Tart Shaped Box


Barry Beany Bathes 

They moved us to the New Forest and a 200 seater carvery that turned over 3 times on Sundays, where a Welsh chef called Taff would grind out his cigarette  with the heel of a steel capped boot and call them bastids as they surrounded the building like a pack of feral animals on their never ending quest  for Yorkshire puddings.
“I’m sweatin’ an orchard by yere” he groaned after a night on the cider.
The first sitting of Sunday lunch, a choice of a salad bar  *with prawns* (which would be decimated instantly) 3 roasts and as much veg as could be carried on a dinner plate, ended  with someone taking their life in their hands walking through the crowd with a dessert trolley containing Missisippi Mud Pie , Black Forest Gateau and the intrigueingly named Death by Chocolate.
English people love to queue, and so a phalanx of cars and vans would begin to assemble in the giant car park from about breakfast time. Despite the licensing laws which precluded us from opening the actual doors till half twelve, the starving punters would be cupping their hands peering through the windows at the bewildered staff peering back as they laid up, or a commis chef skidded  from the kitchen with a pot of carrots to hurl at a bain marie.
Christ, we are under siege from pensioners looking for Yorkshire puddings I fumed as I watched Murray Walker assist his elderly mother from the car on a walking aid.
The head barman had crabs that he swore he caught from the restaurant manager, a cougar who had spotted him and his quiff at 50 paces.
The tyrant who ran the gaff was ex S.A.S. and used the word pigging as a verb, an adjective, and a noun and would hurtle down the back hallway in his underpants when the alarm went off at night time on the function bar  - when I had casually let myself in for a glass of coke before retiring. We were camped in a breeze blocked room beside the skittle alley where the entire contents of my suitcases were arranged in fetching piles around the kind of carpet that gouges pieces of skin out of your knees, should you be unlucky enough to fall on it a few dozen times. The Welsh chef who drank his wages at the bar every night and on his day off disappeared into Hythe on the Ferry, lived in the room next door. Well, when I say lived, he kept his checks and whites there, but propped up counters mostly and years later would reverse call me to borrow the train fare to come up and stay with   me in Wales, drinking from when his eyes opened till I had to tell him to move on.  I had to do the wages for 63 staff who were all finishing each other’s shifts, or swapping shifts or spit, or being owed hours, or not getting enough.
It was a nightmare and I learned that the most important thing in the whole house was the ‘atin irons’ and was constantly in and out of the slippery kitchen shouting –
“ Cutlery, cutlery, it’s like the Erpingham Camp out there” to a beleaguered KP who was up to his swiss in pots and plates. 
There is always an Us & Them mentality between front of house and the general public.  No matter which side you are on, you are doomed. If they are not wiping cheese slices under their arms, spitting in the soup, or taking mashed potato out of the top of the bin, they are out the back door getting a dogger of a fag or  under pressure with the 2 legs ran off themselves, the shirts stuck to their backs, and a headache from having no dinner. Sometimes I was so busy and so starvin like marvin, I resorted to  mortifyingly picking cold chips off peoples plates as I was clearing them.  The SAS guy  however would stand beside the pig bin as the girls scraped and stacked and chew the fat off the steaks and gnaw the bones of the racks of lamb as he was shouting how many did we do. He liked to get fed on company time, and it saved on the bottom line.
And then they sent us the length and breadth of the country on courses learning man management and manual handling which was how to carry a cardboard box around a room. Drug awareness courses that told us people high as kites would have the munchies and I shouted not as much as the pensioners around Beaulieu, learning how to spot if there was a bunch of smack addicts off their tits in the corner by looking for blackened spoons and bits of tinfoil in the ashtrays. The lunatics began taking over the asylum when they assigned the pub landlords to be the trainers as well and so we had to listen to a man who lived on his nerves tell us how to throw out rabble rousers and trouble makers, his long white fingers shaking as he held the papers. He made model aeroplanes in his bedroom while the bar ran amok. They brought me to an industrial kitchen, all stainless steel and clogs and gave me a crash course in cooking, health & safety, food hygiene, HACCP, and a diploma from City & Guilds in catering.
And then they let us loose in an actual pub with the actual keys.
Licensed to serve on or off the premises.





