Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A Page Boy, a Pink Shirt- and a Vespa GS!

You could say that my upbringing was a conflict of characters, my mother’s personality and mine did not match. There was also a weak foundation, built on lies; first my mother’s and then mine. My mother was a domineering woman who wanted to control all those within her range of power. Even a mild form of disobedience, or what she regarded as stupidity, resulted in a ‘good hiding'. She was always looking for ways to make money, and to that end she would find work for me, and keep my wages. As a young boy, the only jobs I could get were news paper rounds for 5 shillings a week, but I never saw a penny of it; I had to hand the few bob over as soon as I got home. My early hideous experiences, (there are more, but too many to mention), could have caused a major psychological mishap, were it not for my father’s legacy- I never knew the man, in fact he deserted my mother before I was even born! My inheritance was not materialistic, but genetic. My father’s endowment to me was his natural feel for music- his ability to survive life’s unending labyrinth - and, predominantly, his rebellious psyche. All of which came to the fore in the spring of 1965.

100 Piccadilly, London
In 1965 my mother separated from her then husband; my supposed ‘step- father’ and was working as a floor house-keeper at the Park Lane hotel. To cut a long story short, she arranged an intermittent job for me, as a page boy at ‘The Public Schools Club’, this was my first real work experience. Even the club’s address sounded posh, “100 Piccadilly”, it was situated next to what is today the Japanese Embassy and a few yards from the future home of ‘The HardRock Café’. I soon got to like the job; it was a piece of cake. Running errands for the members, and carrying suitcases got me tips, which I hid from my mother who was still snatching my wages. The staff were friendly, and I soon made friends; one especially, Matt.

Matt was a cook, and also a Mod. His scooter, (a Vespa GS, but don’t ask me which one), was always parked in the back alley by the trade’s men entrance. I gradually persuaded Matt to teach me to ride the scooter, he wasn’t too keen, but in the end we started by taking slow short rides down White Horse street into Sheppard’s Market and back, no great distance but it was a beginning. My big chance came when Matt had run out of fuel, and I offered him 10 shillings, (the tip money I was hiding), if he let me ride it around Wellington Arch and back, he grudgingly agreed and in our lunch break we made the amazing 5 minute ride! Well, for me it was a high. From there on in I would ‘rent’ his scooter as often as I could; Matt more often than not unwilling, but money talked and every shilling helped. My rides were always confined to Wellington Arch and back- but for a few exhilarating minutes I was Top Mod, I felt as if the whole world was watching me!

One of my jobs at the club was to clean the ashtrays and tidy up any newspapers lying about; it must have been some time in early June while doing this task I glanced through a copy of the TV Times, I’m not into astrology- but a comment in the weekly horoscope column caught my eye, according to the writer a horse that could see far would win the Epsom Oaks. The race was to be run the following weekend, not being interested I forgot the article. Saturday morning came, and as I had been off the previous day, I went to collect my weekly £3.10s wage from the head porter, Mr Saunders. Most of the cooks and valets were betting men, and Mr Saunders was not much different, so when I entered the front office his head was stuck deep into the racing page of the Daily Mirror, he put the paper down gave me my money and sent me off to get him a cup of tea; when I came back he was busy talking to one of the members, and I looked down at the open paper- the name ‘Long Look’ shot out from the print and hit me like a stone! It was a message from above, or below, I didn’t care were it came from; all I wanted to do was bet! But, I was still under age, and looked it, so I needed a willing adult to go to the bookies and place my bet. Mr Saunders and my mother were good friends, the war and all that; so asking him was out of the question, Matt had the weekend off, the only person left I could trust was the valet Bert.

Astrology was not Bert’s cup of tea, and even less so when he read Long Look’s ‘form’, and when he saw that the horse was an outsider at 30/1, he called the whole subject a shitload of ‘bullocks’! After a lot of arguing and discussion I persuaded him to put a bet on for me; he did manage to talk me into betting each way, so even ‘if by some bleedin’ luck it comes in second or third’ I would get some of my money back. It was a big risk on my part, if I lost the money I would be skinned alive by my mother and her crossed eyed- goat face- Sicilian boy friend, Sebastian, (I’ve hated the name ever since); but true to my father’s blood- I let Bert put the bet on, and you know what? ‘The bleedin orse’, won!
And then I gave all my, £80, winnings to my mother, NOT!  She got the usual three quid, with the help of Bert I hid the rest. I gave Bert a tenner for his ‘services’, which made him very happy, because I don’t think he’d earned more than that in a week. The following week the first chance I got I was away, up Oxford Street spending my easy earned winnings! I still remember my first purchases, a pink tab collard shirt, a denim cap, and a tweed sports jacket- my Mod fashion sense still needed working on!  I also bought the Beatles  album, A Hard Days Night, for the head chef’s daughter, Barbra, who I kind of fancied at the time. The pinnacle of all these outstanding happenings was my ‘long’ ride with Matt’s GS. Later that week, I sweetened Matt’s hand with a tenner, so that on a sunny June  afternoon wearing my new gear, (which I hid in my locker at work),  I set off on a longer ride than usual- starting off in the habitual direction of Wellington Arch, only this time I bared off towards Buckingham Palace, along Constitutional Hill, followed The Mall to Trafalgar Square, up Cockspur street into the Haymarket, on to Piccadilly Circus, where I must have rode around Eros a couple of times, before heading down Piccadilly back to the club, and the nervously waiting Matt. When I think about it now I must have looked a right twit, wearing a pink shirt, the jacket and denim cap, (in the meantime I had bought a pair of sun glasses, so I felt even cooler!). That ride gave me a sensation of release which I have not felt, to such an extent, again. For the twenty or so minutes that the whole ride took, I felt free; you could say Alex the rebel was born. I never rode Matt’s scooter again.

The end of that summer saw me leaving the job to enter college. At no time did I ever return for a visit. The £80? I blew it within two weeks.

1 comment:

  1. This is a brilliant write-up. I can literally see you in that pink shirt and the funny hat circling around Piccadilly Circus on that Vespa :) Give us more stories! Thank you. G