Following my bust up with Joel over the rat in the basement, Kit wanted us to make peace. We couldn’t afford to move and the three of us needed to get on, so he suggested we go out for an evening together to clear the air.
We walked to our local, the Wellington, which was a bit of a legendary pub. It was a great red brick affair built as a coaching inn in 1826 at the junction of two main roads. There was an extraordinary atmosphere in that pub. I’ve never known anything like it before or since. It had become one of the great London boxing pubs. There was a ring out back and many famous boxers of the era could be seen drinking there.
The pub was run by Dave and Doris. They were a great couple and always put me in mind of the Jack-Sprat nursery rhyme. Dave was very fat and Doris was super slim. She was a pretty blonde who looked like Dusty Springfield – big back-combed hair, lots of black eyeliner and she favoured animal print tops and tight black trousers. Dave had been a bus driver. His dream was to run a pub and now he had it and was eating and drinking himself to death. Doris adored him. I wondered how she could bear to watch him bringing on his physical ruin.
Dave was hail-fellow-well-met personified. He had been handsome once, had lots of hair and a large red beaming face, but he was not the kind of man you would ever try to take advantage of. There was a gangster element around the boxing fraternity and Dave had connections. He also had a large and loyal local clientele, including the plain clothes police from the station up the road who participated in the regular lock-ins that took place at the Wellington. At that time there were licensing laws and pubs had to call time at 11.00pm. Lock-ins happened with the tacit approval of the police who got free drinks, or maybe bungs, for allowing the sale of liquor to carry on, often till sunrise. Occasionally lock-ins lasted all weekend
Kit was allowed to stay for the lock-ins because he had become quite a regular on account of there being pool tables in the pub and he was very good at pool. The thing about Kit was that whenever he got into something he got into it deep. He was invited to join the pool team and sometimes he would earn a bob or two with his pool skills as bets would be laid on the outcome of games.
The night Joel, Kit and I went for our reconciliation drink about thirty of us were locked in, including Lou who ran the used car lot opposite the pub and who really did sport a sheepskin coat. He was in his fifties, always had a large wad of notes in his pocket and would buy Kit and me drinks. I think I endeared myself to him with my naivety on an earlier occasion over an incident involving another of the regulars – a local council official who was something to do with sewers. He drove a surprisingly opulent Mercedes. It was a big car for a council official. Anyway, one lunchtime we walked past his car parked outside on our way into the pub, and we couldn’t help but notice that it had been splashed with something like acid. We joined a small group at the bar that included Lou and I asked him what had happened to the car? He replied “oh some fucker threw paint-stripper at it!” I replied: “perhaps it was an accident?” The group fell about laughing.
Then there was Bertie, an OAP and widower who came into the pub all the time because he was lonely. He lived a few doors down from us. Bertie told me that he gave himself a wet shave every day with shaving foam and razor and then applied a hot flannel to his cheeks. He would often explain the process to me and I would often comment on how clean shaven he looked. It was a matter of pride with him, a sign that he was not letting things go now that his wife had died.
Joel, Kit and I found a table and bought a round. Joel said he had thought it was just going to be him and Kit living in the squat and my arrival there had been a surprise. He did not preface this with the word “unwelcome” but I got the gist. He had a point I guess. He wanted to live that way and there I was trying to domesticate them both. He agreed not to use saucepans to lubricate his motorcycle chains. I agreed to be less strident in my bathroom notes.
The lock-in started and I got into a late night discussion about capital punishment with some of the guys at the bar. One of the men I was haranguing on the horrors of hanging commented that he had got life for doing a copper and would rather have been topped. That shut me up!
Some time later we were joined by Elaine, another regular. I had problems with Elaine. She was a bit older than me, an attractive brunette and, unlike me, damned good at playing pool. She would often take Kit on in a game and to my eyes would stretch provocatively over the pool table with her pool cue to sink a ball, something she did with a lot of style. I watched in silent fury, convinced she was after Kit.