The following is basically a true story of a fishing outing whilst I was stationed at Chelsea fire station, I have allowed some literary licence to inject some humour into the story. Never-the-less we did go in my old 1939 Morris car, George really did wear his big hat throughout the day, we did hire a punt, and we did fish at Teddington on Thames etc.
I had made arrangements with two blue watch fireman both angling enthusiast like myself at the time, to meet them at Chelsea fire station for a days fishing. I pulled into the station yard driving my 1939 Morris E type motorcar. This car was considered somewhat NAFF at the time for spirited young bloods to be seen driving around in, it being considered rather ancient even in those far back days but since neither of the other two chappies owned a motor they both condescended to ride in it. Third class riding being considered vastly superior to first class walking. The car had a plus point, it was fitted with a soft top, and then since it was a beautiful day, I had already folded this back. I met up with the other two firemen and we were busy loading all the fishing gear into the spare seat at the back of the car, large rod bags, creels etc.
Sauntering leisurely across the drill yard towards us hands in pockets came George Grinham, to greet us cheerfully “Hi lads where are you going”. Steve one the other fireman replied testily “we are going to play golf, what does it look like we are doing”. George never one to be put off by mere caustic replies said “Oh good, can I come”. This put the other two firemen in a bit of a dilemma, George was their watch mate, and watch mates stick together, but it was my car and it was already full of men and kit. They both looked at me appealingly, but at the same time guilt and remorse showed on their faces. If you have ever seen a big doe eyed Labrador dog, seated and watching his master eat his dinner, then you would know what a dilemma I was in. “Yeh sod it, it’s a nice day, go and get your kit George” I said somewhat tersely. We then set about re-arranging all the fishing rod bags and kit in the car. The boots on these 1939 jobs are miniscule, so most of the stuff had go into the rear seats with the passengers. George returned once again sauntering across the yard to rejoin us; I am now going describe what eyes saw in reverse order. In one hand he carried a brown paper bag, which looked like it might possibly contain a cheese roll and nothing much else. Upon his head he was wearing a huge solar topee hat, as in jungle explorer type hat. We all stood mouths agape, “bloody hell” said Steve to him, “we are only going up the river Thames not the F-cking Amazon, so what’s with the big hat”.
Completely unabashed he chirped back at us “this is my new hat, do you like it, I rescued it from a theatre fire last week, thought I’d bring it along in case the sun got a bit hot”. It was my own opinion which I kept to myself, that secretly George had always fancied himself as a French foreign legionnaire, and this hat was about as near as he was ever going to get to one, thus he was determined to wear it. For some reason which I cannot remember, George gave myself and the others a perfectly (at the time) reasonable, but no doubt false excuse, as to why he could not possibly sit in the rear seat which was crowded with all the kit. Although now thinking back in retrospect, most likely that he feared the wind would blow his big hat off.
So with George ensconced in the number one seat alongside me with his elbow resting on the door top his solar hat on his head, chin strap under his chin lest the wind should blow it away we set off.
With fishing rod bags protruding out of each side of the car the old 1939 Morris spluttered out of the station yard, to unexpected cheers from the first floor of the fire station. The on duty watch had been watching these events unknown to us for the past half hour, firmly convinced that we would never venture beyond the rear station yard gates. They knowing full well that us happy crowd of wanderers had been engaged in many other proposed exciting expeditions, that inevitably seemed to have got abandoned in favour of the local pub.
The old car turned right out of the fire station, and started off down the then at the time swinging Kings Road, in the general direction of Teddington, where we were headed for. Do you ever get the feeling that people are staring at you? well I did then. I knew it was a crappy old car, I knew it was full of men and kit, with fishing rods hanging over the side. I knew the exhaust smoked at bit when I gunned it up through the gears, but it couldn’t have been that, which seemed to attract all the attention. The old car had recently been hand painted a light shade of battle ship grey; this somewhat resembled the old WW2 wartime desert camouflage paint. So maybe everybody just thought that we were a Long Range Desert Patrol Group what had got orribly lost. No! Somehow I just knew, that all this rude staring had nothing to do with all this. Instead it most definitely had something to do with Georges solar hat! that was attraction all the attention. This exotic headgear was no doubt considered a bit risqué, even for the swinging Kings Road at that time.
