A funny thing about the ‘workingman’: no matter how hard the times, he always manages to find enough money for beer.
I thought it was just Communist Grandad (Papa Redbeard) who’d neglected his apparently gifted-daughter by not buying her the uniform she needed to get in the gifted-girls’ school, while still managing to go down the club for a few pints.
Growing up, I heard of this injustice often.
When older, it was evident around me in the actions of peers; as far as the sands of time go, personally don’t think anyone does it better than Zola in Germinal.
Why a ‘working-class man’ might do this is something close to the heart of The Medusa Protocol (plug-plug-plug).
Papa Redbeard, though, wasn’t the average working-class man.
If I’d ever stopped to consider there might be a reason beyond the taught (the oft lamented injustice) before Papa Redbeard popped his commie-clogs and ascended to the Great International in the Sky, and had asked, what could the other side of the story have been?
Not only was Papa Redbeard big on Unions, there were committees with meetings to be attended too; presence required could easily be offered as defence for wanton drinking.
But this was pre Welfare State; a time when Doctors had to be paid for out of pocket.
Papa Redbeard was the extremely due diligent treasurer of a ‘Christmas Club’. Taking a pound a week from members, it was able to help the working classes do something excruciatingly difficult on a low income:
Not only were members returned the lump sum of fifty-two quid come December (a tidy amount back then), the club also made sure the money earned interest in the meantime, which in being ‘pooled’ earned a greater rate.
Though the interest wasn’t instantly divvied between investors: if a member fell on hard times during the year, it’d be used to help them first.
All that said, I remember being taken to the club when a kid and having to sit in the women’s room where they played bingo with more a sense of frustration and/or fanaticism than enjoyment.
From our table I could see into the larger room where Papa Redbeard laughed it up with fellow comrades instead of having abandoned the family to bury his nose deep in the books, a harsh table lamp beside him.
But if he’d been asked, I don’t think his reply would’ve used the committees as excuse or reason at all; it would’ve been the principle of one person having access to a better education than another and nothing else.
Though perhaps disingenuous after all when knowing he’d attended the University of St Andrews (Scotland’s fist even university, founded 1413) on a scholarship.
In the latter respect, he was the only one there.
The fact of the matter is Papa Redbeard got a look at Privilege, Entitlement and all they stand for and stink of up closer than any of his class could ever imagine in an environment where those benefiting wouldn’t have thought for a second of being watched.
The likes of cleaners, especially given they were all women, wouldn’t have been given consideration – after all, they were kept too far from the bar for
anyone men to hear what they had to say.
Despite the terrible time he had of toffs, it did nothing to stop him wearing plus fours when first coming to London – something ‘Nan’ insisted he cease with extreme prejudice if they were to get wed.
Or so the story goes; for rumour has it Nan was already pregnant with the daughter who went on to have the hard-as-nails Rocker boyfriend with feminist tendencies when she walked down the aisle – apparently their getting married had more to with a shotgun than any style of pantaloons.
Given the fact literally no one was at work (except whoever ran where we ate; was at the market to say it closed; and opened the club, obviously), it took me by complete surprise to find it pretty much entirely empty.
As I saw it, a Godsend – bad enough only being able to have one drink, without having to worry about people in a packed club falling over all the gear while Mr T had a great time.
I could relax, sit quietly – take my time over the pint while Mr T got out of his system whatever it was he’d come to.
A bar being open at all at the time wasn’t much of a surprise; I knew a few innocent looking doors—the back of a kebab shop; inside a mini cab office; and another at the end of a dank alley—in the neck of the woods that if knocked on the right way would be opened to reveal a den of 24hr illegal drinking and other such illicit activities in the basement.
But I had completely overlooked just how early it still was. The quiet pint I’d been looking forward to for all of ten seconds was the last thing I was gonna get!
At the bar we dropped everything at our feet – giant sports bags brimming well beyond closeable. Mr T ordered two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, please; as I considered running back to the motor to get the rest of the gear given how much space we had.
