Thursday, 15 September 2011

Calling Time

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 wore a black A-line skirt and a nasty little regulation waistcoat in purple polyester with the brewery logo on the breast. Irene 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 had given herself and the poor tired landlord couldn't be bothered to argue with. He was too busy arguing with his wife, very loudly most of the time. I think it was probably because she did it as her full time job whereas the rest of us were jobbing actresses, Saturday boys, 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, and came in all shapes and sizes. We were roughly of a similar age 18 - early 20's. Apart from Gloria that is, who was about 70. She helped out at lunchtime, and I think had been doing it since just after the hop was 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! True 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’ and it was the haven of the young crowd. This mainly consisted of over made up girls who drank taboo and coke, their boyfriends in identikit Burton’s smart casual, and friends of staff hoping to get 'discounted' booze!

Drinks were more expensive in the Loose Box to take account of this swish, ‘club like’ experience, and yes there were bouncers on the door. One of them had a baseball bat in the back of his maxi for when things got a bit out of control, as they usually do when you get drunken teenagers together in one small place with girls to impress and ancient rights of masculinity to master. And Kouros! I do recall the front of the pub being smashed in one night when someone wasn’t allowed in. I remember thinking ‘how Dickensian’ as I stepped over broken glass arriving for my morning shift the following day. Classy stuff.

I always tried v hard to secure evening shifts in the Coach. Although I often worked in the loose box during the day where it was more of a shoppers’ lunch stop - very convivial and with fantastic roast potatoes which I consumed by the ladle full. Luckily I was unable to put on any weight until my 30’s and remained a glamorous size 10 throughout.

Getting back to the interview – it was in the Loose Box, think Crossroads Motel meets school disco, mid-afternoon just after the lunchtime shift had finished. A bar styled and existing only for the night time is a strange place during the day, like school in the middle of a holiday or a workplace at the weekend. It doesn’t feel right, but is quite relaxed in a fun way. 

Irene was very impressed with my academic achievements - 3 A levels, 7 O levels and recorder level 1 under my belt with a place at England’s 3rd University to read Philosophy on the horizon. My substantial CV – Boots the Chemist (Cook Shop), babysitting and adult literacy teaching erred strongly on the impressive no doubt. It was years though before I could add art appreciation and wine tasting to the list, but what was there must have reeked of potential. Apart from my exuberant vitae I suppose I would have been very polite, well presented, not yet annoyingly sarcastic and overbearingly correct and offering demonstrable experience of dealing with people in the retail environ-ment. But let’s face it I looked and sounded reliable, could string a sentence together, add up quickly in my head, washed, and wasn’t going to start a fight, at least not unless heavily 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, and those cheese salad baps! What more could I ask for. Oh those baps!

The only thing I remember about my induction, apart from Dolly showing me how to mend the glass machine whilst dropping ash everywhere, (you didn’t have to drop ash everywhere whilst mending the machine, it’s just hard not to when you are constantly smoking) was the chapter in the brewery staff manual about the listening role of the bartender. We were there to listen, to give a sympathetic ear, to counsel, a warm offering when life was cold, and to sell drunks pork scratchings and baps.

One of the first things that struck me, and a lesson I have tried to take into my own later life, was how bossy old people are and how much they like to drink. Firstly there was Mary; Irish, tight black perm. Now woe betides anyone who was in her seat when she came in. It just wasn’t done. Like the poor bastards who unwittingly did sit in her seat I had no guidance, no briefing sheet handed to me on arrival, no warning. So when I first served her 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, and no one told me he liked it, I was simply expected to know and accept the grimace and snarl (good name for a pub) when at first I didn’t give it to him. He was like the Benny Hill character - Cosmo Small Piece, but skinnier and older – mac wearer. There were a lot of mac wearers, but I’ll come to that later. Another old bossy person of whom I did wrong on first serving was a harmless looking 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. Now I knew about sherry glasses, so I was way ahead of her here. I got a sherry glass out and filled it with medium sweet, very pleased with myself for getting it right. But no, and if looks could kill. Apparently that wasn’t a schooner, a schooner, as I was soon to became acquainted, wasn’t actually a sherry glass at all but rather it was a vase like looking half pint glass on a stem simply masquerading as a sherry glass. 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 the funny old French woman who looked a little bit like Mrs Polouvicka from To The Manor Born. 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, from the second time I served her onwards.

