So one Friday night in 1977 I’m in The Woodman with a few mates and closing time comes and not being drunk enough to consider walking all the way home I decided to walk the 100 yards or so down the road to The New Inn where my father held court in the “best room” of a Friday, scrounging a lift of him being the main purpose, and possibly a last pint too.
A couple of friends came with me, the scrounging of a lift also being on their minds, Purdy and Hall, a bit posh they both were but in need of a lift too, when I say posh I don’t mean posh like my Auntie Doris was posh, but their jeans didn’t have holes in the knees and frayed around the bottom, that sort of one step up the social ladder tome, that sort of posh.
So we wandered into The New Inn and into the oppressive darkened “best room”, a small area at the back of the pub reserved for off duty police officers, police detectives, and the sort of businessmen like my father who couldn’t give up selling stuff to each other even when away from the office, you could buy anything in the best room of The New Inn, anything at all, and it would probably be my father who sold you it, him and Cyril the Tailor.
And Bennett of course, let us not forget Bennett, the man who literally could obtain any item at half the price in the shops, any item, just think of any random ridiculous item, an elephant perhaps, Bennett would have one waiting at the bus stop next Friday and it would be half the price that you’d normally buy it from a zoo.
So I apprehended my father and asked for a lift home, he stared at me with bleary eyes, rocked slightly on his heels, realised that this long haired scruffy bugger standing in front of him was one of his sons and gave me the key to his car, “Go wait outside” he told me, “I’ve just got a bit of business to conclude with this here police officer”, a blazer to sell, with brass buttons, Cyril would be making it, for one of the Ripper squad detectives, looked nice on TV it did when he was next interviewed in the style of “Why haven’t you caught anyone yet ?”
We found his Austin Princess parked on the opposite side of Otley Road, one of the main routes out of central Leeds a wide thoroughfare of four lanes plus room to park at the kerb, we sat in the car, tuned my fathers radio to Luxemburg, and waited.
A short time later I spotted him making his way out of the New Inn and weaving his unsteady way down the footpath on the opposite side of the road, followed by what seemed to be at least a couple of dozen other New Inn boozers, some of them rather obviously policemen, he waved them on and they all crossed the busy road, stopping the traffic on the way.
“Whats your dad doing ?” Purdy said from the back of the car as he and Hally stared out of the window, rather perplexed, “I’m not exactly sure” I replied, also perplexed.
The car was surrounded now by very drunk men, and some of them were taking their shoes off, hopping around on one foot and leaning up against others in order to do so, my father tapped on the window and signalled for me to wind it down, I did and he asked for the car keys, I gae them to him unquestionably, stranger things had happened in our family when my father was in selling mode, men taking their shoes off on the pavement of a busy road at 11.30pm at night was not the strangest thing I’d seen, not by a long chalk.
The boot of the car was opened and boxes removed and the men who had already removed their shoes now started to try slippers on, hopping around on the pavement again to try and slip them over the heel, “Have you got these in a nine Frank ?” and “By these are a cracking pair of slippers, is this colour tartan I can’t see under these street lights”
Soon at least a couple of dozen drunken men were striding up and down Otley Road in carpet slippers looking for a location where the street lighting was strongest, “Are you sure these are maroon Frank, they look dark blue to me…” and others who were just passing by and had not been in The New Inn at all joined in, “Three quid a pair ? Oh, pass me an eight will you, stripey ones if you’ve got them”
The noise that two dozen men can make when they are drunk and trying on slippers on the pavement is raucous to say the least and not surprisingly the presence of the law was requested by some of the people who lived facing the impromptu shop on the side of the road, a police panda car slowed in the middle of Otley Road, the two officers on duty staring in amazement as they cruised slowly by, amazement at the fact that one of the drunkards hopping about at the side of the road with one slipper almost over one foot and his stocking feet on the other was no other than their own Inspector, “Have you two not got any duties to do ?” he barked at them, they wound up their window and scurried off to find something more important to do.
I was shrunk down into the front seat, hoping that the slippers would all soon be sold, wishing that I’d walked home and not brought my posh mates here for a lift home,”Your dad” Purdy started then paused, “He’s, selling slippers”
“Yes I know” I replied
“Is that what he does as his job?” asked Hally
“No, not really” I replied
Truth was, it was just one of Bennetts “bargains”, a van full of assorted mens slippers, don’t ask where they came from, they just turned up with Bennett one Sunday afternoon, like lots of other random things to sell.
“An Elephant? Yeah I’ll get one of those, in grey?”