‘Oh, no,’ said the barman firmly, focused only on what we’d dropped on the floor. ‘You can’t bring that in here.’
That was it!
There was no expletive way I was lugging it all the way back to the car, just to leave it all on display there, to then walk all the way back to the club again in the freezing cold!
He could shove his two pints and a packet of crisps where the sun don’t shine!
Plenty of other equally empty workingmen’s clubs would be more than happy to see some punters through its doors, couple of bags in tow or not.
I was about to expletive tell him too, when he said, ‘Follow me.’
Mr T, the little wimp, had already started gathering bags back up.
We were led behind the bar and down a small corridor to a room containing beer barrels and some boxes of crisps. Somewhere to keep the stock safe while we drank beer – how thoughtful.
‘Wait here,’ said the barman, leaving us there.
Or—even better—somewhere to drink beer and eat crisps while keeping an eye on it. He’d obviously gone to get some glasses, and a couple of comfy chairs.
Not that they’d be needed; Mr T was in the process of making a fort with the crisp boxes.
We never got our pints. When the barman returned he wasn’t alone. Anyone who’d been in the club when we’d walked in was behind him.
They started making offers on the stuff Mr T was arranging on the boxes like setting up shop.
And what they offered was a lot more than we sold for at market!
For the first time that day something was immediately obvious. The barman had made a big assumption, then spread it to the congregation like gospel; everyone thought the goods for sale hot off the back of a lorry.
As for the inflated offers, Mr T and I hardly looked the types to go around knocking-off lorries full of second-rate clobber . . . That and the fact than in being ‘workingmen’; no one doing any of the buying of such refined bargains had the first clue about what they actually might be worth.
And not just because they never listened to their missus nag-nag-nag, either.
Due to the above mentioned priority for beer money, some missuses were rumoured to employ tactics such as ‘purchase price embellishment’ so as to skim just enough for the days the local workingmen’s club felt magnanimous enough to let them also buy cheap booze at the bar.
If anyone had asked, all the receipts from the wholesalers were in a pocket; just in case the mobile display cabinet of a Cortina Mk V ever got stopped by some snooping rozzer. But as no one did . . .
There were, though, questions:
How long would we be there? being a popular one.
Meanwhile a queue formed at the club’s payphone so friends and family members could be told what was going down. Requests for different sizes and colours followed.
We didn’t just go grab everything left in the motor, we even made a journey back to my place to get more stock; the same stock I’d argued we should carry back upstairs.
We’d never had a day like it at a market and never had another like it again.
It was a lot like cocaine – amazing the first time, but steadily evermore disappointing every time after and then two days later all the snow is gone 😦
Workingmen went back to work needing to more then ever having just paid well over asking for some new clobber.
The wholesaler had never seen so much of us. Given how well they sold, we always restocked the same items, meaning when the good times melted it was exactly the same socks people were paying through the nose for when thinking them stolen that I later couldn’t give away.
If there’s a lesson in it all:
When life gives you lemons, claim they’re nicked and be minted or wind-up left hanging like one instead.
As for Mr T; he wanted no part of the indoor market – something up and coming with potential was a long way from his already going like hot cakes bag of pretend stolen goods.
Though that isn’t to say he wasn’t into anything ‘new’.
He went back to Oxford Street, but not to stand out like a sore thumb hawking from a suitcase on a street corner again.
This time he jumped on what was just starting to be a thing – squatting in empty shops and selling wares from them; something giving plod a whole new headache to deal with.
I haven’t seen him for years and hope whatever he’s doing today, he’s doing well; I learned a lot the brief time working with him.
Last time I saw Mr T, he told me that while being in the middle of making a sale (read exchanging item in one hand and ready cash in the other over the counter) in a manically busy squatted shop on Oxford St, a woman with an American accent had started to repeatedly and insistently say, ‘excuse me’ to him.
Given the point in proceedings, Mr T couldn’t think anything other than a distraction tactic to get his eye off the ball and the money in his hand out of it again, so replied, ‘Not now, love – I’m busy.’ without looking away from what he was doing for a second.
N. P. Ryan.