The Flying Bottles is what most people on Harold Hill called the Pompadours pub. There were many managers that attempted to run the pub when I first lived in Harold Hill and there were many more after when I left in 1990. I didn’t drink there much because of its formidable reputation for fights and gambling. The reputation got worse when a pool table was introduced. Many of the regulars saw a pool cue as a weapon to use in arguments. The few times I did venture across the entrance there were many altercations.
In the twelve years I spent on the Hill, I was well known as the geezer who ran the Myrtle Road Hall that Ben Cohen (a staunch communist) had persuaded the GLC to build for the local community. I was soon elected Chair of the HHTRA (Harold Hill Tenants & Residents Association). The hall had its own social club bar which operated each Friday & Saturday night, Sunday dinner time and like many of the other watering holes on the ‘Hill’, it attracted ‘hard’ families. Soon after taking over as Chairman it was reported to me that club members suspected the drinks served from the bar were not ‘kosher’: they had been diluted. I immediately contacted the brewery we used, Greene King – and asked if they could investigate these rumours. The next Sunday morning three auditors descended on the club and did a thorough stock check. Especially the spirits bottles. The following Thursday I received their phone call to say things were as bad as suspected. They had discovered several bottles of gin, which had been watered down and the stock check didn’t tally with ours or their records of delivery.
Of course I called an emergency meeting of the committee and the next day I confronted the barman with the findings of the audit. At first he tried to bluff his way through but I was direct. “You are a thief and a con-man” I accused him. “You are hereby sacked and I will ask the committee if they wish to press charges against you, now get out”. The bluff and bluster of the previous fifteen minutes was replaced with tears about him needing money for a sick relative and how desperately he needed this part-time job. I repeated “You have been stealing not only from the committee and our membership. You have also lost my trust, so get out”.
The thing was I knew that that night our regulars would be expecting the bar to be opened as usual and I feared that there might well be a mini-riot if the club stayed shut. So I had no choice but to become a barman for that night. It was difficult, as I wasn’t used to the prices of everything and even doing the mental arithmetic was hard. Adding up the costs of each round is a lot harder than it looks. It was very difficult for me to keep up with the customers at the bar. I knew of a guy who worked occasionally in the Pompadours who was as hard as nails as he had to be to work there and survive. So once again I entered that den of misfits. Sure enough Lenny was playing pool with a mate and didn’t take any notice of me. I waited until his game was over before approaching him. “Hi Lenny,” I said, “would you be interested in working at the Myrtle Road club?” At first he looked bemused, then asked on what terms I would employ him? We haggled over money but the next day Len was behind the bar – not me!