So it was that PC Charlie Smith guided us innocents around the rubbish pubs of Leeds city centre in those 1970s weekend evenings that seem like yesterday but in fact are akin to my father speaking of the war years.
I often think of that fact you know, the fact that my eldest daughter and I have the same age gap as I and my father had, so for instance she is 23 this year and I am 55 – when I was 23 my father was 55 – get it now – I can pick any year you like and I know exactly what she is thinking of me for thats the same thing I was thinking of my own father at that age, “old git” is what it is most of the time.
So Charlie would lead us around the city centre for the city centre was his very first official “beat”, the streets that they made him walk in his new uniform as an officer of the law, patrolling with hands clasped behind his back, telling anyone the time who looked as though they needed to know, stopping off in cafe’s and pubs for free vittles and speaking to the sort of people that you or I would cross the road to avoid, tramps and shifty looking people, that sort of thing.
He took us in a pub late one Saturday night, it was on Lower Briggate underneath a railway bridge, even those of you who have never been to Leeds are getting the idea that this was not the sort of pub you’d just walk casually into aren’t you, you’re thinking “Lower Briggate, down at heel, pub under a railway bridge, sounds dodgy, why couldn’t they walk up to Upper Briggate where the bright lights shine” and you’d be right, and you’ve never been to Leeds either.
It was a small roadside pub, one door and one window leading onto the street that had once been Leeds’ main thoroughfare but now was just, well not anymore, but most important it was a pub on Charlie’s beat and he “knew” the landlord, that is they knew of him because he never stopped tapping on their back door to introduce himself as their new beat bobby and scrounge a pie and a pint, they pretended to like him because thats what you did to your local beat bobby in those days.
We entered, it was a lively den, small as your own living room at home but packed with drinkers, a pub of serious drinkers, a pub where no-one went to chat amiably over a glass of acceptable medium dry new world wine, a pub where you went to drink hard, get completely bollaxed and maybe have a fight and fish and chips on the way home.
I’d say it was an Irish pub but only because when we squeezed our way across the small room to the jukebox there was only Irish songs on it, songs about conquering the English, songs about drinking hard, singing in gaelic and then conquering the English again, and everyone in the pub seemed to have an Irish accent, that too, that was a good clue too.
As was the tricolour above the bar.
Now standing in front of the jukebox it was no use proclaiming to everyone that this was a jukebox full of rubbish music and where was The Rubettes, so we pretended to be big fans of The Dubliners and put some money in and picked some tunes completely at random – diddly-aye music came on and we pretended to like it while drinking our beer as quickly as we could in order to leave as quickly as we could.
Not Charlie though.
“That birds looking at me” he whispered to us
“Which one” we asked
“The one with the ever-so long black hair, skin as fair as the driven snow and ruby-red lips” Charlie Smith was smitten, “I’m going to ask her to dance with me”
“Oh fook” we all muttered
He approached and a couple of hundred pairs of eyes watched as he led her to the one square yard of space on the floor that was dedicated as a dance floor, its true that she had been watching him with one of her eyes but only because she had the most well defined squint I’ve ever seen, the other eye stared away to the horizon a full 180 degrees out of line with its partner, who knows which one was lined up properly, its conceivable that actually she was looking out of the window for her bus while accidentally eyeing up Charlie.
“We have to get out of here” we all whispered to each other for it was becoming uncomfortable in that pub, rather like a very small mouse feels ill at ease standing in the company of an aviary of eagles.
We shuffled to the door all the time tapping our feet and clapping our hands as our friend and guide whirled his girl around in their little one square yard of dance floor while she simultaneously looked for her bus out of the windows at opposite ends of the room.
“When he turns his back the next time we’re out the door” came the whispered order and then we were gone, running up Lower Briggate as if our lives depended on it, as indeed our lives probably did, we left Charlie to his fate, “He’s a policeman, he’ll know what to do” was our justification.
We stopped 100 yards up Briggate and stood in the middle of the road observing the pub from afar, you could still hear the diddly-aye music thumping out of the pub as Charlie got his one shillings worth out of the jukebox, and then the music stopped.
And at exactly the same time as the music stopped the door slammed open and a body flew out of the pub, when I say flew he really did fly halfway across the street and when his feet hit the road he ran and as he was halfway up Briggate he saw us standing 50 yards away laughing so hard that some wee escaped, he ran and called us all sorts of bastard names simultaneously and so we ran away from him and we ran through the streets of central Leeds for ten minutes laughing fit to bust while he cursed our very souls until we all tired and stopped at a pub to share beer and ask what his raven-haired Irish beauty with the independent eyes had said to him, not a lot apparently.