Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
As my old mate, Sid used to say, “You’d after be gormless not to know the difference between a glass of Bowjolly and one of them fancy Portugese, Mattu’s”. Sid’s long gone but there’s some folk up north I know, who still have trouble with their vinos..
In the late fifties and early sixties, in Manchester, when Sid and I were in our early twenties, wine tastings were a regular feature in the social whirl into which we were attempting to crash. With methodical plotting of the dates and the buttering-up of contacts, we were able to get a fair portion of our drinking done free.
An alternative to, but unfortunately not as lucrative for a freebee, were the chophouses which, shortly after eleven-thirty each morning quickly filled with smooth talking, two-piece, suited salesmen, the likes of Sid and I, up-market, Jewish barrow-boys in their camel-coloured Crombies and the usual smattering of nouveau riche in their knee-length, sheepskin jackets.
Back then, a chophouse was a man’s domain. Female customers, if any, were either frowned upon or refused entrance. Even if they braved the disapproving stares and ribald remarks, they could not order at the bar and would need a man to do that for them.
To keep out the prying eyes of teetotalers, if a chophouse did not have painted windows, it would have curtains, in an attempt to discourage prying eyes. although it would be difficult for the curious to see anything through a blue haze of smoke. The curtains and the patterned carpets reeked of cigarette, pipe and cigar smoke, It was, and still is, in some parts, an English quirk to carpet the barroom.
Unless you were a local, the best of these chophouses, hidden away in the city’s grimy side streets and back alleys, were challenging to locate. In some cases, only the true initiates could be sure of finding their way there. One of our favourite’s was Sam’s on easier to find Cross Street which, I am informed, still booms.
Manchester was once one of the world’s great centres of pubs and clubs but It is not city’s night life I’m recalling; as by nightfall the cream of the customers would have moved on to their favoured pub in suburbia, In those days it was still considered permissible to drink at midday. in comparison to today’s hours of opening in Manchester were limited. At that time you could only buy alcohol between, eleven until two and five-thirty until ten-thirty.
Fortunately, for those in-the-know and with a thirst still to be quenched after two o’clock closing time, there were the afternoon clubs. There were not many and some were illegal but all were conveniently located on and off Oxford Road, near the railway station. These “Dens of iniquity”, so called by the Salvation Army, whose female soldiers were brave enough to storm such oasis’s, rattling their collection cans for contributions, I still recall with some affection.
Clubs were not permitted to open before three in the afternoon. This meant wasting one hour, usually in the Kardomah Cafe, on Market Street, which was then a place to see and be seen. From there it was but a short distance to one your favourite sanctuaries.
Despite or perhaps because of, the shabbiness of these obscure refuges, they were the ideal place to rub shoulders with all manner of citizens, including the occasional eminence, such as a BBC producer, a journalist from the Guardian or some itinerant thespian from the neighbouring Palace Theatre. On or around the bar stools could be found almost every level of Mancunian reprobate, from part-time thieves to your top of the game con-men; off-duty policeman to off-duty hookers from the nearby Gaumont Long Bar; and, of course, the habitual small group of ‘let’s call it a day’ salesmen including Sid and yours truly.
Here, we would continue with the alcohol, listening to the latest rumours and tittle-tattle, always cautious for a police raid, looking for someone in particular or checking for permission infractions committed by the owner – of which there would be many. Around five, ss the city’s rush-hour traffic disappeared, so would the clientele. It was pick up your car if you could still remember where you had managed to park it and head out of town to your local, which would open at five-thirty and preferably near to your place of residence. The DUI policy or breath analyzer had yet to come and I was not the only one who, on at least one occasion, who managed to drive home with one eye closed.
I am sure the lifestyle I have described; some sixty years ago, will be considered ghastly or appealing, depending on the individual. In the workplace the word stress had yet to be invented As a salesman, there was little pressure on me. If I met my target, all was well, if I regularly exceeded it, which I did – even better. I thoroughly enjoyed that hedonistic way of life until in my late twenties when I knew it was time to move on. Looking back, I certainly don’t regret it. Even then It was not everyone’s lifestyle but I often ask myself; if I had the chance to live those days all over again, would I? Bloody right I would.
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