I am nervous as I approach the Cogent Arms, George’s favourite public house. I can see his silhouette in the large front window – the outline of his trademark fedora clear through the frosted glass.
I enter and nod at the barman. He knows I’m here to speak to George. Postcard George. The most famous print designer in all of London Towne.
‘You okay if I describe you?’
‘In the piece you writing fo’ that newspaper?’ he asks.
‘No, I’d rather you didn’t. Apart from the things that folks a’ready know. Like the hat. And the beard.’
He has a beard.
‘I suppose you got a lot of questions?’
‘Why this? Why these?’ I ask.
‘I got the idea from my old friend, you know Isaac?’
‘Yeah – Chicken Isaacs, they call him in the trade. He done do all the signs for the chicken shops. He been designing them boys since the nineteen sixties.’
He has a way of saying ‘nineteen sixties’ that makes it sound more musical a phrase than anything that can be found in the entire Beatles back catalogue.
‘Ah,’ I say, ‘you saw that he had a niche and you should -‘
‘That’s what he said, that’s exactly what he said! You gotta find yourself a niche, George, he said. And I thought about it for about a year. And that whole year I didn’t do be making a penny. Jus’ writing up signs for pubs. “Two jacket potatoes for a fiver”, that sorta thing and the whole time I’m thinking. What be my niche?’
‘And when did inspiration strike?’
‘It didn’t strike so much as holler. Toothless Trisha, she used to work out of this very pub, she be complaining loud by that bar one night there that she don’t have no way to be getting young men to visit with her. She can’t walk the streets and smile on account of her having no teeth, so she needed some form of alternative marketing. You see?’
‘So’s I offer to put a photo of her onto a postcard. If you print about five hunnerd, you can get ‘em for about twopence a piece. And put them wherever you want, I said to her. It got everything on it. Yer name, yer phone number, whereabouts you can be found. You see?’
‘And from there,’ he says, ‘they all come to me. And I became Postcard George. And that’s pretty much the end of the story.’
Of course it isn’t. But George doesn’t want to talk about the fame, the fortune or the eventual crisis of conscience that led to him finding God. A God that might well frown on his work – work that he carries out to this very day.
‘No, see – I square it with the Lord.’
‘How so?’ I ask.
‘For every ten girls I do a postcard for, I do one for The Church. Same principles, you see. Our phone number, our location – where you can find us, if you need us.’
‘And that works?’ I ask.
He is about to elaborate when the barman interjects.
‘George… Your seven o’clock service.’
And with that George puts on his dog collar, nods an apology for cutting our interview short and leaves to lead others in praise.
I wait a while, listening to the praying and singing ringing out from the back room of the Cogent Arms.
And then I leave too.