It helps when your not-really-an-uncle-but-you-call-him-an-uncle Uncle Ralph is in charge of all of the catering and beverage outlets at one of the big sporting grounds in the country, the world famous Headingley Stadium, it helps when you’re 12 years old and legally able to work for a small stipend for a few hours every week and you need a place that will employ you for that stipend.
And so as I hit that magical age of twelve years on this here planet my father, always a one for a quick buck, had a word with his best mate Ralph and between them they levered me into the program selling business and in doing so I became a workmate of Old Bill the ex-guardsman with the weak bladder who thought the war was still on, and was under the charge of the ancient bulbous nose of Stan, a man with a huge bulbous, red, and looking-like-it-was-very-sore nose who organised us, told us where to stand and counted up the takings afterwards, and in their esteemed company I sold scorecards at the cricket and didn’t even get in the way of the batsmen very often at all , but this isn’t about selling scorecards at Headingley, this is about some of the other people who worked there when I did.
People like the big bloke who worked the gate of the players car park, a car park that is now occupied by the club shop at Headingley, a car park that no mere mortal could park in, a car park that only the players could park in and only if the players knew the big bloke who worked the gate, they had no passes or anything to get into the car park, they just had to wave at the big bloke on the gate and if he knew them he’d let them in, if their faces were not recognisable then a herd of wild horses would not be driven past him, for he was huge, tall and wide, ram-rod straight like a guardsman and the face of someone who has taken a punch or two and some of them have left marks.
He also liked a pint or two and for this I don;t think he was ever paid a stipend but instead allowed to drink his weight in beer every matchday for after every game, and when I was old enough, I would make my way to the players bar hidden deep within the depths of the North Stand where my father and Ralph served until the early hours, and I’d sit at one end of the bar ostensibly to collect glasses but mainly to watch the big bloke from on the gate drink pint after pint of Tetleys bitter all night long, for free, and without any of them having any drunken affect on him at all, he’d drink and drink all night long and even the roughest and toughest of the young, fit rugby league players who came to the bar would show him immense respect as if he were a Mafia Don or something whereas really he was just a big bloke who did the gate and could hold his beer, and for those things he commanded respect.
And his curly hair, have I mentioned his head of curly hair yet, no, well he had a head of jet black curly hair which shone with Brylcreem and as the night dragged on his hair would drip with sweat and so he’d drink more beer to cool down and I’d sit at the other end of the bar ostensibly to collect glasses but just watching him and wondering who the hell he was and why no-one ever asked him to pay, and later, much later, years down the line, after I’d been married and bought a house near a shit pub at the top of our street I’d see him walk past our window every Saturday and Sunday lunchtime still clad in the same black overcoat and when I ever went into the shit pub he’d be stood at the bar drinking, drinking beer, glass after glass of Tetley Bitter, and I never saw him pay for any of them in the shit pub either.
And when I was old enough to work behind a bar then thats where Ralph put me on a matchday, in the Southstand bar, a bar that was built right underneath the terraced steps so that the ceiling of the bar sloped at one side from thirty or forty foot high down to zero feet at the other side and it was at the side that sloped down to zero that the bar stood, half the length of a rugby league pitch it was, so probably about forty yards long with pumps every ten feet or so, the back of the bar had a plywood wall up to the ceiling which at that point was about seven feet from the ground but if you went through a small door behind the ply wall then that is where you stooped to walk as the terrace above your head reached down to zero feet, and lined up in this long dungeon room were the beer barrels, the gas bottles and the electric pumps, and the rats.
No-one wanted to go behind the ply wall to change a barrel when a barrel ran out and so the rat man was employed for this very purpose, another man who never received a cash stipend for doing this but instead would be poured a free pint every time he was called upon to go behind the ply wall and change a barrel, or a gas bottle, or hit one of the pumps with a monkey wrench to make it work.
Rats had no effect on him for he actually looked like a rat, the low sloping ceiling had no effect on him for he was only about four foot tall, he wore a long dirty grey rain mac at all times mated with a dirty black greasy flat cap, had a gaunt thin, malnutrition thin face with a huge sharp pointed nose and two buck teeth, in fact now I recall him to memory from the museum of recollections I am convinced now that he was actually a rat, in clothes.