So, thus we meandered our way through South and West London, towards Teddington lock and weir on the river Thames, our ultimate destination. Arriving there we parked up the old car, not even bothering to put the soft top up or lock it. One of the advantages of running old bangers is, that your criminal classes would not be seen dead driving the things! and thus would never dream of actually stealing one. In reality and I don’t really like to admit to this, I had an old woolly hat in the glove compartment the kind that you can roll right down over your ears and face. So if I was going anywhere posh, or trying to pull a bird and suchlike. I used to motor up wearing my woolly hat then park around the corner so’s no one would know it was me that was driving the crappy old car.
Having parked up the car, we now had to seek out the boathouse where we had hired a punt for the day. Oh yes! Some preplanning had gone into this day out on the river; a bloke on the red watch at Manchester Square fire station had given us all the info. We had booked the punt for the day over the telephone, and it was going to cost us ten quid for the day. This was at the time a day’s part time wages for one man, but split four ways (with George now in attendance) it was affordable. The guy from the Square had given us much other valuable information. Telling us, whatever you do when boatman asks you have you ever been out in a punt on the Thames before answer yes. If necessary lie, tell him hundreds of times before, because if you don’t he will take up an hour of fishing time, telling you the do’s and don’ts of frigging about on the river in a punt, including, believe or not lifeboat drill.
So when we finally found the boathouse and boatman I laid it on heavy, in answer to the question had we ever been on the river before, I glibly told him “yes mate we are all floaties off of the London fire brigade fire boat, adding for extra effect I’ve even got my skippers ticket”. Then indicating George standing alongside me “and this ere’s my best first mate, so’s your old wooden punt ought to be safe with us then”. This certainly seemed to impress him, we were not yer usual landlubbing load of Riff Raff, that normally hired and damaged his precious punts, so he thought!
So as we loaded our kit onto the punt, we used technical terms like put it up forard calling the front the bows and the arse end the stern and the bit in between midships and such like, just to keep up the illusion that we were practised seafarers. George as always finally managed to ruin this image, as at last we were ready to cast off, he then instructing the boatman in a loud stentorian voice “alright then guvnor untie the string and shove the f-cking thing out will yer”.
So there we were at long last, after weeks of planning and preparation afloat at last, on the idyllic river Thames at Teddington. Our friend at Manchester Square fire station had informed us that the best fishing was to be had in the weir pool itself. So first it had to be determined in which direction lay the weir pool, in our haste to be gone we had forgotten to ask the boatman this quite important question. It was Steve that ventured the first guess, he opinioning, that being as all the plastic bottles, and used condoms were floating in one direction, the weir pool aught to be the opposite way. At which George gave a grunt, saying aggressively “how did you work that one out Steve” adding “you trying to tell me that more people have sex in weir pools than anywhere else on the river”. George started to elaborate just how in his vast experience where, when, and how often people had sex, but Steve stopped him in mid flow. Telling him no George “it’s got nothing to do with where and how people bonk, it’s all to do with the flow of the river. Getting into his stride he explained how according to the laws of hydraulics rivers always flow from a high to a low level, therefore water flows over a weir, therefore as the water is flowing in this way the weir must be up in that direction. Now the subject seemed to have abruptly come of off sex George seemed to have lost all interest in it, muttering out aloud “alright Steve if you are going to try and baffle me with f-cking science have it your way, see if I care which direction we go”.
So that was it, the first major decision of the day had been made we were going to navigate upstream against the flow.
We had not gone more that fifteen yards when we discovered there was more to this punting lark than meets the average layman’s eye. For a start, the great big stick you have to push the thing along with seems to have a mind of its own. Once again to diverse slightly, I don’t know if any of you readers have ever been punting, but this stick is seemingly about thirty feet long, and weighing about one hundred pounds. The theory is, that you drop this thing to the bottom of the river, then walking towards the back of the punt gently push the punt forward, this will usually gain about twenty feet forward momentum, brilliant! No problem. Unfortunately that’s only the theory, in practise, when you get to the end of your forward momentum the bottom of the bloody great stick will be stuck fast in the mud of the riverbed. So now you have one of three choices, (A) abandon the stick and hope for the best. (B) Hang on to the stick and bid the punt adieu, (this choice only recommended for good swimmers). (C) Thirdly wrestle with the stick like grim death, not to let the thing escape and defeat you. The problem then is that at the end of the struggle assuming you have indeed won the battle; you will have inevitably been drawn backwards. There to find out that for all your efforts, the river current being against you as well, the punt has only made one-foot progress forward.
