Celtic Illumination, part 54, Watneys Red Barrel, melting socks and toast.
Jimmy the Link and myself made it back to Uxbridge safely, amazed that what had promised to be a well organised and peaceful event had descended into mayhem. Although the pair of us were used to extreme violence and rioting the riot at Windsor was strange, it didn’t fit. I have to admit I did enjoy exploring London. My favourite spot was to go to Piccadilly Circus and sit under the statue of Anteros. There was a market there, under where all the huge displays and neon signs are now, selling all sorts of hippy paraphernalia and I would just watch all the cool cats wander in and out.
It’s where I was offered my first ever drug deal. I was simply wandering along when a young couple, boy and girl, pushing a pram stopped and asked me if I would like any blues, or reds, or uppers, or downers. I hadn’t the faintest idea what they were talking about and dutifully enquired. They began to explain but a young constable who had rounded the corner, and was approaching us in a northerly direction, had them zooming off down the road with me still none the wiser, although I think it was the first time I had ever been referred to as a stupid Irishman.
It was excitingly strange to wander through Soho and have so many women ask me if I would like a good time. Sure it was summer, I had been expelled, twice, from Violent Hell, I was unsupervised and in London, I was having a great time on my own, all by myself. I began to visit the usual tourist spots but wasn’t impressed. I was more interested in watching people. I especially loved watching the men on Oxford Street selling, what they claimed to be, knock off perfume, jewellery, or watches.
We did choose one specific pub to visit, more than once a week, which was the Greyhound pub in Hammersmith. Apart from the fact that many of the popular groups at the time would congregate there it was full of interesting people. It would not be strange to find a middle aged man in a boiler suit on your right and someone in six inch high, silver, platform boots and a lime green faux fur jacket on your right. Brian Ferry and his group were quite often there as were all the big glam rock stars.
The pub itself was quite interesting. It was over three floors and the two top floors had large openings. A band would perform on the ground floor and everyone around, and above, could watch and appreciate their act. The beer was shite. I ordered my first pint of Watneys Red Barrel, drank it and walked straight into the gents toilet where I brought every last drop up.
We also learned a few tricks while in London like how to travel on the underground without paying any money. It wasn’t an underhand trick but quite necessary for we were partying hard and with pay day falling each Thursday we would often have no money on a Wednesday morning or even Tuesday night, if it had been a particularly good weekend..
I do remember once that we were completely broke. We had a kettle in our room and a toaster so would often have tea and toast. We were so extravagant we would even throw away the heel of the bread. One week, with no money, and after a full day’s physical labour in the factory, I can remember Finbar and myself taking a couple of heels from the bin. Scraping the tea leaves and cigarette ash off them and then toasting them, as they were a bit stale anyway. Immediately after receiving our pay we would be in the canteen eating as if there were no tomorrow.
I found it interesting that although we were in London, away from home, surrounded with people from all over the world, we gravitated to our own. I even ended up dating a girl from Newry, in London. She was working as a chambermaid in a large hotel. There was a party one night at her flat and at the time my feet would stink to high heaven. So every evening I would wash my socks and leave them somewhere so that I would have a clean and dry pair in the morning. I went through my normal routine but next morning found that my socks had melted on the radiator where I had left them. With bare feet in shoes I felt quite odd and went off to find a shop where I could buy some new ones. This was in the Shepherd’s Bush area of London and to my horror I walked into an outside scene that was being recorded for the popular Television show Steptoe and Son. For years afterwards I would hide when the programme came on for I was too ashamed of appearing on the television with no socks on. I know, how awful!
There was almost another riot during our time in London. The foreman came to the machine where Finbar and I worked. We operated a saw that required two men to operate it. Pallet loads of asbestos sheets would be delivered we would pick one up, feed it into the saw, move to the far side, collect the now neat and clean piece and place it on a pile. It was boring work. Now and again the whole shop floor would come together and we would all be required to work on this huge contraption where massive asbestos sheet were fed in. Scrap pieces would fly everywhere, everyone was shouting orders and instructions, even if they didn’t know what they were doing, it was great fun.
I do still wonder if one day I shall fall ill. Mention asbestos these days and people immediately pull on a face mask, rubber gloves and protective clothing, and no, we are not back to perverts. We would be standing in two inches of asbestos dust and I do remember thinking that it had a particularly sweet smell. I digress. The foreman informed us that the factory was to close for its annual fortnightly holiday. Finbar and myself complained. We had signed on to work for the summer, if we had wanted a holiday we would have gone to Butlins.
The management agreed that we could work with the maintenance crew for the fortnight and we did. It was nice to have something interesting to do. We had to climb on top of the ovens where the asbestos sheets were cooked, un bolt and remove the extractor fans, inspect the blades, replace any broken ones and then put the whole thing back together again. We were being treated as grownups and it was nice.