepping into puddles. Across and towards the British Museum and around the back in the shadows, and around the front and back around the back and back around the whole thing for Christ sake.
Onwards. Figures appearing hailing taxi-cabs, going home to their places out the rain. More lighting now, brighter on the main road. Through into the rear of Soho where my pace lessened. Smaller buildings, narrower pavements, railings and basements; rain drops plopping off the edges of things; occasionally sharp lighting giving out from windows where folk would be gathered, snugly. One basement in particular with its iron gate at the top lying ajar. Downstairs I went slowly. A sign on the wall: two quid to enter. Music. One please, I said to this guy inside the lobby who gave out no ticket and stuffed the money into his pocket on the breast of his shirt, buttoning the flap down on it.
The push door made a creaking sound. The lighting dim. A girl singing in this English voice. An English traditional song she was singing in this icy voice. An odd voice; not a voice without feeling. A direct voice, and reminiscent of a singer whose name I couldnt quite rake out although I used to hear her fairly often at one time. All the people there; a lot sitting down on the floor with their backs to the wall, others lying with their hands clasped behind their heads or sitting cross-legged. Couples with arms about shoulders and heads on shoulders. All listening to the girl singing her song.
I sat down in a space next to the back wall and after a moment closed my eyelids. When I opened them again the space to my right had increased to around five yards and a girl was kneeling on the floor with her arms folded. She was alone – but in this direct fashion. Her head stiffly positioned, the neck exactly angled. Only her shoulders twitched. The position must have been uncomfortable. The small of her back there – I can make the curved motion with my hand. And yet only her shoulders made any movement whatsoever!
I closed my eyelids. Footsteps. It was a man making towards her, his manner of moving was only to her though he walked loosely as he threaded the way between people. And now the girl’s shoulders were not even twitching. She had edged her feet from her shoes. Her toes seemed to be maintaining a sort of plumb joint – and her arms! – folded in this direct fashion. Jesus.
He paused a fraction when he arrived, then dropped to his knees, his hands placed on the floor to balance, fingertips pointing on to the side of her limbs he was facing her. But she continued to stare at the singer. Poised there, only her toes working.
He could kneel by her all night but it would still be finished. I could have told him that. She half turned her shoulder and said about three words; her eyes had remained in the direction of the singer. Then the shoulders returned to their former position. His time was up. Your time’s up I said without opening my mouth.
He left, but he was not making a retreat. He was just making his way away from her. Eventually the girl swivelled her knees to stretch out her legs, moved to rest her back against the wall. She opened her handbag but after a brief glance inside she closed it over. She placed it to the blind side from me. I could see her toes now exercising, her knees, and her neck; until finally she relaxed. A bit later I rose to see if they served coffee; I left my chattels lying on the spot.
I bought two and back inside I handed one across to her. Put it to the side of her. Look, I said, all I’m doing is giving you this coffee. Nothing else. Just a coffee. Just take a drop of this coffee.
She didnt reply.
© James Kelman