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Boat Race at the Builders Arms


Another pub we all used to use was the Builders arms in King St Hammersmith. It was a Young’s pub, in the main these public houses are well managed clean respectable establishments. The pub had a new manager who was an Ex Metropolitan police Detective Sgt. he was very keen that the emergency services should use the pub IE police, fire, and ambulance. He had arranged a social evening between his pub regulars and emergency services. This social evening included an event called a boat race. The uninitiated will very well ask ‘how can you have a boat race inside a pub’ well you can!. Rugby aficionados will know only too well what is involved. Teams of five men (or ladies) each holding a pint glass full of beer stand in line. The first man drinks his pint of beer as quickly as possible, then upturns the empty glass onto his head, this is followed by the second man and so on down the line. The first team to drink their beer and with upturned glasses on head, wins the boat race. This is then followed by the single’s boat race in which the man that can drink a pint of beer in the quickest time is judged the winner, and given a prize (usually yet another pint of beer)

Now we had known about this event, the social evening and the boat race in advance, so in order to uphold the honour of the fire brigade had brought in a couple of Ringers. That is men from other fire stations who were good at this event, one of them was the Brigade rugby clubs section champion, this guy amazed even me on the night. We had just finished and won the team boat race, when our champion disappeared off to the gents toilets. I was told he was going to limber up for the singles boat race, IE put his fingers down his throat and be sick, so he could start completely afresh, unhindered by an already full stomach. In the bar I could see money changing hands, and I was discretely informed ‘bet on our man guv he’s a cert’.

Our champion in the team race had drunk his pint of beer very quickly indeed in my opinion, taking only some two or three seconds, but there was some deviousness going on. He had apparently, so I was informed been hanging back, waiting for the singles boat race to increase the odds. I decided to hang on to my money, for some of the police team seemed to be also very good at this drinking beer quickly lark. What is it I wonder in the make up of police and firemen that make them excel at these allegedly childish pranks (who said that! That man stand up). The pub regulars and ambulance men were all well out of their league in the evenings events, but never the less enjoyed themselves watching the antics of others. So the singles boat race began, it was impressive! Some of the firemen and police officers were pouring pints of beer down their throats, in times of three and four seconds only. Due to the sums of money bet on this event, it was taken most seriously. The adjudicator a neutral home team pub man, state of the art stopwatch in hand, and two other referee’s one policeman, one fireman, closely monitored the proceedings. A man that that placed his upturned beer glass upon his head, whilst it still contained around two inches of beer in it, was deemed disqualified, to much vigorous protestations by his team-mates.

Then at long last it was the fireman’s favourites turn at the singles boat race (the ringer). This fireman was a small stocky man from Acton fire station, whose nickname was ‘No Neck’ bestowed upon him by reason of the fact that his head seemed to sit directly and squarely onto his torso, obviating the need for a neck, and needless to say a dedicated rugby football man.

Now a bit of pure theatre took over, his mates were massaging his muscles and throat, fanning him vigorously with the bar towels, just like a prize pugilist!. Encouraging him “go to it No-neck show the bastards what you can do, take no prisoners”. No-neck grasped the full pint glass of beer in his right hand, made one or two up and down movements with the brim filled glass as to warm up. Then his mates called out One, Two, Three Go, he raised the glass to his mouth and it was gone!. I didn’t believe it! Were did it go? was the man a magician or something?. One whole pint of beer, twenty fluid ounces of liquid, had just disappeared in the space of one point something seconds, seemingly down his throat. It would have taken me that long, simply just to have poured it down the toilet!. One half of the bar erupted in jubilant cheers and shouts, the other half were muttering ominously ‘its got to be a fiddle, nobody can drink beer that bloody quickly’. I myself almost forgot which side I was supporting, and thus demanding that No-neck be physically examined to see where the beer had actually gone to, but then remembered where my loyalties lay. No-neck to much cheers and adulations disappeared off to the toilet once again, to regurgitate, and thus begin his evenings pleasure drinking, as opposed to line of duty quaffing.

One of my great regrets in life was not being allowed the opportunity to play rugby football. Unfortunately when I was a young boy living in the London borough of Fulham, then very much a working class district, rugby football, was deemed a toffs game. It was played by your little Lord Fauntleroys and such like, not for the like’s of raggedly arsed kids such as myself. I am convinced that not only would I have been good at the actual game of rugby, but that I would have exceed all expectations at the Après-le-rugby lark, IE singing dancing yahooing, and generally making a fool of oneself.
Thus so, began the second half of the nights proceedings. It began with a rendering of the song ‘Off to see the wild west show’ or ‘The Oomee Goolie Bird song’. The chorus of the song goes as follows.

Were off to see the wild west show
The elephant and the kangeroo, who who
Never mind the weather as long as were together
Were off to see the wild west show.

Now during the rendering of this song, a future station officer to be, at Hammersmith fire station and devotee of rugby football, then a mere fireman in rank, one Charlie Woodroff. For reasons that I could not fathom, was cavorting about with a stainless steel colander upon his head and making vigorous stabbing motions, with the handle of an old mop he was carrying. Following this and some other risqué rugby songs we moved onto the cabaret, this again was provided by the firemen.