Awright Lads, Beany from Per Talbit it is mind 


A relief couple is a pair who turn up to mind the gaff for you when you are on your jollies in Spain, or have to have a hernia operation from lifting kegs when the draymen come, or you are Scottish and have a heart attack drinking whiskey at a lock in. We did “relief” all over the gaff, which was usually 2 weeks, so the parapsychologist who read my palm in the Art Centre at Wexford Womens Week was right as ninepence when she forecast that I would be living out of a suitcase in the very near future. A holding relief was when your tenure was extended if the manager had run off with the potwash or left under a cloud having been caught rapid in a massive fiddle when the weights and measures men came and did random tests. It was standard practice in some premises to water the spirits, or pour back the lager if the keg was running high, despite the threat of losing an eye from the pressure of the gas, and sometimes we would be left for months until they could find another pair of warm bodies to take over.
I went home on holidays in a  blue Yugo Zastava (A605 GJT) we bought for a pittance and which had something wrong with the exhaust which meant we could be heard coming from 50 miles away, and  a patient policeman finally caught us one morning in Bracknell and uttered the immortal line “You’re fucking nicked my lovely,  I’ve been looking for you for weeks”.
We would overnight on the Ferry, me getting a bacon sandwich, a brandy and a bunk in that order. I was as seasick now as I was carsick as a child, and would arrive in Rosslare, white in the face and weak as a kitten to drive home and surprise my Parents.
Jasus, Michelle, you’re some woman to tell a story says Denis in The Menapia as I regaled them with a few of the tamer incidents that happened in an average day.
He didn’t believe half of it.

 
Chape as Chips

After spending longer on the pub circuit than Bernard Manning they gave us the shout of a small pub in West Wales, outside Swansea, in a one horse town called Neath. 
Neath was reknowned in the city as a rugby town with a pitch called The Gnoll and was at the time an unemployment black spot with a preponderance of drunken Valley boys who got on the buses from Maesteg and Camarthen and headed for the bright lights of the big smoke.  My first introduction to Wales apart from driving through it was at a lock up in St. Mary Street beside a toy shop, where a customer was knifed and died at the bus stop outside on our first night.
And they loved gravy on chips.
Let’s put the keckle on and have a cuppa lev says Joyce over her glasses every morning. She let herself in with her own key of a morning and cleaned up the worst of the excesses of the night before  throwing the roast in the oven and the bottles in the bin to wake me. We had a carvery here too where I stood carving the meat under the heatlamps and watched in disbelief as a man came in from the bus every Friday and queued stoicly  in a shiny silver suit for his Honeyroast Ham. He had an imitation hanky in the breast pocket, made out of cardboard, and carved with a pinking shears into pleated edges which fascinated me every week. As soon as he had wiped the last piece of sauce and cabbage from the plate with a soup roll, he stood up, straightened his cardboard hanky, fluffed the crumbs off himself and queued again for another dinner. Despite my protestations and pleas that I would fill the plate, or not charge, he would insist on queuing again and getting the exact same dinner replicated.


Joyce at the Keckle and the actual ham



Screaming Lord Sutch breezed in one Friday lunchtime wearing a top hat and tails, shouting for the Guvnor,  with an entire team of assistants, gophers and a film crew from channel 4  while the man with the cardboard hanky was watching me slice the meat for his second dinner.
  His entourage, the Monster Raving Loony Band and a BBC news crew set up in the corner, plugging things in, setting up  to shoot  as  he was contesting the Neath By Election, and  he commandeered the bar in the name of the monster raving lunatics.  He set up office on the corner table by the jukebox and they filmed me cutting a heel of beef  over and over again  until I ran out of meat and resorted to just clashing the utensils together while I fluffed my lines and the sweat ran down my face from  the spotlight under a white umbrella and showed it on the 6 o clock news.
What has she done now thought my Father, as he turned on ess pedwar ec.
One maniac begets another and since I was a small child if there is ever any mayhem or nutballs  in a 50 mile radius  they will zoom in on me like wasps on fanta. So I didn’t blink when  a man painted bright orange with beans tattooed on his head instead of hair, wearing an orange body suit,  an orange underpants over his tights, swinging  an orange cape should park his bean tin car outside and come in with his package bulging and his teeth gleaming magnolia in his Satsuma face and announce –
Awright lads, it’s Captain Beany from pertalbit it is, lev and take up residence in the far corner by the fruit machine. He also was contesting the local elections and between the capes and the top hats and the beans, and my considerable hips, it was becoming impossible to negotiate between the tables of pensioners with cardboards hankies eating ham, and Bonnie Tylers Da who sat muttering in Welsh at the counter.  I had a rescue sheltie called Shelley shitting on the flat roof when the area manager dropped in to talk about the bottom line and he wiped his glasses and his forehead in the cellar while he took in the scene. Then the  travelling fair rolled up outside and unrolled their extension leads through the pub windows  to plug the lectric in lev  and gave me a box of chape china, a bag of knock off meat, and free rides on the hurdy gurdy in exchange. 

"Put your fat peoples cape on and we'll go to the Count"



Screaming Lord Sutch,
was an English musician and  founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.  He holds the record for losing all 40 elections in which he stood. As a singer he variously worked with Keith  Moon and ,Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore. He stopped screaming long enough to tell me his name was David and took me to the  Neath count as his common law wife with a laminate pinned to my cape. I was called Anna Mae Sutch. The real Anna May was down in the cheap seats as I swanned around on the balcony in my yards of black wool bought from Evans which I had christened the fat peoples shop. She squinted up at me warningly.