I was on my third attempt at stick wrestling and we had made virtually nil forward momentum. George who was ensconced in the bows of the punt once again wearing THE hat, (he had been made to take it off earlier, lest it frighten the boatman). George called out to me irritably using one of the famous lines from the Punch and Judy shows “that’s not the way to do it”. I grimaced; I bit my tongue (that is I actually did bite my tongue) I have this terrible habit of letting it hang out when I am totally engrossed in something. I was not most pleased; we had not yet gone forward seemingly more than two yards and ready the crew was mutinying. I was standing at the rear with the great big pole in one hand, looking at the blood from my tongue in the palm of the other hand, thinking to myself Bollocks to this punting lark when Steve came to my rescue saying “here Dave let me have a go at it”. We gingerly swapped places, and I took a seat midships to watch his performance with the bloody great big stick. He dropped the pole to the riverbed and gently pushed on it, the punt glided gracefully forward. He turned and smiled at me saying “you see Dave this is how you do it” I felt a complete and utter fool, that is until he came to the last two foot of the pole when he uttered the words “Oh sh-t”. I don’t think Steve was a particularly good swimmer; so he really had only one choice and that was hang on to both the pole and the punt. Now I was quite enjoying myself, I had forgotten my bitten tongue as I watched Steve adopt a crouching position just like a tug of war man with both hands heaving on the pole and the punt slowly and inexorably going backwards again.
As I was thinking to myself this cannot go on forever, we are getting nowhere slowly. A voice boomed out from the bank “what you lads still here” it was our boatman wearing a great big grin on his face. With only that which could be described as a smug look on his face he carried on “thought I might see you lads again, only not quite as quick as this”. He was obviously enjoying himself saying, “not quite like them old fireboats, these old punts are they”. He was without doubt going to have his pound of flesh for he spoke to me directly “you seem to be having a little bit of trouble with your crew skipper, in my day I’d a flogged em before the mast”. If he but knew it, I was in total agreement with his last statement, only we did not have a mast on board. Every dog has its day and he was having his right now, and no doubt thoroughly enjoying it. We were stationary marooned fifteen feet out from the bank, whilst he lectured us on the do’s and don’ts of punting and the navigation rules of the river Thames for what seemed like a full half hour. Then and only then did he tell us, the reason we could not pull our punt pole out was because we were directly over a deep mud bank. Explaining to us in minute detail like we were five year olds, that if were to use the two paddles in the bottom of the punt and paddle another ten feet into the stream we would be over a gravel bed and have no more problems. We thanked him out loud and cursed him under our breaths, why didn’t the silly old sod tell us that in the first place. George was even more vitriolic “cantankerous old git, I bet he had been watching us struggle all the time, laughing his bollocks off”. “That’s an hour we’ve just wasted, and its bloody nearly pub opening time”.
Without further ado or excitement (that I can remember that is) we poled gracefully down the river to the weir. Here we had yet another minor altercation, Steve being apparently the master fisherman, he had more fishing tackle than the rest of us put together. Steve wanted to moor the punt at point (A) George and Norman, Norman he being the fourth member of the crew, normally a quite retiring fireman as evidenced by his lack of participation in all the foregoing, decided they did not like point (A). Steve was getting a bit cross, we had been an hour on the water and as yet had not put a single fishing line in. “Right” said Steve aggressively “what’s the matter with point (A) then, why don’t you like it”. Uh said George grunting, “you can’t bloody see nothing”. Steve now getting quite excited shouted back “what do you mean you can’t see nothing, look there’s the weir, that’s the weir apron, there’s a swan, there’s a duck, those are bulrushes over there, what more do you want to bloody well see”. George sensing Steve’s ugly mood thought modesty the better part of valour, nudged Norman saying “go on Norm you tell him”. Norman gulped and blinked furiously before saying “well we can’t see no crumpet from here can we, me and George were rather looking forward to watching all the birds in their skimpy Bikini’s weren’t we George”. George glancing at Steve decided not to push his luck any further saying “Nope this spot will do me fine, not very often you can get this close to ducks and swans is it”. Then holding out his hand at an approaching swan, “saying look you can almost touch them”.
Steve was unpacking his numerous fishing rods and tackle; I was busy lowering the concrete block that served as an anchor down into the river, when the boat suddenly rocked violently. From behind me came a loud irate shout “F-cking thing it just bit me!” As I turned George was scrabbling around in the bottom of the punt shouting, “where’s that bloody paddle, I’ll soon give it what for, bite me would it, I’ll teach the sod a lesson”. There not three feet from the punt was a great big gianormous white swan, paddling its feet and standing up in the water, and flapping its huge wings at us. “What did you did you do to it” snapped Steve, “I didn’t do nothing” said George equally annoyed “I just got hold of it by the neck to stroke it, and the vicious bastard bit me”.
