It has always been a source of puzzlement to me how the elite British Army regiment the SAS (Special Air Service) manages the heroic feats that it does. Because every member or ex-member of the SAS I have met over the years – and there have been a considerable few – have been without exception, as half-witted and physically unco-ordinated as they are socially inept. I am beginning to suspect that this legion of long distance lorry drivers, supply teachers and mini cab drivers were not all telling the truth. Let me give you an example.
One day during the long hot summer of 1984 (even hotter at Hangovers because the heating in the cellar space below was going full blast and no-one could figure out how to turn it off) Me and My Best Mate Aky were interrupted from our game of baseball when a nondescript bloke walks into the shop. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Baseball: In a shop?’ You see in order to allieviate some of the lazy afternoon boredom we had taken to playing a ‘scaled down’version of the tarted-up game of rounders that passes for Sport in some parts of the world. We would fashion a bat and ball out of rolled up, and scrunched up newspaper and sellotape. Then once we’d flipped a coin to decide who was going to be the New York Yankees, we took up positions. We pitched from one end of the counter (no mound) while the batsman took up position in the doorway which led through to the other part of the shop unit, and stairs. This was to allow the batsman more elbow room, as well as presenting him the possibility of hitting the ball clean out of the shop and into the street (Home Run). We didn’t actually run – the shop was far too small for that. Instead the interior was split into ‘zones’ which corresponded with bases, so you had three pitches in which to reach a sufficient number of bases to constitute a run or, indeed, go for the big hit.
The customer looked mildly surprised as a ragged mess of torn newspaper and tape hit him square on the shoulder, but if he was offended, he didn’t show it. He merely looked at the spot it had struck and with only mild irritation, performed a theatrical ‘sweeping’ motion with his hand, before commencing to browse.
After a few minutes Aky asks ‘Can I help you? Are you looking for anything in particular?’
‘You got any Bollinger (Champagne)?’ Asked the stranger.
‘Vintage?’ tried Aky, hopefully.
‘It’s just above your head right in the middle there.’
‘Fine, I’ll take a case’
Ahhhhh! Now, this was starting to look interesting. Trying not to draw attention to ourselves Aky first slipped off the newspaper baseball cap he was wearing, while I did my best to hide my battered newsprint catcher’s mitt beneath the counter.
The mysterious customer was now closely inspecting the Red wines.
‘I’ll have a case of Nuit St. George and one of Mouton Cadet … Do you deliver?’
‘Yeah, as long as it’s in London’
‘Better get some white. I don’t want anything too dry though. Anything you recommend?’
‘As it happens that Piesporter’s not bad’
‘Okay, case of that, and mmmm …’
‘This is for when?’ asked Aky, mindful, like me, of the fact that what we had was on the shelves – none of this was in stock.
‘Oh, Friday. We’re having a bit of a ‘do’. Hmmmm, now where did I get to? Yeah, 6 bottles of Johnny Walker and what’s that draught Ruddles like?’
‘It’s good. Have a try’
For a couple of weeks we’d been trialling selling draught beer, specifically Ruddles County. There was a tap on the counter and a keg in the cellar. Hoping he wouldn’t notice the barflies as I waved them away, I poured him a plastic cup full for him to taste.
‘Mmmm … Nice. So how does that come?’
‘We usually do it in 16 pint polypins’
‘Okay, I’ll have six of those as well and that should do it’
‘I’ll just tot that up for you then … £409.22* and where is it for?’
’22 SAS Chelsea Barracks and its Capt O’ Leary.’
Unseen to Capt O’ Leary, I noticed that after raising his eyes to the heavens, Aky had already screwed the order form up in his hand and tossed it into the nearest bin.
‘See you Friday then lads’ and with that he disappeared.
We of course took the precaution of phoning Chelsea Barracks, just in case, but as expected the officer at the guardhouse explained that they could neither confirm or deny whether a ‘Capt O’Leary’ was currently stationed there and assured us that even if there was, he would have been in breach of protocol in requesting the delivery of such items to a military base because of the security risk.
*This is worth £409.22 in today’s money.