Frank Andino was one of the first men to join the Larkspur Academy. In July 1890, when we first enter Academy House in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, Frank is already there. The narrator introduces him thus: the dark man who had sworn had a more familiar East End accent and was known for using swearwords in every other sentence.
Frank certainly uses colourful language, as you will see.
Frank Andino plays a major part in the 4th Larkspur Mystery (due out in April 2022), so I thought it was time we knew a little more about him. Just after New Year 1891, when he was twenty years old, I met him in the comfortable drawing room of Academy House and asked him a few probing questions.
Hello, Frank. Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me your full name and if you have any nicknames?
Yeah, alright, if you must. Me name…? If you want the full whack, try putting your lips around Ozias Philimonas Andinopoulos.
I s’pose Frank’s me nickname, and I’ll tell you why. There ain’t too many Greeks in London, see, and we had the tailoring business. You put up a shop sign saying Tailoring by Athanasios Andinopoulos and Son, and not only won’t you get much trade, you’d run out of flippin’ paint. Athanasios is me dad, see. Calls himself Tony. Calls me Frank ’cos it’s more English. Easier to fit in when you’re an immigrant.
So, you weren’t born in London?
No, mate. Fucking Greek, ain’t I? Mind you, I was only born in Greece. Came to London when I was a moro—a baby—so that’s all I’ve ever known.
I can see you quite clearly, of course, but for our readers, can you describe your features so they can picture you?
Yeah, alright. About five feet seven, strong build, see. Stocky, they call it. But furry, dark skin, handsome as fuck. [He winks at me in a suggestive manner.] Black hair, bit curly. Dark brown eyes, a smile that melts a man’s heart… Usual kind of Greek looks. Classic Greek grower down there, too, if you know what I mean.
I didn’t, so I asked, and he treated me to a description of his private parts.
Want to see?
No, thank you. Let’s move on.
Tell me about your childhood.
Bloody marvellous, mate. Except it weren’t, of course. Me mum and dad, see, they came over in 1870. They was living in a small village on a small island, and there weren’t nothing going on apart from fishing and farming, and me dad had bigger aspirations than looking after goats and fucking sheep. I mean… just goats and sheep. So, he borrowed some money from the family, and just after I were born, got us a passage on a steamer. Came to London, found work easy enough ’cos he’s a talented tailor, and after a few years of that, set himself up with his own shop, Tony Andino, Tailors. Don’t need such a big shop sign, see.
Anyway, they had a decent income. I got the basic schooling but didn’t pay much attention to it, ’cos it were all words and shit, but I was really good with numbers. Most days, I’d help me dad behind the shop, picking up scraps, sweeping, he taught me how to stitch then line-out, use patterns, cut and stuff, so I ended up working in the shop with him instead of going to school. This were in Greychurch, not far from Shoreditch where there was a good tailoring trade, see? Me mum had fucked off by them. Some grimy French sailor, me dad said, but whatever. Me and dad worked the shop from when I were about ten up to last year.So, me childhood… Well, it were alright, I suppose. Work, mainly. Work and counting numbers, ’cos I’ve always been fascinated by numbers. Sewing. Did a lot of that. Didn’t have much mates ’cos the Greeks in London, see, well, there ain’t so many of us, but me dad did make me learn the fucking language, so at least I speak both now. Probably speak Greek better than I do bloody English.
Next, I’d like to get personal.
Bet you would, malaka. Nah, go on. What?
You are twenty now, and you are living in a house with other men… of a similar heart, we might say. Have you become friends with any of them? Or more than friends?
I’m everyone’s mate. Joe, the deaf bloke, he’s me mate. Then there’s Clem. I’m helping him set up a business ’cos that’s his talent, but he ain’t so good with accounts and shit, and that’s what I do. Dalston’s a good mate too, but as for more than friends? You mean sex and that, yeah? Being honest, no, not got anyone like that.
But you’d like to have someone?
Wouldn’t we all, malaka? Yeah, ’course I would. I mean, I won’t lie to you. When I first saw Dalston, I thought, ‘Fuck, he’s a handsome lad, wouldn’t mind having a go around that lanky body and see what he’s hiding in his slant pockets. You know, what’s he got behind his fly piece? I’d love to measure the inseam from the lower ankle to the crotch bottom and above, if you get me. But Dalston was already stitched up with Joe, so that was out. Since then… No, not got anyone special, but all me mates are special, and I’d do anything for them.
You’ve not had a first kiss yet then?
Fuck off, ’course I have. But I ain’t telling you about it.
Oh, alright then. I was sixteen, and he was a tar off the ships down Limehouse, and it only lasted, like, three seconds ’cos he was drunk and thought I was a Ratcliffe whore. Long story. Too much beer, not enough gas light.
And an accidental kiss is as far as you’ve gone?