 

 While we waited he told me his back story about how he ran a radio station on an ex army base called Shivering Sands where he played wild music and had Mandy Rice Davis read Lady Chatterleys lover to fill in the gaps. His album “Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends was named in a BBC poll as the worst album of all time, despite the fact that Jimmy Page and John Bonham helped him write it  and  played on it.



Heineken  filmed him as the prime minister  saying Only Heineken can do this. He was bright,  sharp as a tack,  a natural speaker and funny as hell. He had lived with Madame Cyn's house  in London before she was convicted of prostitution, and when his Mother died, the manic depression that had consumed him all his life took over and he was heavily medicated.
I feel grand he said to a friend on the phone and 48 hours later hung himself. His scream is immortalised forever on Mike Oldfields album Tubular Bells.



Captain Beany was a man named Barry  from Port Talbot who was as mad as a box of frogs.

 

  Years later I would meet another man who would have 2 Dinners , whose sister cooked for him daily while he was out on the tear and who if he missed a day, would swing  chicken casserole and liver and onions in the corner of the same  plastic bag all the way home to re-heat in a small saucepan on the stove.
We had a Ginger  bin man with special needs and a stammer who did the Haka as his party piece, which was every night and twice on Sundays and I grew accustomed to clearing glasses from around him as he leaped about through the crowd shouting a kumate kumate kuru kuru a  kissate a wupate.
 We had a customer called Martin Plump who was aptly named, a haircut like Oliver Hardy and a mustache like Stan Laurel, who sang My Boy at the counter when he was locked, breaking down in sobs at the end and holding the last note impossibly, while the men put their arms around him and called his ex a bleddy betch.
He wouldn’t follow me if I sang.
I sang on counters and in corners and on table tops amid the pints of mild and peanuts.  I sang old songs unaccompanied and songs from the homeland where Irish eyes were crying, or an alcoholic was distraught about a woman who was ignoring him, and a woman was screaming out to sea from a cliff about a man who was lost trying to kill whales to make perfume for rich women.

Rugby boys like to get their kit on, off and out. There was that many genitalia being flopped about on Heineken cup weekends and dipped in peoples glasses, that I grew tired of calling order in a bar filled with braying drunks who were on their knees pretending to be dwarfs and so sick of their antics that I became as tough as a boot and would go toe to toe with the biggest of them, and was known to oust giant men by the sleeve and by putting pressure in the small of their backs, a move I had learned on interminable courses in Brighton, where the fireman drank from the bottle of milk to prove that people will never open their mouths and say something no matter how ignorant someone is being.


Hair of the Dog

I put a  blackboard outside the pub  that said free beer and naked dancer 9pm and the place was jammers to the bollix when a man who looked like Kurt Cobain if he had ever been in Auschwitz came onstage and announced that  that HE was free beer and naked dancer and  tried to play heart shaped box while the regulars ran amok.  
I hid the food for the darts nights in the salad bar on ice and lifted the lid off at half time like David Copperfield shouting ta daaaaaaa.
Puts up a good bloody spread mind says Dai Thomas to John Davis as they ate with their fingers, and  when they were a man down used me as the landlady to fill in according to the rules, so the other pub wouldn’t get a walkover until I got dartitis like Eric Bristow and couldn’t let go of me arras. I hired Jocky Wilson to come and give an exhibition and he drank about 87 pints before he put on the flights.  Bonnie Tyler’s Da was sitting morosely at the counter nursing half a pint of mild wrapped up in a long coat and a peaked hat. He probably had a pain in his swiss roll with people singing total eclipse of the heart.
Pronoun Da,warre teg referee,Shumay butt, beth eyt tin y fed? Na, dim, dioclc en fawr . Dim problem, dim.
When are you parents getting married ref. they shouted at the side of pitch in Stradey Park as Neath took on the scarlets and I drank Felinfoel with the boys on the coach.
The Hopkin twins with the buck teeth practiced the Treorchy Male Voice anthems while they threw a  tarantula called Diana up on the counter to prove that she had shed. There were 2 of them in the box, one hairy legged one in the corner and one sliding around looking murderously out of it’s many eyes. A  punter called Paul  collapsed in a pale prone heap in a pile of pork scratchings.

rachnaphobia he have lev says Joyce putting on the keckel.  Thawa then.............
Stevie Davis brought me over lava bread and cockels every week and as soon as the door closed behind him I cut out the middle man and   hurled it in the bin.   I disgraced myself by falling in love with a customer, and all the men sang – “Oh, the pithead baths is a supermarket now”- as I drove away from the yellow daffodils  with the steward of the liberal club around the corner to the  neon lit west end of London, to begin a new life going to Tea Dances in Soho , putting  blue eye shadow on a drag queen in the make up aisle of boots,  and being  repeatedly propositioned and then assaulted  by a lesbian nurse at an auction for a Welsh dresser.

Ah, London - I miss you



MDM April 2015



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