Mr G, or the “Guv” as I called him some nearly fifty years ago was a formidable Hackney “project manager” but that was well before such a title came into popular use. I had of course heard the stories of his belligerence and short fuse but it wasn’t until I was sent to the then new build estate just near to the old Clapton Park dog track in Millfields Road that I saw the measure of the man. He was every bit the big man as described to me, both tall and well built, as well as having that steely eyed direct stare when speaking.
The estate was huge, a mixture of housing and low, as well as high rise flats, some hundreds of new dwellings. I had been sent by my foreman to report to the General Foreman to lay new temporary, as well as permanent, water mains throughout the estate – to first of all feed the many concrete and mortar mixers that would be needed on the estate, as the new build progressed. Anyway, on reporting to the site office at about eleven that morning, to the site clerk, who logged all materials and labour that came onto site, he seemed a nice enough guy, when the fabled Mr Gostic came into the office. He was very officious. He just wanted to find fault, and it wasn’t long before, he saw from the site office window, two blokes – one pushing a wheelbarrow with a cement or concrete mix in it. The other bloke was chatting to him , as they crossed past the office. Immediately, Mr G left the office to confront both men, the site clerk and I could quite clearly hear and see him say to the men. “Who are you, what are your names”? – both appeared to be taken aback as they answered in a broad Irish accents their details. As it turned out the one pushing the wheelbarrow was a drain layer and his mate, walking beside him was the labourer. Both were of slim build and might have been itinerant labour that was prevalent on building sites in those days.
“I expect the men on this site to be pushing full barrows, not half empty ones” to which the reply was “sure it’s full enough for me sire” – in that case said Mr. G “pick up your cards and coppers from the site office now and get off this site. I remember thinking at the time, what an uncouth git, there was no need for that, the two men had probably looked hard for this employment, and now they might have travel the rest of London to find another job.
Some years later however, I was in a pub just off of Northwold Road in Rossendale Street having a couple of pints with both my foreman and his friend the painting foreman, when who should walk in – Mr Gostic. Both foremen were clearly pleased to see him and were quick to buy him a drink and as I was in their company, he joined us at our table. That same steely eyed look I had seen three years before had not changed, I felt intimidated in his presence. As the conversation progressed, I learned that he wasn’t quite the ogre I first thought and indeed as the pints slipped down, he became a wise, knowledgeable and shrewd assessor of people.
It was about a year later that again rumour had it that Mr G was knocking off “fag-ash Lille, one of the senior cooks on the many building sites dotted around Hackney in those days. After a good session one day I did approach the subject and it was probably the only time I saw those steely eyes hold a twinkle.
Probably, because he would not stand for bullshit at any level over the next couple of years we often shared a drink or two in that same pub and yes I would be the first to get to the bar to buy him a drink, it turned out I liked the man.