Behind the bar.
So began my career working in the pub trade. It took me a while to get used to the pumps and the cash register, but unlike George, I was excellent with the customers. I talked and joked all the time, and even when I gave them the wrong change it all stayed friendly. That first evening was exhausting as I’d not been on my feet that long for ages, and I almost turned down a drink after the pub had closed I was so tired. Almost, but I forced myself to be sociable and sat and drank one more pint, before admitting defeat and heading back to my flat.
As I lived just across the High Street, George started to let me lock up at the end of the night, and it was then that I really began to enjoy this life. Back in those days, the licensing laws were very strict, and closing time was closing time. However, “a lock-in” was the thing that every serious drinker craved for; the chance to be locked in the pub and carry on drinking. The police were fairly hot on this happening, but there were two ways to get around that problem. The first was to be careful whom you asked, and where they were. In the Jolly Anchor, the public bar had wide open windows to the market square, and anyone walking in the marketplace could see that you were there. The snug, however, was tucked around the corner, and people in there could hardly be seen by anyone passing by.
The second way of avoiding the problem took more time to figure out, but I managed it one day when an old rugby teammate walked into the bar.
“Pint of bitter please,” he said.
“Coming right up John!” I replied with a smile.
John took a moment to think then shouted “Tony! Well, who would have thought I’d see you working in here! Last I heard you were wrapped around a tractor up Wells way. I heard it was suspected you were drunk in charge, either that or on some drug or other, but there wasn’t any evidence to prove it.”
It was my turn to be taken aback. I remembered John as a hard prop forward, who never let any opponent through without a fight, but apart from that, I’d not heard of him since school days. Now, it almost sounded like he was in the police force.
“So, seems like you know about me, what have you been up to?” I asked. “This is on the house,” I said as he reached for his wallet “least I can do for an old friend.”
“Well cheers then!” he said. He went on to tell me that after leaving school, he had indeed joined the police and had been at different stations around the country. “I wanted to get back to Lynn to be near my folks,” he told me, “and so got a transfer here. I’ll be patrolling the market and High Street, so it’s good to know who’s in charge of the local pubs.”
I was vaguely aware of an opportunity here, and I remembered John as one of the hard drinking group in our after rugby tours of the local bars. I said I hoped he’d be in again, and told him that Friday and Saturday nights were always popping in the pub.
I saw John a few times over the next days in his uniform, slowly walking his beat, and each time he’d acknowledge me as he went by. On Friday evening, I noticed him walking by at just before closing time and made sure there wasn’t anyone around after they should be, much to the grumbles of some of the locals. I had a bigger plan.
On Saturday, John arrived in civilian clothes and had a few pints at the bar. He didn’t seem to know too many people, so I tried to make sure that he was included in the general banter at the bar, and he soon seemed to be at home there. I called time and was busy collecting glasses, and keeping an eye on John at the same time. Most people were gone, and John had nearly finished his drink, so I quietly went and poured another pint and put in in front of him. He looked up at me with raised eyebrows, and I smiled and suggested he might like to take his drink into the snug. He just nodded and did as I suggested, and I breathed a sigh of relief; I hadn’t misjudged him.
There were just a couple of locals left in the bar, and I quietly said to them that if they wanted to join PC John in the snug, they would be welcome. They caught on to my meaning pretty quickly, and soon there was a happy group of us late night drinkers.
So it became a habit that if John were off duty, he’d pop in and enjoy a lock-in with the rest of us. When he was on duty, and patrolling the Market and High Street, he would look the other way if he happened to spot someone leaving long after closing time. He made it clear that he didn’t want any trouble, but so long as we were all reasonable careful, he believed in live-and-let-live.
I wasn’t the only one working at the bar. George was there for early deliveries and opened up the bar in the morning, and there were 5 or 6 barmaids that covered lunch times and the weekends. I took the occasional evening off, with George covering for me, and I was always gratified when I did to hear the locals be pleased I was back “in charge” again.