A table was cleared of glasses ashtrays etc, a fireman then perched up upon it, on his hands and knee’s the pubs lights being turned down low, he then giving a practical demonstration of fart igniting. This was old hat, I had seen this many times before, nice pretty little blue flames coming from his bum, but never the less it was good fun and amused the ladies somewhat. The next trick I must admit I had never seen before. This was No-neck our champion ale quaffer’s party piece. He had with him a comb with a piece of cellophane paper tightly wrapped around it, like a home made kazoo. He then got up onto the table, dropped his trousers to around his ankle’s and got down onto his hands and knee’s. Then with his underpants tightly stretched he placed the comb and cellophane across his anus, then farting vigorously began to play tunes on the comb and paper. The room was in a tumult of laughter, so as you could not hear the tunes properly. I was staggered just where and how do these blokes find out, they have these special skills, attributes whatever. Then given that they have acquired them, do they then need to practise three times a day or what to hone them to perfection.

The time was now around eleven thirty, the pub had in theory been shut for half an hour, and we should all be making our way home. The landlord (the ex Met copper) had waited for all the strangers to leave the pub before announcing, right everyone into the back bar we are on after’s (an after hours drink). The rear bar was in fact a very smart lounge bar, the one we were currently in was deemed the public bar, and was a bit Spartan with its furnishings. As we paddled through all the spilled beer on the floor, I could understand why the drinking game was called a boat race, and why the landlord had wisely kept us in the scruffy bar for the event.

Ensconced in the posh bar we partied on!. Quite a few policemen who had finished their shifts at eleven o’clock had now joined us, there must have been thirty or forty people crowded in the bar. I had seen something which normally might have raised my eyebrows in surprise, but tonight nothing would surprise me. There behind the bar serving out pints of beer, were two fully uniformed police constables. These two PCs were obviously on duty, for from time to time their personal radios would start to chatter. After about twenty minutes or so, there was a loud strident call for silence in the bar, it took some time for the general hubbub and voices to die away. Then could be heard and be seen, one of the policemen behind the bar talking into his radio. “Yes Sergeant, yes Sarg, I am proceeding along King Street in the direction of Hammersmith Broadway at this very moment”. As the noise in the bar began to swell upwards once again, there seem to be one constant phrase being repeated on all and every pair of lips, ‘lying B*st*rd!’.

Some years after this momentous evening, there was another change of landlord at the Builder Arms (I think the old landlord the Ex Met copper, got promoted for quadrupling the trade). This new landlord just did not seem to have the same attitude to life, as our previous extrovert retired policeman. He seemed to favour a more quite sedate kind of clientele, half pint drinkers, little fingers a right angles to the glass type of people. So of course it was not too long before your noisy riff raff yahooing firemen fell out of favour. The crunch came one night (I was told, for I was not there) when a grand drink up had been arranged, between the Chiswick and Hammersmith firemen at the Builders Arms. Chiswick fire station borders on with Hammersmith, but in entirely the wrong direction. It was as I have pointed out in earlier books and chapters, Chiswick was an Ex Middlesex fire station, therefore socially and operationally somewhat inferior to us Inner London Lads. Unfortunately and I say again unfortunately, when it came to Yahooing, oh boy! did they have us Hammersmith lads beat into a cocked hat!. Anyway to cut a long story short, for nobody seems to remember exactly what happened that night, but something pretty calamitous obviously happened. For the word went around the division by word of mouth, that all firemen were barred from the Builders Arms. On the face of it, this was not to much of a disaster, there must have been at least another twenty pubs within walking distance of Hammersmith fire station. More so, it was the loss of face, street cred even, that smarted. Over the years the odd individual fireman had been barred from this or that pub for being naughty, but never before had we all been barred on mass, oh the terrible indignity of it all!. We soon got over it though! Ah sod em, was the general consensus of opinion, one for all and all for one, the three jolly old musketeers syndrome, see you all down the Laurie Arms later lads.

Some months after the mass and undignified barring of all firemen from the Builders Arms. The sub officer at Hammersmith and myself one Saturday lunchtime, we both staying over between night duties fancied a beer and something to eat. Unfortunately one of the best places to eat in the Broadway district was the Builders. So we decided that we would give it a try, throw our hats through the door and see what happened, metaphorically speaking of course. Wearing full civvies we walked around to the Builders opened the door and walked in. At the bar I ordered two pints of bitter from the young lady serving there. Whilst the young lady was pulling the pints of beer, another young lady came over to say to us “I am very sorry but the manager has asked me to tell you that all firemen are barred from this pub”. In my best upright citizen speak I replied “Yes young lady I am aware of that, but will you inform the manager that we are not firemen, we are both” indicating the sub officer and myself “in fact fire officers, and that we did not know that they were barred as well”. Its what’s called pulling rank, because we both got served. I would like to add that I was now approaching the stage of life, where I actually preferred quite dignified pubs, and was only too pleased that yahooing, and being sick all over the place, was no longer tolerated in this public house.

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