Eventually, eventually after many other quite minor trials and tribulations we settled down to actually do some fishing. George upon being presented with a borrowed fully tackled up fishing rod, then being instructed how to put the bait (a maggot) on the hook. Shuddered saying “God, how disgusting do fish actually eat these things”. Steve was rapidly losing patience saying simply YES GEORGE”. A minute’s silence ensued whilst George digested this information, then with a note of disgust in his voice saying warily “do Cod eat these thing’s as well”. I suppose really I should have minded my own business, but I was trying to take the heat off of Steve who by now was getting a bit irate, so I replied. “Cod, what are you talking about George?” you know he said “Cod, Cod, as in fish and chips, they don’t eat these filthy disgusting things do they?” I instinctively knew which way his mind was working, so to keep the peace and quiet, I simply replied “no George you don’t get many maggots twenty thousand leagues down under the sea, where all the Cod live”. This reply seemed to satisfy him, for he muttered quietly “thank Christ for that, cos I do like my Cod and chips, but not if they have been eating these orrible bloody things”.
For quite some minutes (I forget how many, cos time goes quickly when you are enjoying yourself, though it could possibly have been almost as many as ten). All was quiet, all was at peace with the world, this was what fishing was all about, peace, quiet, tranquillity, and the quiet rush of water over the weir. This by the way was a Wednesday, Concorde only flies on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s from London airport, and Teddington is directly under the flight path. We were all casting our fishing lines upstream, then watching the tiny red dot, the top of the float, slowly drift downstream, intently watching for the tiny red float top to bob beneath the water, which would denote a bite from a fish. The sun shone, the birds twittered, the water lapped gently against the sides of the punt, even George seemed at last to be bitten by the fishing bug. “Steve” queried George in a quite gentle voice “how long do we have to wait, before we actually catch a fish”. Once again I tried to take the pressure off Steve, because I quietly in return replied, “George, how long is a piece of string”. As soon as the words left my mouth I knew I had said the wrong thing because Steve snapped back “for gods sake Dave don’t start him off again”. Then directed at George angrily “just shut up and fish”.
The peace quite and tranquillity must also at last have affected George for he nudged “me gently and whispered “Dave can maggots breathe under water” in keeping with the quiet mood I simply shook my head in reply, he grimaced back at me whispering “yeh I thought so” then brandishing his fishing line and hook held between his thumb and forefinger he said “have a look at this one for me will you, I think its drowned itself. This peaceful quiet mood we had settled into, could have lasted forever, it was now only being broken by subdued conversation between myself and George, me instructing him in the gentle and finer arts of fishing.
Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end, and this one ended abruptly, when Steve actually hooked a fish. The tranquillity vanished as he shouted, “I’ve got one I’ve got one” to be immediately echoed by Georges “where is it, where is it, lets see the bugger”. Both Steve and George were now standing upright in the punt, which was beginning to rock dangerously, Steve was calling out “Dave get the landing net quick”. I was vigorously tugging at George’s trouser leg telling him “George George you are standing on the landing net, move your foot quick. Norman who was sitting alongside where George was standing tried to lift up George’s foot so that I could get the landing net. Unfortunately this tipped George off balance with arms whirling he struggled to regain it. Steve who had been leaning backwards slightly reeling in the fish, was also now put of balance by the movement of the punt. So for quite some seconds we had a sort of reverse pendulum effect taking place in the boat. It was a bit like one of those boys toys, found on executive’s desks, where the steel balls click backwards and forwards, each being displaced by the momentum of the other. As George struggled to regain balance on one side of the boat, the movement rocked the boat, and again threw Steve off balance on the other side, he then struggling to regain his balance set George off all over again. The punt was rocking violently from side to side, as I shouted at George “sit down George sit down”. Then there was the sound of a splash, George immediately dropped down on his knee’s and reaching over the side of the boat, was splashing about in the water with his hands shouting “it’s me hat, it’s me hat, it’s gone in the drink”. I looked over the side, and sure enough it had. It had landed upside down in the water, and looked for all the world like a little lifeboat bobbing about in the water. Unfortunately for George the waves from the still rocking punt, were washing it further and further away. From the front of the punt came the angry shout “get the landing net, will somebody get the bloody landing net”. From the middle of the punt an equally angry reply “sod the landing net, what about my hat”.
