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.
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 …
… 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…’
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.
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