Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pulling no Punches

Part 2 of my occiaisional and non chronological memoirs.

I was interviewed - if you can call it that by a lady who looked a bit Like Miss Diane from Crossroads but with darker more Suzie Quatro stylee hair. It is strange but I can picture her so clearly. She had a nasty little regulation waistcoat in purple with the brewery logo on the breast. Nicola was the bar staff supervisor. I don't know whether that was an official title bestowed on her after reaching spirit level 2 at the Birmingham headquarters or whether it was a common law title which she took and the poor tired landlord couldn't be bothered to argue with. He was too busy arguing with his wife! I think it was probably because she did it as her full time job whereas the rest of us were jobbing actresses - university in betweeners, second jobbers, evening jobbers, heavy metal fans who wouldn’t be able to hold down a normal job or college students topping up their grants.

We were a motley crew, colourful, came in all shapes and sizes, were roughly all of a similar age 18 - early 20's. Apart from Gloria, who was about 70. She helped out at lunchtime, and again I think had been doing it since just after the hop had been invented. She was very good at mending the glass washer, looked a bit like Dolly from Personal services -'Dolly - you're a man!' and once told me a story during one of our many cigarette breaks out the back, about going away with her brother and being told off for using too much toilet paper! How friends confide.

The interview took place in the loose box, yes how quaint. The pub you see was called the coach and horses, and the old bit of the pub which I used to prefer to work in where all the old biddies would drink too much too early in the morning was known as the Coach, but the newer, ‘livelier’ bar next door was the loose box. It was where the ‘younger’ crowd would go. The Burton’s brigade, girls who drank taboo and coke, their boyfriends in identikit smart casual. How divine, just my cup of tea. Drinks were more expensive in the loose box to take account of this swish, ‘clublike’ experience. And yes there were bouncers on the door who had a baseball bat for when things got a bit out of control, as they usually do when you get drunken teenagers without any brain cells together in one small place with girls to impress and ancient rights of masculinity to master.

I do remember the front of the pub being smashed in one night when someone wasn’t allowed in. How quaint – how Dickensian more like. I always tried v hard to secure shifts in the coach. Although often worked in the loose box during the day where it was more of a shoppers’ lunch stop - very convivial and fantastic roast potatoes which I used to consume by the ladle full. Thanks heavens I was svelte in those days – I was unable to put on any weight and remained a glamorous size 10 well in to my thirties.

Ah yes the interview – it was in the loose box mid afternoon just after the lunchtime shift had finished. Nicola was very impressed with my academic achievements - 3 A levels and 7 O levels under my belt with a place at UCL to read Philosophy on the horizon, my substantial CV – Boots the Chemist (cook shop), babysitting, adult literacy teaching (it was years before I could add dog handling, art appreciation, care for the elderly and wine tasting). I suppose I would have been very polite, very well presented, had good experience of dealing with people in a retail environment. But let’s face it I could be relied upon, string a sentence together, could add up quickly in my head and wasn’t going to start a fight, at least not unless provoked!

The job was mine, and I loved it. I think shift work really suited me, and it was a very social job, most of my friends drank in the pub, I liked chatting to old ladies, what more could I ask for. Oh and those cheese salad baps!

One of the first things that struck me was how bossy old people were and how much they would drink (Pot and kettle I hear some of you saying). Firstly there was Mary, Irish, tight black perm. Now woe betide anyone who was in her seat when she came in. It just wasn’t done. Like the poor bastards that did sit in her seat I had no guidance, no briefing sheet handed to you on arrival. So when I first served her a half of Guinness, I didn’t know she only had it in a certain glass, but she did, and I only made that mistake once. It had to be in a ladies glass. A ladies glass for heaven sake she looked like a bus driver in a bad acrylic wig! Then there was the old guy who always had a glass of water with his Pint of Guinness. Again he didn’t ask for it, we were simply expected to know and accept the grimace and snarl (good name for a pub) when you didn’t give it to him. He was like the Benny Hill Character with the thick specs – Cosmo Small Piece, but skinnier and older – mac wearer. There were a lot of mac wearers, but I’ll come to that later. My other old bossy person of whom I did wrong on first serving was another little old lady (with hidden strength) who would come in of a morning after she had done her shopping. She’d always have a sherry. And why not, a sherry after shopping is a lovely thing. So on our first meeting she walked up to the bar, half Ethel from Enders and half faded Barbara Castle, and asked for a schooner of sherry. So I got a sherry glass out and filled it for her. But no, that wasn’t a schooner, a schooner, as I was soon to became acquainted, was a vase like looking half pint glass masquerading as a sherry receptacle. So a half pint of sherry it is madam, anything else – a wasp to chew per chance? Oh I am sorry is that madam’s normal face. Then there was a very funny old French woman who looked a little bit like Maureen from driving school meets SuBo but with a touch of Piaf about her. She was a dying breed, for she was a mild drinker, and half a mild in a glass with a handle is what she required, and what she was duly served.

I think there is something very important for these old timers about being able to walk into the pub, be greeted with a ‘hello enter your name here’ from the youngster behind the bar, followed with a ‘your usual?’ and to find your favourite seat by the gas appliance to be devoid of stranger. So to that end I fulfilled my role and made them feel as if they were important even if they weren’t.

