When Charlie Smiths became a probationary police officer he was assigned to Millgarth police station in Leeds. For those who don’t know the city Millgarth is the central police headquarters right in the midst of the city, at the bottom of The Headrow right next to the markets, to be fair he couldn’t have been assigned to a more busy police station if he’d tried.
He was given a “beat”, an area of the city in which to patrol on foot, strolling around in his brand new uniform, hands clasped behind his back in that classic policeman’s stroll, greeting the citizens with an “evenin all” as is tradition.
Having the central area of the city as his beat he covered many pubs of course and some of those pubs were some of the pubs that you’d definitely stay out of as a young man, either because they were full of old men or because they were full of fights, all day long.
Charlie Smith loved those sort of pubs though “They’ve got character and characters” he’d explain to us, of course they would have if you walked in there in police uniform, it was part of his job to introduce himself to the landlords and landladies of these pubs, “Hello, I’m PC Smith your new beat officer, what, yes a pint of bitter please” it was his job to be introduced to some of the “characters” that he loved so well, his job to know what was going on, what the word on the street was, all the good stuff just like a regular TV cop show.
Let me tell you this about Charlie Smith, in one of his first weeks on the beat he arrested a woman who was spray painting some graffiti on a shop wall late at night, he handcuffed her and took her back to the police station, she was identified and they typed her name into the one computer that Millgarth owned at that time, the computer went crazy, lights flashed and bells rang and lots of officers ran into the charge room to assist – he’d only gone and arrested a known terrorist from Germany’s Baader Meinhof gang.
There was a wonderful innocence about PC Smith, a lad of my own age I’d known him since he was 11 years old but he was born of the wrong era for Charlie was always destined to become one of those old fashioned policemen, we couldn’t think of him in any other job, he should have spent the last forty years with his feet up on the desk of a small village police station, his most famous arrest being the child who had kicked the heads off the village green daffodils one year, spending every evening propping up the corner of the bar in the tap ‘ole of his local pub – instead he was thrown into the fray of big city policing and his first arrest was a world feared terrorist, even if he still didn’t have a clue who Baader Meinhof was.
He’d take us on tours of the pubs on his patch on Saturday nights, if I say they were rough pubs then you have to imagine a pub where you were conspicuous if you had the standard number of eyes (two, count them) and/or the correct number of fingers on either hand, the clientele of the pubs he took us to would be severely disappointed if there wasn’t at least one all inclusive fight on a Saturday night and that fight could start for absolutely no reason at all, certainly spilling a whole pint of beer all over the bar and all over the barman was good enough reason as Richard found out one night in a particularly rough pub in one of Leeds’s “Yards”, those short dead end streets that branch off the main thoroughfare Briggate, the barman was halfway over the bar (and Richard and I were halfway out of the door) when he noticed Charlie stood in front of him shaking his head slowly, the barman apologised for getting in the way of Richards pouring beer and pulled him another pint – we saw Charlie in a new light after that.
That particular pub is now a trendy pre-theatre bar where luvvies gather before curtain call at the famous City Varieties but back in the 1970s it had a bouncer on the door, something that is not surprising these days but back then was unheard of, you had bouncers on the doors of nightclubs but pub bouncers, I’d never seen the sight until that night and big angry looking brute he was too with four tramline scars down the left hand side of his face, one of which dissected his lips and continued down his chin – this was a dude who looked like he could cause any fight he liked let alone break up every one afterwards.
Richard and I stood in the middle of the crowded pub facing the door, Charlie stood with his back to it so he couldn’t see the bouncer staring at us with the curious glare of a silverback gorilla about to defend his harem.
Richard and I couldn’t help but stare, the bouncers face was hypnotic, its tramline scars like a magnet to the eyes, how the hell did someone get slashed across the face by so many knives all at the same time, “He’s coming across” blurted Richard into his pint.
“Oh shit” I squealed, “he’s staring straight at us”
“I, erm, think its time to go” squeaked Richard
“Why did you bring us here” we both wailed as the bouncer tapped Charlie on the shoulder.
“Aye-up Charlie” grunted the bouncer in a strangely high pitched voice, almost girlie voice although of course no-one ever dare point this out to him.
“Aye-up” said Charlie.
Richard and I stared at each other, “He knows him” we both mouthed, “but how ?”
We were total innocents in a world of cut-throats, vagabonds, scarface bouncers, ne’er-do-wells, traders in stolen bounty and shifty landlords, and these were Charlie’s clientele, the people he met with every day, the people who shook his hand and smiled while fronting up to him as a total innocent in the hope that he wouldn’t stay too long on their premises, he loved the job and never tired of regaling us with stories of what he called “salt of the earth” people, the sort of people that Richard and I agreed to stay in the suburbs to avoid.