As It Were by John Connolley, Part Four

An old schooolmate
Memory is sometimes a little slow so, if I have to go back occasionally, please forgive me. In this case I was in the local swimming baths. It was May time. I noticed this sailor entering the gates and I glanced at his cap. H.M.S. Hood. I recognized him. It was John Molyneaux, my schoolmate. He was the same age and birth date as myself. After a good chinwag we parted, never to meet again. He went down with the Hood during the Second World War.

Sleeping rough
The train journey was uneventful. One or two passengers in my compartment were dozing most of the time. I was unconcerned, however, because I did not wish to talk anyway.

Well after midnight I reached my destination, St Pancras. I was overawed by the size of the station. It was even bigger than Lime Street, Liverpool. What next? I went outside and got talking to a drifter who told me that if I made my way down Oxford Street I would find an all night café where I could get a drink and a bite to eat. I gave him a cigarette and was on my way. Where was Oxford Street?

I found it and the café. A cup of tea for 2d and a meat pie 2d. Strange eating at that time of night. After leaving the café I sauntered along in the same direction and arrived at Marble Arch. There were a few "down and outs" standing by the railings and I was a bit dubious about approaching them. I just stood around for a while until one chap, decently dressed, came alongside me and we started chatting. Like me he had left home and was drifting. He knew the ropes though. After a while he said, "come on and let's kip down for a while." He had been waiting for a copper to move on and then he got through a stretched rail and into the park. I had to be alert now. I had money, but I was not going to admit it. Morning arrived and another hot day was on the cards. "How do you go on about getting food?" I asked him. "Easy: we will follow this bread man and when he makes a delivery down the steps, I will whip something out of the barrow. Then it is your turn to whip a bottle of milk off a milk man." I am learning. I arranged that we parted for a while each day. I wanted to take in the sights before I made my next move. While we were parted I enjoyed decent food. After three days of "dossing" in the park and eating "borrowed" brekkies I was getting fed up. This was not what I wanted.

"How do you go on about finding work?" I asked him. "Not me," he said. "I'm content, but if you want a job I will show you where Marks' Agency is, but if they find a job for you they will want the first week's wages." "Show me." Along to Soho and into the agency I went. "Yes, we have a position for you but it is a menial job - kitchen porter." I asked them to arrange an interview and said I would take the job if it were offered. "Right, off you go. I will phone the manageress and tell her you are on the way. You know that if you take the position the lady will send me your first week's wages." I told him that was OK.

Seven days a week
I soon found the Albermarle Hotel, Bayswater. "Yes, you seem suitable. When can you start?" I thought to myself - in ten minutes time after I say cheers to my mate. I gave him £1 and told him to have a good feed. I never saw him again.

So, here I am in the big city and in employment too. The chef was a Swiss gentleman and we got on immediately. He was a likeable fellow. His second was Bob, a Geordie who had spent time as a cook on board ships. We hit it off from day one. My pay was 15/- (75p) weekly. Food and accommodation (single room) were free, as was laundry. No restrictions on the use of the bath. I took a lovely bath at my first opportunity.

My job was to keep all the kitchen equipment absolutely clean and, as Bob said, I had to keep watching them and learning. The hours were 7am to 10am for breakfast, 11am to 2pm for lunch and 5.30pm till 9pm for dinner. I had no day off.

Food. My friends made sure I fed well and were very considerate to me. I got the idea that the Swiss chef thought I was a country yokel. So be it. I was perfectly content, but I had experienced similar states of mind before when, suddenly, things went wrong.

For the moment though, all was well. In my off-duty time I intended to discover London. Each afternoon at intervals, I hopped on the 2d tube to ride to some place of note. I always had a yen to visit the East End dock area. However, as I asked a policeman for directions he advised me not to go down that way alone. He said they always patrolled that area in pairs. No argument on that. One day I went down to the Elephant and Castle area and called into the pub of the same name. I got into conversation with a cockney. I could hardly understand anything he said.

