This is a series on our young Marty. Some of the stories that laid the foundation for who he is … or perhaps more accurately, who he thinks he is.
It took me the whole day to hitchhike from Glasgow to London, and in typical Marty-style, I ended up in the central city late at night just as the pubs were closing. With no cash. Alas I can not tell you the tales of that night as they are well known among my acquaintances. And should they ever stumble upon the blog … However, I will say that I was befriended by an over-the-top character, Mick, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Michael Caine in Alfie, and whose personal life was more than a match for Alfie’s story. It was the first time I had ever chummed around with a man and his wife and two young children while he expertly handled that situation and his three mistresses. At various evenings in the pubs in the center of London, I met them all, as well as many of his workmates, including one of his best, Peter.
Let’s fast forward several weeks, shall we?
I had found myself a room … what the Brits lovingly call a bedsitter. A small, tawdry room with a single bed on the second floor of a large house on the main thoroughfare in what could be charitably termed the very worst part of town. The bathroom was shared with 5 other rooms on the floor. A toilet, with a pull chain to flush (it took me fully 2 weeks to master the proper pull-technique), sink with cold water only, and a bath tub (no shower) that needed to be “booked” in advance.The bathroom’s final humiliation, however, was the toilet paper. No soft, tender to the touch Charmin here dear readers. No, you got to wipe your sorry ass from a roll of heavily waxed toilet paper with all the gentleness and absorbancy of street concrete. Colored a yellowish-brown. And that was before use.
These were the days when central heating was an unaffordable luxury for most British homes occupied by the workingclass, and my bedsitter heating consisted of a small gas heater that was activated with 2-shilling coins, the meager heat lasting at most 90 minutes before requiring more cash. The gas fire (as the Brits call them) had a 3 foot long wire cable, so moving its position was rather limited. Certainly nowhere near the bed for long, cold nights. And who wants to get out of bed in the shivering night to feed more money into the heater?
Low paying, menial jobs were also plentiful. The daily newspapers were filled with vacancy ads and adverts for temporary placement services for every kind of job. Basically, if you could walk, you were hired. I started work immediately.
There were 6 different pubs within a hundred yards of where I lived. Which to make my local? Honestly, I don’t recall the criteria, but The Bull Terrier became it. Not atypical for the times or the locale (very similar to the pic above), it had grimy yellowed brick outside, and inside hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint since between the wars. But it was very much the working man’s home away from home, and it rocked Friday nights when Paul came in and played the piano in the lounge and all the old war songs were sung and played.
It took me about a week to understand that I was spending much of my available food money on pints of bitter while learning the specialized skills of dart throwing. The popular pub manager was only too happy to hire me part time, 2 nights a week, one through the week, and one weekend night. It was an excellent arrangement. I saved my food money, got paid to hang out in the pub, and managed to get fully intoxicated each evening I worked. You see in the pub you don’t tip the barman, you buy him a drink every other round or so. All evening long Marty would have 3 or 4 pints of bitter along the bar in front of customers, as I moved among them between serving, chatting with them over the pint they had treated me to. Thus I also learned the key facilities of listening attentively, commenting sagely, and being everyone’s excellent friend. Plus acquiring the knowledge how to appropriately mix various draught brews and bitters, and mastering the fine art of pouring Guinness for the Irish. All important life skills for a young vagabond as you can well imagine.
It was probably during my second or third week of working at The Bull Terrier that I saw him. Peter, Mick’s friend, whom I had had drinks with several times not more than a month before. And low and behold, he lived in this neighborhood!
I have calculated the chance of that happening. The population of London at that time divided by the odds of a workingman living in my area, multiplied by the inverse proportion of the likelihood of the pub I was working in on that night being Peter’s local on the nights he was home. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/8,000,000 I figure.
The odds were so catastrophic against, that clearly it could not, and did not, happen by chance.
Fate was definitely in control. And in this instance Fate had a name. It was Jessica. Who would teach me additional life skills.
You just know Jessica is going to come up again, don’t you … ?