Up to now I have only dealt with my life in the 1970’s from the point of view of being a young police officer working in the West End of London…..But in September 1975 Cupid started firing his arrows and he just wouldn’t stop using me for target practice until he tagged me with a few….My romantic entanglement with the woman who was destined to become my wife had a somewhat inauspicious start.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and ‘C’ Division were playing rugby against a touring police team from Glasgow….Normally, I would be keen to play in such a fixture, unfortunately, I was on sick leave having been the recent victim of an assault by a gentleman armed with a scaffolding pole which left me requiring 10 stitches in the resulting head wound….However, I was fit enough to at least turn up and support “The Boys”.
In have to say that in those days I was not considered to be the sartorial trendsetter that I am today….My attire for the day (and indeed my usual attire for me in my rugby playing days) was a red Finchley RFC sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, brown boots that had never said “Hello” to a tin of shoe polish….And to complete this remarkable ensemble, it was finely adorned with a scruffy old donkey jacket (complete with the plastic shoulder pads).
At the end of the match we socialised with a few beers in a nearby pub but the Glaswegian guys were keen to experience the bright lights of London’s West End and I was deputed to be one of those to accompany them and try and keep them out of too much trouble.
In the end the Scottish officers split into two sections….One group headed off towards night clubs and I went with the other group who were more content to sit and chat as long as there was plenty of beer around.
Eventually (it seems) we ended up in a small public house in Greek Street, Soho. I say “It Seems” because most of the evening was a rather misty haze in my memory (Probably as a result of my recent injury, I suspect)….The pub was called ‘The Pillars of Hercules’ and I had never been there before….Fortunately, some of the more experienced officers with us new the pub quite well and it was identified as a place where we could entertain the Scottish players without upsetting too many other people.
The plan seemed to be working quite well….At the back of the pub, songs were sung, games were played and lies were told…..And nobody seemed to mind….Meanwhile I was propping up the bar and chatting to the pretty barmaid who was in charge of the place while the manager and his wife were away. We were getting on famously and when closing time came and went, the barmaid agreed that we could stay, as long as we kept the noise down as there was a baby sleeping upstairs….The deal was sealed and the evening continued…..Probably just as well….A dozen or so well oiled Scotsmen would probably have caused untold problems wandering around Soho unsupervised.
At some point in the festivities (I have a dim and distant memory of a game that involved men with empty pint mugs on their heads and trying to roll them down their arms and catch them before they fell to the floor…..But I could be wrong) I told the pretty young barmaid, who had kept everything in complete control for the whole evening, that I needed to go to the toilet…..Now the toilets in this particular pub are located in the cellar area…..And immediately opposite the door leading back into the bar was an exit into the street…..As I came back up the stairs from the toilet I thought to myself…..”I really have had more than enough to drink” and instead of going back into the bar, I turned left, opened the door and let myself out of the pub and made my way back to the section house where I resided, in Broadwick Street.
Next day I woke up with some vague fuzzy memories but at least my hangover was only measuring about 5.2 on the Richter Scale and I was feeling grateful that I had bailed out when I did…..Within a week my stitches were out and I was deemed fit to return to full duty.
In early December, I was on duty and wandering along Wardour Street close to the junction with St. Anne’s Court….Coming out of the alley way was a young lady pushing a baby in a pram…..”Hello” she said with a smile and a distinct Irish accent…..”I’m glad you’re still alive.”
“I beg your pardon, Miss….err sorry, Mrs.”
“That’s ok….You’re right, it is Miss…..I’m just saying, I was worried you might have been ill or hurt when you didn’t come back from the toilet.”
I realised what had happened immediately….This was a case of mistaken identity….She had mistaken me for somebody else….Best I politely humour her and go about my business…..I smiled broadly, assured her that everything was perfectly ok….and bade her goodbye…..As I walked away, I could almost feel her eyes boring into my back!
At the end of the shift I was cornered by my friend, Syd….”Do you fancy a pint?”
“Of course I do, Syd, have you got anywhere in mind?”
“What about that place that you use?”
“The Pillars of Hercules in Greek Street!”
“Erm….Sorry Syd, I’ve never been there before in my life.”
“Really? Well that’s strange….I was speaking to someone today who knows you very well!”
My mind flashed back to the lady with the pram in Wardour Street….”I think I know who you mean….But she’s mistaken, I’ve never been there!”
“Well this is certainly strange….There must be two people who look exactly like you ….And your double also wears that bloody awful donkey jacket and that Finchley RFC sweatshirt!….You must have been there….She described you precisely, right down the the 10 stitches you had in your head!!”
“Honestly Syd….I have no memory of the place at all.”
“Well, here’s the thing….She knows YOU so we are both going round there, you are going to knock on the side door as it’s now after closing time and see if you can blag us a couple of pints.”
This did not sound at all like a sensible plan of action but Syd was determined and rushed us towards Greek Street….Standing outside the pub, he pushed me forward “Go on then….knock on the door!”
I had no option….I tapped on the door which opened to reveal a small man with an Irish accent “What’s all this here then? What do you two want?….This place is closed!”
Syd prompted me from behind “Ask him if Mary is there?”
“Erm….Hello, I know you’re closed, but I was erm…wondering if Mary might be available?”
“Mary is it? Which Mary do you mean?”
Syd prompted again….”Try Mary G.”
“Erm…. Mary G?”
At that moment, the lady from that morning’s encounter in Wardour St. appeared at the door. “Would you just leave the poor lad alone….You lot are terrible….Come in Bob…And Syd, you should know better!”
Behind me, Syd was nearly wetting himself laughing….I finally realised that I had been pranked….The young barmaid (Mary G) had bumped into Syd shortly after our morning encounter and explained it all to him….Syd, who had played in that rugby match against the Glasgow Police, put two and two together and decided to play the trick on me….The publican (Mary’s boss) who opened the door was also in on the game.
As soon as I had a pint in my hand and my embarrassment had died down a bit, the past began to drift back….”I really was worried about you, you know? You should have told me that you were leaving….I sent someone down to check on you….I thought you might have passed out in the toilet or something.”
“I’m sorry…I probably should have told you I was going….It just didn’t occur to me at the time.”
“So it wasn’t just me you were trying to escape from, then?”
“Escape from you? No, of course not!”
“Well that’s ok then.” She smiled.
Mary G and began dating each other and I became a regular fixture in ‘The Pillars’….And by the way….The baby in the pram, was her bosses baby daughter.
A few months later I brought my older brother, Colin to a party that was being held at ‘The Pillars’. He was the first in my family to meet Mary….He was under strict instructions from my parents to report back on my new Irish girlfriend….Apparently he reported back to my mother that my girlfriend was “Perfectly sweet….But he didn’t think she would become their future daughter in law…..But on December 21st 1977, at St Patrick’s Church in Soho Square (The same church where Tommy Steel was married!)….She did exactly that….And nearly 44 years later we are still together.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in