I think there was 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 (re-enter your name here)?’ 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 though they weren’t. But how complicated it was getting it all right.

So back to the mac wearers and the chief mac wearer in particular. 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 character. 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 ashtrays, have a fag, have a fag, etc., etc. I didn’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 my night off, I and 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. I should have seen all the signs, but I wasn’t as savvy in those days; I hadn’t been soiled and bruised as now. Earlier in the night he had excitedly shown me a tatty photocopied sheet detailing a cartoon 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 any flicker at all of excitement in my young eyes. B is for Big Boobs!! Hold me down won’t you – call the nurse! I don’t think 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 again 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
and I’d give you a fiver’.

A fiver! – I didn’t get out of bed for anything less that £7.50 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 my feet 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 ever come in 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 ever offered money for favours of the flesh - that I can remember.

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 wasn’t the whole story. No, there were also 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 an attempt to preserve 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 landlady’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 too ugly to really waste oxygen on. She thought she was the Queen of Sheba. 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 with a crate 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 a look out and if necessary throwing hunks of meat in the opposite direction in order to create a diversion and the smallest window of safe passage. Once in the shed you were fine, but then trying to get back to the pub was just as hard and just as dangerous. 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 did scar me during my time it was the night Roger left. Roger 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 Roger’s last night they had arranged a bit of a ‘surprise’. The word went out that there would be 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 Roger 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 landlord had been topping his drinks up with vodka. So come the end of the shift and the start of the ‘celebrations’ he was unable to stand up and was shit the bed drunk! Then in they came, San and Trace. I’m not sure where they’d been hiding, but they’d probably been upstairs in the flat powdering their love bites. It was real readers’ wives from hell stuff, and they soon had themselves and him stripped off. He was lying helpless on the bar floor grimacing as these whores of Beelzebub squatted, hovering over his face and mimicked riding his member virilis. 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 very angry. I remember everyone else thinking it was so, so funny, and laughing and loving it all. 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 for free and so they were jolly well going to make the most of it. Anyway I left as soon as I could after a lengthy struggle with the drunk landlady who was refusing to unlock the door in a winking ‘forty two and no bra – not bad eh’ sort of way.

Don’t get me wrong I did mostly really enjoy my time there and as I draw this sorry tale to a close, the thing I remember most is how one of my fellow pint pullers; a gayer, 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!


4 comments:

teamgloria.com said...

oh, darling, william - genius once more.

you had us right at the man-with-mac and the naughty piece of paper - remember it well - we did many a spell at a "public house" In Our Youth.

those carpets.......

love from us at team gloria xx

teamgloria.com said...

oh, darling, william - genius once more.

you had us right at the man-with-mac and the naughty piece of paper - remember it well - we did many a spell at a "public house" In Our Youth.

those carpets.......

love from us at team gloria xx

Michael Patrick McKinley said...

Thank you for this delightful recollection. I too tended bar in my early 20’s, and I’ll never forget working in “the goldfish bowl” …and all the colorful characters I met there.

Oh, and Dolly. I do believe I worked banquets with her at the Astor Hotel. From 92-95. She walked with a slight lilt to the right from having carried an oval tray on her left shoulder for 50 years. Besides, I’d know that trail of ash anywhere. Handy with a glass washer, she was.

You weave a wonderful tale, Will Godwin.

How far will a fiver get me these days?

teamgloria.com said...

darling william

cancer or no cancer - Cornwall next June?

do say yes.

we ADORE YOU.

_tg xxx