Now that the danger of the punt overturning had diminished somewhat, I could see the funny side of it all and had started laughing, which of course did not help matters at all. I then became the victim of both of their anger, George “its not bloody funny Dave, that’s good hat that is” Steve “stop laughing and get me the bloody landing net will you”. Whilst I giggled on, Norman was attempting to recover the landing net from amongst the jumble of kit in the bottom of the boat. At last giving a huge lunge accompanied by a loud grunt Norman finally freed the landing net from all the accumulated gear at the bottom of the boat. This then re-started the punt once again in its vigorous violent side-to-side movements. Its me hat, its me hat shouted George yet again. Sod yer bloody hat cried Steve his rod bowing almost in half if you don’t hand me the landing net quick, this fish will be long gone. Norman stood upright in the violently rocking boat clutching the landing net, George snatched it from him, muttering menacingly bugger the fish, its women children and hats first mate, that’s the law of the sea, fishes can bloody swim, my hat can’t. George was now crouched down on his knee’s was reaching out over the side of the punt (which by the way for the technically minded are called the gunnels) endeavouring with loud splashings and cursings to ensnare his hat in the landing net.
All this commotion and splashing had by now attracted the big white swan back on the scene, George having been once bitten was now twice shy, urging Norman in a panicky voice “Fer Christ’s sake Norman, fend the frigging thing off with the punt pole, before it bites me again”. A brief moment of silence ensued, then an even more irate cry “it’s attacking me hat, its attacking me hat”. Then even louder “hit it with the frigging pole Norman, the bloody thing is savaging me hat”. The swan was now flapping its wings and standing up a fully six foot intimidating tall in the water, and attempting to drown Georges hat by treading it under the water with its feet. The swan did not actually know it, but it is impossible to drown a cork hat, and George’s violent flagellations with the landing net finally drove it back. Well of course these kind of excitement levels cannot go on forever, George finally managed to capture his hat in the upturned landing net, and was lying exhausted in the bottom of the punt. The big white swan was swimming serenely away wagging its tail, having just seen off the threat to its domain, by the amphibious exotic hat’us, hat’us creature.
The brief moment of calm was rudely interrupted by Steve’s anguished cry from the sharp end of the boat “fer Christ’s sake will somebody get me the bloody landing net”.
Norman passed the landing net forward to Steve, without bothering to remove George’s hat from it. Steve was now standing upright in the punt struggling with one hand only to hold onto his curving fishing rod and play the fish. With the other hand he was attempting to shake free Georges hat from the landing net, after only a short while he abandoned the struggle and placed the net still containing Georges hat over the side of the boat. This of course brought about the inevitable response “Oi that’s my bloody hat you’ve just put back in the water, what’s your game mate”. George was struggling to stand up in the boat, move forward and effect retribution, and I was struggling to keep him back down. Then at long last the landing net came back over onto the boat and onto the decking. There was a sight to behold, inside the net was Georges upturned hat, now full of water and with a fish swimming about in it. George was not at all amused although all others thought it hilarious, suggesting that perhaps we could keep the fish in the hat, and take it back to the fire station as pet. George was having none of it, and demanded his hat back immediately. George was leaning over side of the boat, trying to drain away all of the excess water out of his hat, when alongside him Steve quietly put the fish back into the river. George seeing him do this exclaimed loudly and crossly “I do not believe it, we have just come thirty miles, spent pounds and pounds, then put up with all this aggravation just to catch a fish, and you throw the bloody thing straight back in the river”. I quietly commiserated with him “don’t worry George that was only a baby Cod, we will catch it later when it grows bigger and eat it then”. George was quiet for around a minute while his brain digested this information then saying somewhat worryingly “WHAT so Cod really do eat maggots then”.
Later a quiet hush had descended over the boat, this is how fishing should be, peace quiet, contentment, I think all the previous happenings had quite subdued us somewhat. After some twenty minutes or so of peace quiet and contentment, George volunteered the statement out aloud “I’m bloody bored”. This was ignored by all, this being par for the course with George. Another five minutes of peace quite and contentment passed by then “Right the suns over the yardarm let’s go for a drink”. George I replied “we have only just got here, and you want to go down the pub already”. Aggressively he turned to me “it’s alright for you Dave, your hat never went into the oggin did it? you never got bitten by a bloody great big swan did you, I need a drink” adding defensively “anyway the pub has been open for at least half an hour now, it’s time we sussed out the local brew and the barmaid”.
