WATERLOO SUSPECTS

I swore I would never reveal the full story of what happened on Waterloo Bridge one balmy night in June 1984.

Here it is.

The Great White Chief pulled back the curtain a few inches and looked down into the street below. Phew! The van was there. Admittedly, looking like it had been parked by a monkey; half on, half off the pavement, but there it was. To his immense relief.

It all started the day before.

Is this your vehicle, Sir?

Is this your vehicle, Sir?

Me and my best mate Aky had opened the wine store (of which the Great White Chief was the Great White Chief) for another day’s business. We were going through the usual routine of buying bagels from the café next door and complaining about how expensive they were, while listening to an obscure pirate radio station, Lazer 558 (anything to avoid bloody Capitol bloody Radio ) Maybe having a game of newspaper baseball, doing a bit of light bottling up – nothing too strenuous. Of The Great White Chief there was no sign.

When the phone rang.

We both looked at it. The phone ringing was not in itself an unusual event, but calls tended to come later in the day, when our customers and suppliers had had time to settle into the day.

My best mate Aky answered. He listened for a while and started to jot down an order. It was a big one by the looks of it. It was the landlord of a large noisy pub in Victoria, Marty. One of our publican customers.  He was plainly in a bit of a panic. It seemed he had been given notice of a stock check the following morning and needed a lot of beer fast.

Aky made an executive decision, took the order and told Marty not to worry. It was a big one, 25 barrels of Carlsberg and 4 Fosters. We rang around the Great White Chief’s great white haunts (remember this was before the mobile phone era) but no luck, until we rang Ken’s off licence in Berwick Street, Soho. Ken, the Great White Chief’s mentor and partner in crime was AWOL too: a very very bad sign.

I ought to point out at this stage that in addition to being Great White Chief, he was the only one among us who possessed a Driver’s Licence (Not that he’d ever been within half a mile of a DVLA test centre, but that’s beside the point) and without him we could neither collect the order nor deliver it.

We rang our main suppliers, Olympus Wines and Spirits to make a start on getting the stuff. Because it was at such short notice they didn’t have it all so we had to order the rest from The Finnertys who were a bit more pricey (and who, if they knew, would feel very put out about playing a supporting role to Olympus. Luckily both agreed to deliver, after some negotiation.

Still no sign of The Great White Chief or Ken. We tried the Club (the Hogarth Club: a seedy drinking den in Soho owned by of all, people Jeremy Beadle) The Blue Posts and Topo Gigio’s.

Perhaps they had gone to Brighton for the day? or Ascot? Marty was getting more and more jumpy, ringing every half an hour, wondering when he would get his stuff.

As the afternoon wore on Olympus delivered their part of the order, which we had to hide so when the Finnery’s arrived they didn’t see it. Easier said than done in the tiny shop unit like ours.

About 4:00pm Lo and behold the Great White Chief called in.

‘Sweet’ he said when told about the pub order ‘So what’s the problem? We got the gear in from Olympus and Finnertys are on their way, we drop it round when the pubs shut. I’ll have another couple of drinks with Ken then I’ll come over.’

When put like that it was indeed difficult to draw a conclusion as to what the problem was. Everything was so simple in the Chief’s own little world.

But the moment the phone was put down, the raft of difficulties resurfaced: Marty rang demanding to know ‘What the fuck, and didn’t we know we were going to ruin him? ‘ And worse, the Great White Chief was clearly pissed out of his brains: ‘another couple of drinks with Ken’?? That probably meant two bottles of Shampoo on top of a day’s drinking.

Anyway it was too late to worry, Finnertys were here. We got them to drop their barrels at the corner of Duke St. Ostensibly to make life easier for them while we shifted them after they had gone. It was of course a cunning ploy to avoid them clocking the stuff from Olympus.

‘When the pubs shut’ meant 11 bells and then at least another hour to let Marty’s pub quiet down.

We kept the shop open all the time.

At about 11:00, guess who’s here? The Great White Chief in the red transit van. He is ‘tired and emotional’ but otherwise on top form. We load the van and set off for Victoria. When we get there, we don’t bother with the cellar we just sling the barrels in through the bar.

Phew! We made it. Marty is so happy he re-opens the bar.