Oh no, mate. I gone further than that. I had to when me dad got put inside. Had to make a living somehow. That’s how I ended up down the alleys of Greychurch with the other lads, putting it about for a sixpence so’s we could eat. Not saying it’s the best way of making a shilling ’cos it ain’t. It’s dirty, dangerous and a bit more than dodgy, what with the rozzers on one side and the creeps and crazies on the other. Still, when you’re young, got a fit frame, no shame and a fucking Greek grower… Well, Lord Sir Ponsonby Ponce will pay a good guinea for a good grinding. Only thing is, as the lads said, you got a be ready to be ground if you want to make a pound.
I see. And does that mean you don’t believe in true love, or finding a soul mate?
Why should it? It were a job, that renting lark, but it’s in me past now. I would say it were behind me, but that’s where it was a lot of the time, and having your face pressed against a slimy Greychurch wall ain’t the way to find true love. But I still believe in it.
One day, someone’s going to come along, and soon as I see him, I’ll know. It’ll feel right, like two halves of the same pattern coming together in one seam.
Here, look at this… [He takes out his pocket watch.] Don’t know how he knows what to write, but every man at the academy gets one of these from Fleet, see? We’re here for a couple of days, and one of these pops up, and everyone’s’ is different. He gets the backs engraved with something, and mine says, ‘Love is one soul in two bodies.’ Fleet said it were his version of something said by this bloke called Aristotle, but it’s what I believe, so there you go.
Who or what would you die for, or otherwise go to extremes for?
Me mates. Next?
Who do you look up to?
Dalston ’cos he’s six feet tall. Mr Andrej at the stables ’cos he’s six feet four. Nah, only joking. I’d say me dad, ’cos he took the rap for me and went to gaol when it were me what fiddled the tax, but apart from him, I have to say Fleet.
He’s the man who runs the Larkspur Academy, yes?’
He’s a fucking nutter, is what Fleet is, but yeah, he somehow runs this place. He ain’t a teacher, but he is a professor, or was. He ain’t a dad figure, though he’s always there with some bit of advice when you need it. He knows just about everything about anything, and he’s right smart. Dresses like a clown, and has some weird habits, but he always knows the right thing to say at the right time, though he never tells you what to do.
And what is the greatest thing Fleet has taught you since you have been living at the academy?
Bloody hell… That’s a hard one. You don’t actually know Fleet is teaching you anything, see? Not at the time. But later, you realise he’s said something you took in, and he were dead right about it. Er… He teaches us words, how to get along… The main thing, though, I s’pose, is that he’s taught me it ain’t wrong to be loyal to your mates, ’cos in this world, if you ain’t got mates, what have you got?
I understand the academy is only a temporary arrangement. With that in mind, where do you see yourself in five years?
How the fuck do I know, malaka?
Yeah, you’re right, though. Some men have only stayed a couple of months here before Lord Clearwater’s organisation found them a decent job and place to live. Others, like me and Clem, we’ve been here eight months already, but there’s no pressure for you to move on or nothing. Right now, I’m helping Clem organise his business what he’s doing with His Lordship, and Fleet says I should put me mind to bookkeeping, but we’ll see. Me dad’s getting out of debtor’s prison soon-ish, and I’d like to bring him down here to Cornwall and set him up somewhere, so I might go back to tailoring, accounting, but probably not renting, though I don’t mind a bit of anonymous tickle-tail now and then.
What I’d like though, would be to have a safe place to be with me man, whoever that turns out to be. Don’t mind where, nor what I’m doing, being honest, as long as I got good mates to look after and a beau to be with. We’ll see, though. Like I always say, you take each day as it slaps you round the head, and fucking get on with it.
We are running out of time, so just two more questions. Tell me, Frank, just for fun, what do you have in your pocket right now?
You’re a nosey fucker, ain’t ya? Right now, I got me pocket watch in me waistcoat, an handkerchief in me jacket along with… Ten shillings and sixpence ha’penny, and a note to remind me to… Oh, shit. I forgot to do that. Never mind. And in me trousers, I got me classic Greek grower hanging at five but ready to go to seven. Next?
Finally, I understand there have been sightings of a ghost on the Larkspur estate. What is your take on that?
Bloody hell, malaka, why didn’t you ask me this before? This kind of thing’s right up me back jacksie ’cos me dad saw a ghost once. Yeah, I don’t know what’s been going on out there, but people are talking of seeing this weird thing late at night, and they’ve been hearing strange noises inside the Hall as well. Arthur… he’s one of the lads what works in the kitchens, but comes over here to deliver messages and shit… He says some of the maids are thinking of leaving ’cos they’re scared. You don’t need to be scared of ghosts, I say, you just got to believe in them. Arthur said, His Lordship and Mr Payne, his steward what runs the estate, they’s thinking of bringing in someone to hunt it, you know, like they do. Don’t know who, mind you, but if they don’t sort it out soon, he’s not going to have any staff left.
You’ve not seen it yet?
No, mate. But I hope to.
You think ghosts are real?
’Course I fucking do, and I tell you what, given half a chance, I’ll prove it.