Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Petty Larceny & Bar Snacks

My memories of student days are all a bit misty.

This is for several reasons related to both studying and pleasure. 

Days at RADA are easier to remember as they were part of a fixed routine.


Up early about seven o’clock, a quick shower, some breakfast, usually porridge  or cornflakes,  depending on the season, a boiled egg and then my fifteen walk from my Frederick Street flat in Kings Cross to RADA in Gower St at about eight.

Classes varied from day to day, but voice and movement were always on the itinerary.

Movement was either classical leaning towards restoration, or modern under Ms June Kemp with her cassette recorder, churning out the pop music of the sixties.

Voice and diction then followed, in the latter we mastered standard Queen’s English and various dialects, under the supervision of Ms Pursley who had us pulling faces, stretching our facial muscles and making “Piggies”.

Our voice classes in the first two terms consisted mostly of us lying on our backs viewing the peeling paint on the ceiling, and discovering how to use our inter-costal-diaphragmatic muscles in our lower chests, so that we could count to a hundred on one breath.

After voice, diction and movement, which happened every day, we would then either have classes in mime and improvisation or go into rehearsals for our term production. The day finished between five and six in the afternoon unless we had evening rehearsals.

Marlbourgh Arms

 Then it was time to visit the nearest hostelry which was called The Marbourgh Arms on Torrington Place, a five minute walk or two minute run from RADA’s front door.

This pub was the starting place for many a night of festivities. My three mates, George, Leonard and Bill were regulars for an early evening pint of Courage Best Bitter, but Leonard was soon onto his favourite, a quadruple vodka and lime, leaving us stragglers to catch up on tots of whiskey if we could afford them.

Len, who had already appeared in the movie “Loneliness of a Long-Distance Runner”, was a master con-artist not just in the bar but also at RADA, where he once managed to get a few hundred quid out of the registrar for some new front teeth that never materialized.

The three of us then drifted on our own excursions into the swinging life of London in the sixties. George usually back to his home in Welling-Garden-City where he lived with his wife and two kids, Bill to his wife-shortly-to-be, a nurse Irene, Len to the bars of Soho, and myself to The Carpenter’s Arms, the local pub opposite my flat in Kings Cross.

The Carpenter’s was a pub with a capital “P”, a remnant from the war years.

Carpenter's Arms

 It had all the attributes that I wish drinking hostelries still had today. A Men’s-Only bar, called for some inane reason the public bar, a lounge in which both sexes could frequent, a snug which was for ladies only.

I know all you free thinking liberal readers of today will think that this is archaic and conservative thinking but I think this separation of imbibing areas was highly successful.

There were “rules and regs” in place that prevented bar room brawls, allowed the ladies to gossip unmolested & peacefully, the men to play bar billiards and darts uninterrupted and swear to their hearts content.

The lounge where the sexes met had a very peaceful feel to it, and the drinks were tuppence or threepence more expensive. No swearing was allowed and meals were served, believe it or not on white linen table-clothed tables with sterling silver cutlery and napkins and the beautiful situation of this pub right opposite a police station made after-hours consumption a normal occurrence when the landlord, Paddy made the correct noises to the most senior officer in the bar.

I shared the Frederick Street basement flat with four, sometimes five, fellow students who were studying to become, accountants, scientists and general loafers. During the three years I stayed there the occupants changed, usually by word of mouth. This happened mostly during the summer break when, apart from myself who had a commitment to the NYT, or as in one summer to a company called Securicor, most of my fellow inhabitants returned to their parent’s homes.

In the summer I was a night security guard, I shared my room with a Scots lad called Agnus. It was he who introduced me to his boss at Securicor, and hence I worked all night guarding such institutions such as Harrods and the Metropolitan Police Ticket archive offices. 

All jobs, as I’m sure you know, have what are called their “Perks”. Free lunches, petrol coupons, tickets to football matches, reduced fares on the transport facilities are a few. With Secuicor it was pens, pencils, fresh exotic cheeses, cold meats and free international phone calls.

A night’s work went as follows.

Between five and six in the afternoon you arrived at the place you were to guard. You telephoned in your arrival to the head office and settled yourself into the security cubicle with book and crossword and hoped that you would not have any intruders. You had to patrol all floors of the establishment every hour and clock in to the check points on every floor, then telephone the head office with the password for that night that told them all was OK.

This usually took about twenty minutes leaving you free for the remaining forty minutes to while away the hour either reading, cross-wording or if you were lucky watching an in-house TV.

Some of the office blocks I watched over were international global companies with offices in all parts of the world. These offices also had to be cleaned. To do this the companies hired teams of cleaners who were brought in around seven in the evening. I had to check them in and search them when they left the following morning at six am.

It was these cleaners who taught me the in & outs of my job and taught me how I could avail myself of the hidden “Perks”.

These Perks involved what was called petty larceny, but one justified the taking of things as the only person loosing out was the international conglomerate, and they could easily replace the missing pens, paper, pencils, typewriter ribbons, ashtrays, cups, saucers, cutlery, tea and coffee that disappeared, either in the cleaner’s handbags or my shoulder bag.

A Molly McIntyre, a young lass from Glasgow let me into the secrets.

“Never take new things! Always used-stuff!”

I never worked out how a used tea-bag could be a profitable acquisition but half finished biros, and half worn down pencils made their way back to Frederick Street.

The main switchboard was my favourite place to spend time.

The sixties model of a switchboard looked a bit like the code-breaking Enigma machine named “Christopher” by Alan Turing who made it. Plug in cables and a wind-up ringing handle. 

Centrally placed at the top of the machine was a time or unit counter that made a record of all calls made out. I made a note of this number, let’s say it was 231 units, I would then press a button which would reduce it to zero. I would then begin my overseas and long distance trunk calls to mates in America, Blackpool, Manchester, Liverpool and Australia. I would constantly watch the counter, and when it was close to the used number of 231, I would cease the calls and dial the speaking clock to get it precisely back to 231.

While I was whiling my nightly hours in the office blocks of Shell, BP and Whimpey Construction, Angus had got himself a fantastic place to guard. 

Harrods Store in Knightsbridge and he made a point of recommending me to his supervisor that I join him for full over-time sessions at the weekends. In those days there was no Sunday trading so that meant we were on duty from 2pm on Saturday till 6am on Monday morning.

Of course this lengthy period would not happen today with the restrictive rules laid down by the government and Trade-Unions, but back in the sixties a thirty-six hour shift was not uncommon. It meant we patrolled Harrods unrestricted by cleaners till they arrived on Sunday night and we could cruise the isles of their delicatessen counters searching for prime Scots fillet, partridge pie imported Brie and Camembert Cheeses from France, and imported European salamis and sausages.

After these long sessions we were given a forty-eight hour turn-around of days off. On these days off the regulars in the Carpenter’s Arms Men’s-Only bar and dart’s team enjoyed delectable bar snacks.

Not a word passed our lips especially to the senior detective from across the road, who really enjoyed the Polish Kielbasas, gherkins and Hungarian Korbacz that was on the snack plates.


Jill Carrott said...

The Marlborough, remember the vodka and limes but dont think I ever managed a quadruple, 4 singles possibly... the Carpenters Arms, a nightly occurrence, though I think I played in the darts team a few times, so was I an honorary male??

Gebo said...

Your downright honesty makes your stories utterly believable.

Sir Cess Poole said...

Thanx Gebo, Your comments greatly appreiated.

Maggie Storey said...

When will the movie be made?