At some length after a majority decision it was decided that we would go down the pub. Steve then seemed quite pleased with the idea, that WE should go down the pub leaving him with a bit of peace and quiet to carry on fishing.
The punt pulled up to the landing stage bow on. With much rocking and rolling, shouting and cursing, and kicking of kit, George Norman and myself made our way down the length of the punt and disembarked. Once safely on the wooden landing stage I mused to myself, bloody hell if we cause all that hassle get off the punt sober, what will it be like when we come back from the pub.
I was agreeing with Steve that he would come back and collect us at the landing stage in an hour’s time. This was abruptly dismissed by George saying tersely “sod off, what only one hour, that won’t even give me time for a piss, let alone a drink”. He then commanded, “you bugger off and drown your little maggots Steve, I will walk along the river bank and give you a shout when we want you back”.
Now once more back on dry land and heading for the local hostelry, George became once again cheerful and full off bonhomie. “Good this fishing lark ain’t it” he said without a hint of sarcasm or irony in his voice.
The road at Teddington runs through the village directly down the river ending in a Cul de Sac. Our friend at Manchester Square fire station had even informed which pub to imbibe in. Apparently the Oggins End was a nice little country pub about 50yards away from the river, with good food and good beer. Even if it had been a horrible pub with horrible beer, we would have still gone there, because in closing his sentence our friend had said, and its got a pretty barmaid with big tits. I don’t think I have mentioned this previously in the story, but George is actually a bit of a lecherous bugger. Then once he heard the words pretty barmaid with big tits, it was the Oggins End for us like it or not. This could even be the prime reason why on such a delightful summers day as this, we are all going to sit in a gloomy pub for an hour or so.
I paused at the open doorway to the Tides End, letting my eyes adjust from the bright sunlight to the dim interior. There were half a dozen customers seated in the pub and two people at the bar. One of them a neatly dressed man, with a flying officer kite type moustache was standing midway between the bar and the upturned bar flap, this man I assumed to be the landlord. All eyes in the pub turned towards us, and stared at us framed in the bright doorway opening. This was a bit disconcerting at first, I felt like the mythical king with his invisible suit of clothes. Then of course I realised the cause of the staring. George was wearing his solar topee hat, in similar circumstances I am sure that I would have stared. We moved into the pub and up to the bar, the landlord straitened himself up from leaning on the counter. Then saying to George (with a big grin on his face) “sorry mate, no big hats allowed in here”. That’s the trouble with George; he reacts a bit violently to any slight upon his person perceived or otherwise. He did not appreciate that the landlords remark was meant in humour, and unusually for him with rapier wit snapped back at him. “Are dogs allowed in this pub guvnor”. The landlord a bit taken aback by this change of tack stammered, “well of course they are, as long as they don’t jump up on the seats”. George rejoined with his masterstroke, saying “right then if I walk out now, and come back in again in two minutes time with a dog on my head, that will be perfectly acceptable will it”. Luckily for us the landlord had a grand sense of humour, and since he was only joking with the no big hats remark, thought Georges return riposte was a great joke.
Five minutes later we were all seated on bar stools with foaming full pints of beer in front of us. Conversation for a brief while was muted, as we savoured the ale. George opened the conversation saying hesitantly to the landlord. “Guvnor, we were told by a mate or ours that a young lady, a barmaid worked here with” here George stumbled and stuttered for words (most unlike him) saying “with erm, erm with” Then making rolling motions with his hands in front of his chest. Here he changed tack saying, “she is a very pretty young lady and she’s got erm, erm” giving the rolling hands motion once again. The landlord smiling put George out of his quandary by saying abruptly “big tits, is that what you are trying to say”. Georges face beamed as he replied back “yes that’s it Guv, those were the very words I was looking for” then saying with lustful relish, “big tits”.
