My dad liked telling a story, which may come as a bit of a surprise to you, considering my obvious reticence to follow suit. Now, most of these stories would be told in exact detail, leaving no stone unturned, even if you’d heard the story before, which, if you were a member of my family, you’d most likely had.
If you interrupted the start of one of his stories by explaining you’d heard it before, he’d look at you quizzically before saying, in his fine cockney accent,
” ‘Ave yer? Blimey. Anyway…”, whereupon he would continue to tell the story through to its end. Many people who sat with my dad would be engrossed in his tales. Mum would roll her eyes and say to us, “Go and rescue (name), yer father’s boring the pants off ’em.”
A gentle enquiry regarding this with the listener would generally be met with the reply that, no, dad’s story was really interesting and no, they were quite alright. This attitude could sometimes change after an hour or two, especially if drink were involved.
Of course, family members would often zone out of the story, having heard it before. As a teenager, I spent many a lunchtime listening to dad’s tales during the school holidays. He worked shifts, so when he had a late, we’d spend the time together, him regaling me with stories of work, celebrities, his youth and his experiences in World War II. They could be very funny, shocking, informative and, in hindsight, a few were quite poignant.
I realise now how great it would have been to record these stories, but of course at the time they were readily available. As time passes, (he died in 2004), I have trouble remembering them. One story in particular frustrates me, because I can’t remember the fine detail and I’m determined to write a short story based on it.
It was easy to get my dad to tell a story just by using a particular phrase. If we were feeling particularly brave, we would utter the trigger word and off he’d go. Even more entertaining would be the situation where a newcomer would use a trigger word innocently. Any family member in earshot would often react by shouting the subject of dad’s inevitable story, amusing everyone and being politely ignored by dad, as he started with his opening line. A few examples would be: Bridgnorth (the one about the giblet pie), Pele (not the best footballer in the world), Bobby Charlton (he used to miss a lot of goals), 1960s singer songwriter Donovan (not a fucking layabout, took his own bins out) and Bruce Forsyth (directions). A lot of his stories came about because of his experiences as a site foreman, working for a heating company that had some plum contracts. My dad worked at Wembley Stadium in 1966, fitting out the changing rooms for the World Cup; Harrods and Selfridges department stores; several new hospital buildings and, in London’s glittering West End, The London Palladium.
The trigger word for his London Palladium story would be the singer Petula Clark. I know, how often in everyday conversation would somebody say ‘Petula Clark’? You’d be surprised. My brother in law Drew posted something about her on Faceache yesterday. Of course, the same story could be triggered using the words ‘London Palladium’.
Petula Clark, somebody would say and my dad would sit up straight, rub his hands together, look left, look right, as if he were about to impart some deadly secret – and his story would start.
“‘Ere, I’ll tell you about that Petula Clark. We was working up west at The Palladium. There was some problem with the heating, so me and Tom were called in to put it right. Anyway, the problem was found to be in the galley above the stage, bloody long way up, I can tell yer. So, I sends Tom up and start checking the rest of the system. After about half an hour, I decides it’s time to go up and see how Tom’s getting on. I get up to the gantry and there he is, Tom, on his ‘ands and knees, arse in the air, looking through a gap in the scaffold boards.
“Oi, what the fuckin’ ‘ell are you doing?” I asks. He turned round and puts his finger to his lips.
“Shut up! Shush! Albie! Come over ‘ere! You’ll never believe it!”
So, I makes me way over to Tom, gets on me ‘ands and knees and ‘as a butchers. Well, bugger me. There’s a large grand piano, 50 feet below us, right in the middle of the stage. The curtains are down and well, there’s Petula Clark. On top of the piano. With a bloke on top of ‘er. Giving her one.
I says, “‘Ere, Tom, bloody hell! Dear oh dear, I’ve never seen nothing like it!” and he says, “Shut up, Albie, they’ve been going at it for ages now.”
Well, I’d seen enough, so I told Tom to get his tools together; he was turning into a bleeding peeping Tom, I told him, hanging around waiting to see Petula Clark’s Jack and Danny.”
Often, the recipient of this tale would stare at my dad for a few moments before asking the inevitable.
“What happened next?’
My dad would look at them and simply say, “I dunno. I suppose he helped her off the piano afterwards.”
* To avoid litigation, this is a story told by my late father about Petula Clark’s alleged behaviour with a grand piano and an unnamed man. Although my dad’s version never wavered or changed, there is no proof that this actually happened.