continued from 11/16
We were detained by the West German border guards for almost three hours. They wanted to know what we were doing, how we got to East Germany and did we know how lucky we were to not get ourselves shot at or maimed by one of the land mines. Land mines? Yes, they said, they were spaced within the barbed wire and we were lucky not to have blown ourselves up. Very sobering, you might say. They also said that we could have caused an international incident and we should go to our Embassy and let them know what we had done. It was kind of like being hauled into the Principal's office. I half expected them to make me write on the board "I will never climb The Wall again" 100 times.
We somehow made it back to Hamburg and gathered our things and headed back to the highway out of Germany to hitchhike to Belgium where we planned to cross by ferry to Britain. As luck would have it, we were picked up by a very nice Dutchman in a Mercedes. His name was Hugo and he gave us a first class tour of The Netherlands. When we stopped in Edam, he got two rooms; one for us and one for him. He showed us the sights and took us out for a lovely dinner. In the morning, we went to the street market and picked up picnic supplies and Hugo headed for Belgium. We had our last evening in Brussels before Hugo dropped us at the train station to get to Ostende and the ferry.
When we arrived in England, we took a train to Southampton in Hampshire where Leigh had some relatives. I think we stayed with them for a couple of nights but it was time for us to get jobs so we could earn our fare to go back home. In those days, salaries weren't particularly high. I got a job working in the International Department of Lloyds Bank. I probably typed 30 wpm when I started there but since I typed forms all day converting pounds sterling into foreign currencies all over the world, my speed increased over time. When I left California, I was typing on an electric typewriter but here, in England, I was using a manual typewriter. Banging on those keys all day long would serve me well into the future.
I worked 9-5 Monday thru Friday and 9-12 on Saturdays. For this, I was paid 10 English Pounds the equivalent of approximately $25.00. I paid 7 pounds per week for my flat and another pound for utilities. There wasn't much left at the end of the week. In my flat, you had to "feed the meter" with shillings in order to get electricity. I got paid on Fridays and like clockwork, the blackout usually began around 9PM on Thursday nights. Getting ready for work in the morning was difficult when ice water came out of the faucet and electricity was non-existent.
I was going to need to supplement my income. I joined Leigh and Wendy and got a job at The Angel Pub where I made 1 pound per shift and no tips. When I finished at the bank at 5, I would walk across the Common to the pub and work the 6-10 shift during the week (off Tuesday and Thursday nights) and 6-11 on Friday and Saturday nights. I'd never worked in a restaurant or a bar before, but it didn't take long to get the hang of it. The most difficult part was understanding the customers.
Most of our patrons worked on the docks as Stevedores or as engineers on the passenger ships. They were a different crowd than I was used to but, after all, I was here for an adventure and to learn the ways of the world. There were two bars in the Pub. The upper bar was a Tavern and it was where women were allowed and men brought their wives or girlfriends. The lower bar was reserved for men where they played darts, hashed over the days' trials or talked about Manchester United vs. the Southampton Saints. Big soccer fans in England.
I had expected most people in England to sound like Cary Grant. In fact, most sounded like they were speaking a foreign language. I had to ask them to repeat their order several times before I could get it. On a busy night, this sometimes posed a problem. I remember one guy, Frank, would would say to me, "Well, Con, this is the way I sees it". And I'd say, "Frank, it's not sees, it's see". He would answer back and say, "ow many eyes you got, then". I'd answer "two". He would reply "Well, then, it's sees, then init (isn't it)."
They were a rough looking crowd but I can tell you that they were all pussycats. We were like little sisters to this group and if a stranger walked in and gave us a bad time, they had all these big brothers to deal with. They taught me cockney phrases and soon I was saying things like "jam jar" for car and I was actually understanding what "taking the mickey" and "get on your bike" meant. We occasionally heard someone yell "bloody ell" when losing at darts but if speaking to one of us directly, they would use a sanitized version like "oh, stocking tops". It still makes me laugh to remember those days.
Dave and Pauline were the landlords of the pub and were good bosses. Dave cracked the whip and kept us moving and Pauline was like our big sister.
I met my first real love in The Angel Inn. He looked like Errol Flynn and made me think of Peter Pan. He stole my heart but I knew I had to come back home and he wasn't moving anywhere outside of Southampton. Whenever we could sneak an afternoon away, he would take me to see every romantic sight in Hampshire from the little hamlet known as "Hamble" to "Beaulieu" to "Lymington" to "Ye Olde Whyte Hart".
Yes, they were mostly good memories but I was also learning new lessons, too. Dave, the owner gave me a piece of advice soon after I started there. I had been serving someone in the Upper Bar when Dave called me over and told me that we never serve Irishmen in this pub. I immediately answered "You've got to be kidding me. I wouldn't know one if I fell over one. You all sound alike to me." He said "See that bloke that you're serving up there?" "Yes", I said. "Well, he's one of them, and I don't want him coming back here". I said, "I'm sorry, Dave, but I don't think I can tell him to leave". He said, "You don't have to. Just charge him double and he won't come back. And while I'm thinking of it, we don't serve Pakis (a derrogatory term for Indians and Pakistanis) either". I'm afraid that I never did believe in segregation of any kind and I have a difficult time with racism or exclusion. I did learn to distinguish Irishmen and Pakistanis and Indians. When I was waiting on them, they got their beer for half price.
to be continued...