February 22 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Stanley Green. “OK, move on, nothing to see here”.
In a year of round figure anniversaries — 800 since Magna Carta; 600 since Agincourt; 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo finally ended Napoleon’s career; Dunkirk (75); the end of the Second War (70) and the death of Winston Churchill (50), is there even space in the calendar to remember Stanley?
And come to think of it, who was Stanley Green?
Firstly, yes there’s more than enough room to recall this worthy original. Every city large or small has folk like Stanley. These people are the street furniture of life, but their presence is almost always poorly recorded in the source material of history as their presence fades after their death — unless we do so.
What sort of people do I mean? The true eccentrics. For Dublin it was once Johnny Forty Coats, a tramp — or possibly a succession who inherited the guise at the passing of a predecessor like clowns. Forty Coats did indeed overdress some, though who would wish to strip the layers to count? For a time in San Francisco my personal bete noir was a rollerskating nun of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. London’s Fulham Road used to have a man who would rather die than walk on the cracks between paving stones and yet he continually walked up and down the street, tapping the pavement with a cane and challenging himself with relentlessness.
History does occasionally glimpse such originals. I once discovered that in the 18th and early 19th century there used to be an inn, restaurant, hostelry, call it what you will, on the south side of the Thames opposite Chelsea Bridge in London. It was called the Red House. In the summer you could hire a booth in its riverside gardens for private dining. As the gardens ran down to the shallow and reedy banks, you could also do a bit of recreational duck hunting.
That was where the eccentric known as the Nut Man came in useful. If there were no birds to shoot, and for a certain sum of money, the Nut Man, who did indeed sell nuts, and was himself almost certainly nuts, would wade into the shallows and allow the toffs to have a pop at him with a gun loaded with bird shot.
Back to Stanley. Would it help if I said “The Passion Protein Man”? Or that bloke with the placard demanding “less lust” and “less sitting down”?
Tourists and Londoners alike from the late sixties to the nineties will have seen Stanley. He was the tall, thin man in mackintosh or anorak and an Afrika Korps-style forage cap on his head who arrived on his bike from Ealing where he lived and paraded most days from Oxford Circus along Oxford Street towards Bond Street sometimes straying into Regent Street.
His placard said it all, but for those wishing to learn more of the perils of a prawn could buy his pamphlet. It was amateurishly printed and hand stapled. I know because I have one. Inside is a gentle polemic barkingly expressed about the aforementioned hazards of a sedentary, lustful pea-indulging lifestyle.
Having said how transient the record of these idiot savants is, history treated Stanley more kindly than most. In his life he featured in newspaper and magazine articles and at his death in 1993 his obituary appeared in three of the UK’s broadsheet papers. The Museum of London bought his placard.
I bet you have known of someone like Stanley, Johnny Fortycoats or the Nut Man. I would argue that you owe it to them and to history to record your remembrances of them, either on your own blog or here as a comment.