Hangovers. The Cast

Let me introduce you to the three key players to start with.

First and foremost is My Best Mate Aky, long-time resident of these pages and the person responsible for securing me gainful employment: first at Victoria Wine 104, Marylebone High Street and eventually at Hangovers.

Arthur. The Boss. The ‘Great White Chief.’ Forget  ‘Only Fools and Horses’, ‘Minder’ and all that old bollocks, Arthur was the real deal: a genuine Cockney wide boy who always fell on his feet. Out of Gillespie Road, Arsenal via Highbury Grove School, where Headteacher  Dr. Rhodes Boyson played a latter-day Gradgrind to Arthur’s Artful Dodger; he had a disarming grin as broad as the northern entrance to the Blackwall tunnel  (which endearingly revealed his missing molars) and an infectious cackle of a laugh. Good-humoured (I never once saw him angry; well, not so you would notice) and generous to a fault, he was impossible not to like. Arthur  always wore a branded T or polo shirt, jeans and white trainers with a light casual leather jacket in the winter time. His only accessory was a rolled up bundle of genuine high-spec folding money stuffed into his front jeans pocket. Because we worked long hours (The shop was open 8am – 8pm) it could often be quite boring with little in the way of ‘creature comforts’ (unless you include draught Ruddles piped up to the counter) so the unwritten rule was that friends could visit at any time, chew the fat and help themselves to whatever they fancied (within reason) as long as they were prepared to pitch in and help out should, say a delivery arrive and a van need unloading or we have a minor panic about something.

Kenneth Whitehead. Ken. Arthur’s mentor. Originally from Sunderland he came down to London in the ’60s to make his fortune. He loved everything about the ’60s: the music and fashion. As with all genuine sixties people he didn’t seem to remember much about it and was noticeably vague and evasive when quizzed about what he actually did during this pivotal decade. When I met him, Ken ran Victoria Wine’s  Berwick Street Soho shop. A shop, incidentally, that Those In The Know, gave less than a month, judging its location as a massively naive mistake on the part of Victoria Wine; the general consensus being that it would succumb either to a single large-scale heist or organised, concentrated and relentless petty thieving. Berwick Street  market, right outside its front door, aside from the fact that at the time it had a number of ambitious … let’s call them ‘Local Entrepreneurs’ working on it, conveniently provided an impenetrable space: ideal should someone or something need to be hidden in a hurry.

Berwick St. Market Soho.  Immediately outside Ken’s front door

In fact, Ken proved Those In The Know completely wrong for within a week, he and the ‘Local Entrepreneurs’ had come to a series of agreements concerning a variety of merchandise, its handling and storage, which was to be beneficial to one and all; some of which may or may not have included some, all or none of the following: (Firearms, Drugs, Clothes esp. cashmere jumpers, cassette tapes and CDs, cash money, Concert Tickets, Gold Bullion, etc.)  Thus the shop enjoyed protected status and went on to do good business, which would have been even better were it not for extremely efficient practice of its charismatic manager. Bookwork and paperwork out of the way before the rest of the staff arrived in the morning to open up, he would take his first drink of the day (Lanson Black label champagne or a brandy, depending on how the mood took him) just before opening time at 9:am. On the face of it a genial, good-natured bear of a guy with his Dire Straits, casual button down collar, jumper, neat jeans and (like his protegé) white trainers, You underestimated him at your peril, for running through him was a streak of pure steel. It was not considered wise to mess with Ken.

By 11:00, after supervising a tidy of the shop and the ‘bottling up’ of any depleted shelves, the serious drinking would begin. Ken would appoint his ‘Second in Command’ then disappear for the afternoon, popping in from time to time to check things were OK, and if he felt inclined, take us for lunch. If he  ever needed to be found in a hurry (Remember, this is in the days before mobile phones) there were three triangulation points that were key in locating his whereabouts. ‘Moira’s Massage Parlour’ in Queen Anne’s Court,  The Blue Posts, which stands on the corner of Berwick Street market, and ‘The Club’ on D’Arblay Street (This still being the era of much tighter licensing laws) ‘The Club’ was a shabby illegal all-day drinking hole. A ‘Speakeasy’ if you will.

If Ken wasn’t to be found within the ‘Soho Triangle’ which, to be fair was not often, chances were he could be anywhere or more likely in Topo Gigio’s.

Hangovers

Now, here’s a tricky one for you. What is the connection between the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus, The Rileys, a notorious Islington-based criminal family probably best known for their Finsbury Square ‘shoot out’ with rival gang the Adams, and a small parade of shops behind St. Pancras parish church, designed by Thomas Cubitt and built in 1822?

Don’t worry if you’re struggling. There’s probably less than half a dozen people alive on this planet who know the answer; which is of course, Hangovers. Not the physical phenomenon that we all know and love, result of bashing the grape more than somewhat and characterised by headache, dehydration, upset stomach, double vision, death (or close to) depending on how many extra one has attemped to tie on. In fact at one time in my life I am sorry to say, what had become my ‘default setting’ such that occasionally; maybe on a Tuesday or Wednesday I would wake up in my bed and not some wretched, deserted London Transport terminal like Cockfosters, Upminster, Dagenham, Barnet Church etc. and stumble about, blinking in the sunshine, unaccustomed to the levelness of the floor and the agreeable volume at which I found everything. Fit, in fact as a fiddle. Which brings me back to Hangovers.

The next time you are walking around Bloomsbury, which I realise for some of you for reasons of geography, is going to be less likely than it is for others, do yourself a favour. Head north through Tavistock Square, pass the British Medical Association, then between The New Ambassadors and the County Hotel, Stick your nose into Woburn Walk. As if you’ve stepped into a timewarp you are transported from the noise, grime and traffic on Upper Woburn Place to the most wonderful parade of Georgian shops.

This hidden gem was the brainchild of architect Thomas Cubitt, also resposible for, among other things, the East front of Buckingham Palace and was built as London’s first pedestrianised street. The houses themselves are three storeys with stucco fronts , while the shop facades were designed with great skill (it says here) The window stood in the centre, flanked by doorways, each of which were of four panels with rectangular fanlight above.  Each window was divided by very delicate glazing bars into twenty-four panes, four panes high, and curved at each side. Between each pair of doors was a wrought-iron scraper and the rainwater downpipes, with moulded heads, were neatly arranged in alternate recesses between the houses. Number 5 was occupied from 1895-1919 by William Butler Yeats. While from 1982 -1987 it was occupied along with number 3, by Hangovers, the Wine Store.

Aky and self outside Hangovers, summer 1984

Antique shop opposite Hangovers

So there’s the first link. The others I’ll come to presently.

There are so many Hangovers stories. They criss-cross, overlap and are so tightly packed that it is almost impossible to tease them out into one single narrative. So they have been left to mature these last few years and what I am going to attempt to do for you is to slice off some of the tasty titbits such as Stage Door Martin and the Waterloo Bridge incident, The SAS Captain, and The Flower Seller, amongst others.

But all in good time.

© Andy Daly 2012

Pic Credits: West End Notes, London Town, Flickriver 2 , 192.com, Flickriver 2