Another job
The other staff in the hotel were the various maids and one in particular was a Scots girl, Mary. We often had chats in the staff room. A friendship developed but was short-lived. I was in the staff room one evening listening to the wireless. A maid came in and asked me to go to the bathroom as she had heard a bang and knew that Mary suffered from fits. I was unaware of this. The door was locked and the only way in was over the top. I said, "she may be undressed." She replied, "of course she will be. Get over that wall, open the door and let me in." Luckily Mary had just slumped down prior to entering the bath so she was safe. The girl knew all about Mary's fits and did not panic. "She will come round," she said, so I left them. I had doubts about developing the friendship. However, it was settled for me.

Spring was in the air and it was quite usual for hotel workers to leave London in the summer and go and work at the coastal resorts. My friends were going to do just that. Bob left and I don't know where he went. (I met up with him another time.) Gerry the Swiss chap had found a position at Hunstanton and the day he left he said, "if I can get you with me, will you come?" "Too true" I said.

I was going to find it a bit lonely for the time being. Not for long though. A telegram arrived from Gerry. "Make your way here as soon as possible. The work conditions are an improvement on your present position." Hunstanton here I come. A lovely seaside resort. The accommodation in the village was with a lovely old dear. She would persist in bringing me a cup of tea when she called me in the morning. The position was in the Kit Kat restaurant. The work was similar to the other place. The position was kitchen porter again. The wages were £1-10-0d (£1.50p) per week, all found. Goody goody. Each Saturday night the dining room was cleared and the big carpet rolled up. Dancing took place to a well-known band. I can't remember the name for the life of me. A learned a few steps on these occasions. Mary, the Scots lass, was writing an occasional letter at this time, but my interest was not very keen.

Christmas time
As you may know, Hunstanton is on the east coast in the middle of the U shape that is the Wash. Just out to sea, about two miles, was a lightship. The bandsman got in touch with the crew of the lightship. Could a party come out and entertain the crew for a couple of hours? Sure, just let us know when. You will need to make your own way out and don't forget the beer!!!

A party of five bandsmen and six of us staff from the restaurant went. We all put something in the kitty for expenses and beer. A boatman was arranged to get us to the lightship. On a Wednesday night we went. It was a quiet night for the restaurant. We set off about 8pm. On arrival, after a pleasant sail on very calm waters, we were helped aboard. We were shown around the ship and the skipper explained the reasons for the ship being there. It was mainly to keep vessels off the shallow sandbanks. It was all very interesting.

Then the party started. The ship's cook had prepared snacks and the night went well. Midnight came. Who was for home? Those that could, stood up and shouted "me!" I had noted that the ship was rising and falling a little more than when we arrived. "Just a swell son," said a crewman. I hoped so. We all piled aboard the boat and from that moment I was just very pleased that I could swim. The party members were all tipsy and then the boat began to rock. They were all too daft to see the danger of acting the fool. Anyway, after a rough passage we reached the shore. We bid each other goodnight and went our various ways. The old lady was very concerned and had waited up for me.

Now Gerry had overdone it. He was very ill after the party and did not recover. He eventually returned to Switzerland and I did not see him again.

Park Lane
I stayed on to the end of the season (late October), and then returned to London. I visited Mr Marks and got fixed up with a job in the West End, 8/9 Hertford Street, Park Lane. This was the address of self-contained flats of the "posh" variety. The meals were prepared and served from the kitchen in which I worked. The cook was a lady, a very hard taskmistress but I was able to work well with her.

The cook was prepared to show me a thing or two regarding cookery. She let me prepare staff breakfasts, bacon and various ways of cooking an egg. She let me prepare vegetables and explained the different ways of cooking them. In fact, she made my work very interesting.

The staff consisted of a porter, a houseman, two valets, three maids and a pageboy. I got along very well with them, but I didn't want to get too friendly because I intended to leave London as soon as spring/summer arrived.

Just one moment of anxiety. I developed a swelling on my face and the doctor was a little concerned about it. He had me admitted to St. Stephens Hospital. They too were a little concerned and decided to try and cure it without surgery, as that would mark my face. It took ten days but it all turned out well.

Another lonely Christmas and after dinner I went for a long walk. I was now in touch with my family and sending mum a few bob. Easter came and with it time for me to make a few enquiries. I called on Mr Marks in Soho. "Yes, I can find you something. Whipsnade Zoo will be opening very shortly and I have to provide them with catering staff. Are you willing to go there?" Definitely.
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