So to the mac wearer. His name was Brian and he was a weasel of a land that time forget stylee nhs specs wearing weirdo. Again a bit of a Benny Hill dirty old man. He did actually wear a dirty old mac. He would always sit on the bar stool at the end of the bar next to our escape hatch, so we had to pass him every time we left the safety of the bar to go and collect glasses, have a fag, empty an ashtray etc etc. Now I think about it I don’t like it that he was sat in such close proximity to the young firm flesh that was us the staff. One night when I was in socialising on a night off, me and John, one of the other bar staff, had been playing the fruit machine, forever in the hope of a big win, and having a general laugh. Brian was always on the machines and we knew him to be a bit of a gambler. Earlier in the night he had shown me a photocopied sheet detailing the alphabet and for each letter there was a rude drawing. This must have been very early Gestetner porn. I can picture his screwed up Steptoe face now, looking to see if there was a glimmer of excitement in my eyes. B is for Big Boobs!! Hold me down won’t you – call the nurse! I don’t think so. So towards the end of the evening he said, and I have to apologise here for my ridiculous naivety, he said ‘I’d like to play with you’. Now I thought because of all the gambling chat etc etc he meant, and I’m so sorry for my stupidity, I thought he meant he wanted to have an after hours game of cards or something. But I wasn’t sure. So I asked him what exactly he meant, and he said ‘I’d just put my hand down the front of your trousers, I’d give you a fiver!’ A fiver – I didn’t get out of bed for anything less that £42.50 in those days. I was shocked, I was appalled, and I was confused as to how to handle this vile unwashed, slightly damp proposition. So I thought on the spot and said to him that the answer was a definite no, that he should never speak to me or any other member of staff like that again and if he agreed to that we could consider the matter closed. He sheepishly agreed, and he actually didn’t come in ever again. I told everyone anyway. But really I was prime teen totty, a fiver, the shame of it. It was the first and last time I was offered money for favours of the flesh.

Working in the pub wasn’t all plain sailing, getting frisky offers from dodgy old men and having to find the right glass for the right old biddy. No, there were the dogs. All pubs have dogs, part security, part communal companion, but the dogs here were like the ones from the Omen. Not once did I think they weren’t going to have one of my limbs off. Nasty Rottweilers, barky, make you mess yourself scary, fast running thug dogs! Each time they came down into the bar I would stand flush to the wall in hope of my life. They would usually be following the Pug Princess, one of the most annoying and ugly young ladies I have ever met. She thought as she was the land lady’s daughter that she was some sort of cut above the rest of us. What she didn’t realise was that actually she lived in shit boozer and was way ugly. Anyway the dogs would follow her down the stairs like Satan’s foot soldiers. She would frolic with them as if they were toy poodles. But I wasn’t going to take any chances.

Every morning we'd have to bottle up. This meant counting how many spaces you had on all your shelves and going out back to replenish appropriately. But to get to the store shed where all the bottles were kept, you had to cross the yard and pass the kennels, or even worse the dogs may actually be out in the yard. Their owners you see were under the misapprehension that these devil dogs were in fact homely play things. We would work in pairs keeping look out and if necessary throwing hunks of meat in the opposite direction in order to create the smallest of windows of safe passage. Once in the shed you were fine, but then trying to get back to the pub was just the same. If you remember from Tom and Jerry, Tom creeping past the big sleeping dog in the yard, it was very much like that. Luckily my time at the pub passed mostly without scar.

I think if anything scarred me during my time it was the night Duncan left. Duncan was one of the key bar staff and previous to my arrival had been the stalwart of the rota and a smiling permanent fixture. He looked a bit like Alan Davis if I remember correctly, in fact it might have been Alan Davis, I’ll check that later. For Duncan’s last night they had arranged a bit of a surprise. The word went out that there would be a bit of a lock in after for a private staff and key regulars only party. So there we were, we’d cleaned up and I’d kicked off my mules and was on my second brandy and babycham. Obviously people had been buying him drinks all night, he was a popular member of the staff and the locals liked him. What he didn’t know was that all night long the manager had been topping all his drinks up with vodka. So come the end of the shift and the start of the celebrations he was unable to stand up shit the bed drunk! Then in they came, San and Trace aka the fat slags. I’m not sure where they’d been hiding, but they probably been upstairs in the flat powdering their love bites. It was real reader’s wives from hell stuff, they soon had themselves and him stripped off. He was lying helpless on the bar floor as these whores of Beelzebub mimicked sitting on his face and riding his shit the bed drunk cock. It was cruel; it was like watching an animal being bated for entertainment – dancing bears, monkeys in top hats, that sort of thing. I knew it was wrong, and it made me so angry. I remember everyone else thinking it was so funny, and laughing; no one thought it was out of order, offensive or a cruel circus spectacle. Presumably for many of the assembled gaggle this was the first and perhaps last time they would ever see the flesh of another human being and so they were making the most of it. Anyway I left as soon as I could after a struggle with the drunk land lady who was refusing to unlock the door in a ‘forty two and no bra – not bad eh’ sort of way.

However, don’t get me wrong I did enjoy my time and as I draw this sorry tale to a close, the thing I remember most is how John used to swap all the Radio 2 stylee tapes sent by the brewery to be played during opening hours with mix after mix of gay dance anthems and HiNRG, not one punter noticed, they all bopped away, never knowing that they were listening to poofs music! You should have seen the Burton’s brigade getting on down to Man to Man’s Male stripper, Sinitta, Divine and Hazel Dean – they’d have messed themselves if they’d known. Oh well and Hoorah!

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