The landlord giving a knowing smile then replied, “that will be Denise my barmaid, I will let her know that you have been asking after her”. Ah thanks mate” said George breezily, no doubt thinking that with an introduction from the pub landlord himself, he was half way to scoring already. We ordered up second pints of beer, which George now being in a very good mood, paid for without the usual quibble. From this point on George seated himself on a bar stool then with his back to the bar, kept his eyes riveted on the front door of the pub. Thirty minutes and yet another pint of beer imbibed by each of us passed by and George was becoming a bit impatient saying to the landlord “what time does big (emphasizing the word big with the same old rolling hands motion) Denise start work then guvnor”. The landlord said in reply “she usually comes on duty around 3-30pm”, good said George avidly “she should be here any minute now then”. “Not today she won’t” replied the landlord Wednesday is her day off”. What said George with a great vengance “its her frigging day off so then I’ve spent a whole day poncing around in soppy boats, and drowning bloody maggots all for nothing”.
So there we have the explanation, George who apparently who had never been fishing before, and has never shown the slightest inclination towards fishing EVER previously in his life. Somehow or other, George has sussed out that this expedition has involved a good-looking barmaid with big tit’s. How could this possibly have come about? Georges brain is attuned to many things in life, beer drinking etc but even in the dullest of conversations the words big tits, register. He had heard or registered nothing of a convivial day out fishing etc, but the mere mention of the words big tits meant he had to be part of it. No doubt an incautious word, or in this particular case two words ‘big tits’ was mentioned quietly around the mess table, along with all the other plans for the outing. George it appeared was prepared to suffer all manner of indignities, putting slimey maggots on fish hooks etc, if it resulted in him being able to then pursue his main pleasures in life drinking and wenching.
We tried to console him, reminding him that this was in fact supposed to be a day out fishing, and not a crumpet hunting expedition, instead he launched into a tirade about fishing saying vehemently. “What we come out here to waste a whole day with space age technology equipment, carbon fibre rods and such like costing hundreds of pounds just to outwit a prehistoric beastie, weighing a few pounds or ounces, with a brain no bigger than a pea”. Then stammering in frustration going on to add” Then then when you’ve caught it, the bloody thing its inedible, you can’t eat it, so you have to throw it back in again”.
Just then the door to the pub opened and in strode Steve our intrepid angler who should have still been happily ensconced back in the punt. I thought initially he was going to give us all a rollicking for spending the afternoon in the pub instead of fishing. Instead he went on to say grimly, “I thought you lot ought to know that the water is already up to the cars axles already, give it another twenty minutes and it will be floating down the river”. I queried this in disbelief “saying it can’t be its parked in the roadway” Steve countered saying “well the roadway must be leaking then cos there is a foot of water on it already, take my word for it”. The landlord leaning against his bar, then adding to the conversation by cheerily saying “it’s a high tide today lads, it will under three feet of water if you don’t move it quick”.
As we downed our beers and dashed out of the pub Steve explained that the cantankerous old git from the boathouse had actually walked along the riverbank and called out to him, telling him of the impending disaster.
Sure enough when we arrived at the river, there was my little old motorcar marooned standing in around one foot of water, where the rising tide had surged over the road.
Watched by a gaggle of laughing, ice cream eating tourists, this imminent flooding of motor cars (there were two other cars besides our own) was such a crowd puller that an ice cream van had parked up to take advantage of it.
It was off shoes and socks roll up trouser legs, then to paddle out into the flood and push the car clear. We pushed the car free of the water I think much to the disappointment of the crowd, whose anticipation of the excitement of the forthcoming happening had now been diminished by one third.
Then came the worrying moment, would we be travelling home by public transport that day. I turned the key in the ignition, the starter motor ground away, then O-be-Joyfuls the engine fired up, and about a bucket of water was ejected out of the exhaust pipe, but otherwise all was apparently well. At this point that we decided we had enough excitement and adventure for one day, that we would return the punt to the boatyard and make or way back home.
Handing back the punt to the cantankerous old git at the boathouse, who because of his actions in saving the motor car from drowning, had now been elevated to the status of a gentleman and a scholar, He was presented with two cans of beer from our emergency rations. He accepted them gratefully saying “I knowed all the while youm were not real fireboat men, just a bunch of old townies what knows nothing about the river” adding “that’s why I gave your mate a shout when the river was rising around your car”.
We piled all the gear back into the motor, then climbed aboard, George still wearing his big hat although now somewhat damp from its previous adventures, gave the words of command “cast off, wagons roll” and we trundled sedately up Teddington High street. We merely sedately trundled along, by reason of the fact, I was not sure if the brakes still worked after their immersion in the water. Once we cleared the high street and its parked cars I tried the brakes, then with the brakes hard on we rolled merrily along. It caused some panic and alarm as I casually informed the others that even as I had the brake pedal pressed down hard nothing was happening. The fact that we were bouncing along merrily at around 40 miles an hour did nothing to soothe their nerves either. Then thankfully as the water was dispelled and the brake drums heated up, the brakes began work fully once again.