‘What are we all having?’

The Great White Chief gently sways and smiles beautifically ‘ I’ll just have lager, I’m driving’

Well, we get out of Marty’s at about 02:00am. We hop into the van. The Great White Chief is going to take us home.

The first thing I notice is that the Chief takes an uneccesary short cut through Victoria Bus Station.

Bit risky. Especially if you don’t want to draw attention to oneself.

The next thing that grabs my attention is the fact that we are driving over the river.

‘Where we going?’ I ask. ‘I’m taking you home’ says the Chief.

Now I don’t wish to brag, but I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction, even after late tasting till 2 in the morning.

‘But we live in Muswell Hill ….

The Chief looks at us blankly.

‘Right!’ and he swerves left in order to cross Waterloo Bridge. We are now going North where we should be. We are half way across when we hear an awful sound …

Ner ner ner ner

Ner ner ner ner

… A police car siren. With blue lights flashing, the Rover SD1 3500 V8 jam sandwich pulled in front of us and we came to a halt…

One of the officers climbed out, put on his peaked cap and slowly walked towards us. He tapped on the window –the Chief had forgotten it was still up. An impressive start.

‘Good evening, Sir’

The officer had the look of a harrassed school teacher.

‘Could you turn off the engine please.’ he said looking down the road and then back to the Chief.

He hesitated ‘Do you realise you are driving without any lights?’

Ooooooh noooo! There followed a toe-curlingly long wait as the Chief slapped every instrument, knob and dial on the dashboard until completely by chance he hit the right one for the lights. The Chief gave the Police Officer a look such as a happy puppy might give his owner on returning a stick.

The officer took a leisurely walk around the van. We could hear him fiddling with light fittings, casting a look into the back – which contained three empty barrels and an open case of Tennants lager. Kicking the nearside front tyre. In the cab we looked at one another our faces lit up by the supernatural glow of the flashing blue light.

‘Is this your vehicle Sir?’

‘Yeah, well I use it for work’

‘And what might that be Sir?’

‘I own an Off Licence’

‘And have been drinking this evening Sir?’

‘Oh no, here we go’ I thought. ‘It’s blow in the bag time. What kind of reading is it going to show? It’s going to melt’

‘No’, Said the Chief.

‘No? How could he have the brass neck?’

He corrected himself.

‘Well yeah, we’ve just had a quick drink, we’ve been doing a job over in Victoria.’

‘I am thinking choice of words!? Doing a job! And why tell him we’ve crossed the river twice?’ I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think I’m about to feel what a night in the cells is like.

The officer looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, looked down the road again, took off his cap and scratched his head.

‘I know you have been drinking I can smell it from here’ and turning back to the Chief ‘It smells fucking disgusting. I don’t ever want to see you again’. And with that he turned and walked back to the squad car. They turned off the blue lights and roared away!

We sat for a minute astonished. ‘Did that really just happen?’

The Great White Chief started the van and turned to us with his winning gap-toothed smile and said

‘Yeah, stick with me lads you’ll be alright’

He pulled away from the kerb.

‘Chief’, said Aky ‘You might want to take the handbrake off …’

‘Whoops, there we go…’

'As long I gaze at Waterloo sunset I am in paradise' Kinks' Ray Davies. Easily pleased

‘As long I gaze at Waterloo sunset I am in paradise’ Kinks’ Ray Davies. Easily pleased

Now I have analysed what happened this evening countless times over the years and the only explanation for the events as they took place on Waterloo Bridge I can come up with is that the Police officers that night were about to finish their shift. Driving without due care and attention. Driving under the influence of alcohol, no MOT, no tax, no insurance and driving on a false licence … I think they just thought of the mountain of paperwork that arresting the Chief would create, and so didn’t bother.

Besides, they would have had to spend half the night trying to find a book big enough to throw at him.

AFTERWORD

Please note that is not the author’s intention to glorify drink/driving/car crime, simply to relay facts as they happened. You can draw your own conclusions. As far as Ken and the Great White Chief are concerned, their demons followed them right until the end: in Ken’s case the crumbling chalk edge of Beachy Head and the Chief, one of the nicest blokes I have ever met … Well it doesn’t bear thinking about.

© Andy Daly 2015

 

 

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