So it was with all systems working fully, all adventures at an end, the little motorcar with it soft top folded back, meandered its way back to town. Nothing much of note happened until on the outskirts of a town called Slough when we were driving down a wide dual carriageway with it seemed, traffic lights every two hundred yards apart. Now as on the outward journey, the little old fashioned motorcar with its motley crew and George wearing his big hat, people tended to stare at us. A voice from the back of the said “look at them all gawping at us, you would think that we were a bloody three ring circus”. This off hand casual remark somehow seeded George with a silly idea. The very next set of traffic were at red, a group of pedestrians were waiting to cross the road, George stood upright wearing his solar tepee hat calling out loud “I say I say have you seen the elephants” the people just stared back at him. Not to be outdone he called out yet again “the circus is coming to town, the elephants will be coming down this road shortly, if you wait you will see them”. This caused a somewhat mixed reaction, some people just stared, considering George to be an escaped lunatic or suchlike, others little children tugging at their mothers coats “mum, mum can we stay and see the elephant please”. George acted out this performance at the next three sets of traffic lights, but I was now becoming somewhat concerned. I had visions of the alleged forthcoming non-event being spread by word of mouth. Then hundreds of people lining the road awaiting the arrival of the fictitious Pachyderms. Then all these irate people writing to Billy Smart Circus demanding satisfaction for their wasted time and the non-appearance the elephants. Some of these people would invariably complain to the local newspapers, the national press sometimes picks up these little local items of news. I shuddered imagining lurid banner headlines all over the realm, VICIOUS HOOLIGANS SPOIL LITTLE CHILDRENS DAY OUT.
Then, then, if anyone if anyone had troubled to note down the registration number of my motorcar I would be in the deepest mire. So it was with great strength of feeling that I told George, “that’s enough, any more of your bloody elephant performances and you will be walking back to the fire station”.
We arrived back a Chelsea fire station driving into the drill yard via the rear entrance at around 6pm. We then unloaded all the fishing kit and arranged with the duty watch to put it in the hose store safely under lock and key. Then as planned adjourned to the Six Bells public house across the road from the fire station in the Kings Road. At around this period of time the mid 1960s the Kings Road was very much the trendy, and swinging, the in place to be at the time. The Six Bells pub was part of this scene and very Bohemian in style, indeed us four relatively clean cut firemen stood out from the normal artistically inclined punters that used the place. Never the less we were regulars, stationed just over the road and the guvnor knew all the firemen well, no doubt he valued us for the vast sums of money we seemed to spend there. The landlord seated at his usual high stool at the bar greeted us cordially; he seemed to be in conversation with a smartly dressed stranger. I stood close to him at the bar to order our round of drinks, when I heard him tell the stranger that he did not drink at all, in fact he was teetotal. Now immediately I was interested in the conversation, for this last statement by him was a blatant lie, for he drank like a fish at all times of the day. Alongside him on the bar as was a glass of clear liquid that could possibly have been lemonade, but in fact would have been his normal drink of Gin and Tonic. Now I knew the guvnor quite well and I could tell by his voice that he was not drunk nor even approaching drunkenness, but he had obviously imbibed very well. I wondered who was this stranger who needed to be convinced the landlord was in fact an upstanding and sober person in the community, was he a high ranking Brewery manager or suchlike. What happened next left me even more puzzled, I heard him inform the stranger “not only was he teetotal, but he was a vegetarian as well”. This again I knew to be not true, for he often ate his meals in the bar and meat or fish was always on his menu. Then as if to demonstrate that he was indeed a vegetarian, he reached over to a nearby vase of flowers removed the flower head from off a daffodil, dipped it into his Gin and Tonic and proceeded to eat it. Such was the bohemian and indeed lasie fair attitude of the Kings Road in those days this little episode passed wholly without remark. Later in the evening when my beer goggles tended to obscure my clear thinking. I did wonder to myself was the landlord and the smartly dressed stranger, members of some secret society whatever, in which eating of Daffodils were part of their secret ritual. Then glancing at the landlord still at the bar, I surmised that the daffodil incident was merely the early stages of his now apparently complete intoxication.
All these adventures took place in the days before breathalysers; even so, I took the number eleven bus back to my home in Fulham, leaving the motor in the station yard.