I cannot remember a time when music and movies where not a part of my life.
1975 – Jive Talking, You Sexy Thing and The Return of the Pink Panther
I am twenty-two and in early 1975 we were completing a six month management training course for Schooner Inns based in Gravesend.. We worked six days a week from 9.00 in the morning until 3.00pm. And then 5.00pm until we had cleared up after closing at 11.00pm.
We were given a day off mid-week which usually meant washing our uniforms in the rented house we shared with the Assistant manager and if we were lucky a visit to the cinema. To be honest I was totally wiped out usually but it was a very good insight into running a busy catering business.
There was not much time for leisure but there during the hours when we were not open to the public we would use the loudspeaker system to play radio throughout the building. This way we got to hear the hits of the day and it certainly helped us get through some of the mundane chores.
The Top Twenty featured Abba with SOS, The Bay City Rollers with three singles including Bye, Bye Baby. David Bowie with two hits, Space Oddity and Golden Years, David Essex with three tracks including Hold Me Close and Stardust, Art Garfunkel with I only Have Eyes For You, Judy Collins with the iconic Send in the Clowns and the wonderful Hot Chocolate with You Sexy Thing.
I had some experience in the hospitality industry and soon got into the swing of things. However, there seemed to be something malevolent lurking in the old house that had been converted into the restaurant.
On a Sunday night it was my job to stock take. For those of you who remember the Schooner Inn steak houses, there was a limited menu with little choice. Starters were prawn cocktail, pate or soup. Main courses were chicken, steak, gammon, scampi and chips or jacket potato. The choice of vegetables was peas or peas. Desserts were an ice-cream or cheese and biscuits.
Everything was accounted for down to the last scoop of peas. With such tight margins it was vital that portion control was rigid.
About 6.00pm on a Sunday night, when all the stocks had been taken from the main store areas including the main freezers to cater for that night’s trade, I would take the stock sheets out of the office and begin my audit.
Everything including condiments was on the list and in some cases I had to weigh sacks or packets that had been opened. I would complete this first phase by about 9.30pm when the last meals had been ordered, cooked and served. I would then audit the kitchens in the two restaurants upstairs and downstairs. That would take me another two hours.
I would then retire back to the office to do the calculations on the large stock sheets and compare last week’s totals with this weeks and then total up the meal ingredients sold. They had to tally. More than a few ounces of peas or a steak missing and there would be trouble from head office when they received then in the post on the Tuesday.
It was a huge responsibility and one that weighed heavily on my shoulders. It was not helped by the fact that I became very uncomfortable in the office in the attic of the building. I was on my own for a couple of hours and rarely finished before midnight. The heating was not great but even as we moved into the spring I would feel a chill and that someone was watching me. At first I thought it was the other trainees playing tricks on me but I would check the landing and there would be nobody there.
I had no choice but to do my job but I became more and more reluctant to be on my own and would sometimes bribe one of the waitresses to hang around after work and keep me company until the other managers finished the bar stock take and arrived in the office.
A Ghost Story
Every lunchtime an old former soldier in his nineties used to come in at 11.00 and sit at his regular table. He would drink two schooners of amontillado sherry before tottering home for lunch at around 1.00pm.
I used to take a quick break around midday and would often sit with him. He had some amazing stories to tell about his time during the Third Anglo-Afghan War in early 1919 and how he had been the first up the Khyber Pass on a motorbike.
He had been born in Gravesend and knew the history of the house. One day I asked him if anything had ever happened in the building to create an unhappy atmosphere. He asked me where I had felt this strange sensation and I told him about my late Sunday nights in the office in the attic.
He nodded his head and then related a story about the house that his mother had told him when he was a child.
Apparently, a wealthy merchant had owned the house in those days and had a mistress. His wife found out and threatened to expose his deceit and refused to allow him to divorce her. According to the merchant she then left with her jewellery and luggage for Paris or some other European destination and was never seen again.
He moved his mistress into the property and it was not until his death several years later that a skeleton was discovered in an adjoining room to my office. The skeleton was fully clothed and chained to the bed and the general opinion at the time was that the missing wife had been locked in the room and starved to death.
Now, this might well be an old soldier having his moment of fun with me but there is no doubt that something in that attic was not happy. Possibly because the ghost of the good lady who had been deprived of food had to endure the smell of fresh grilled steak, chips and peas wafting up the staircase seven days a week which is enough to annoy anyone.
I never thought that I would get to the bottom of this story but when looking for an image of the Woodlands for this updated.. I came across this post which had a very interesting story to tell about the events at The Woodlands in 1881 which gave me a very spooky feeling about my experience.. Courtesy of Dover Kent 2014 Pub Project
The real story that might explain who was in the attic with me.
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, Saturday 5 March 1881.
At the Town Hall, on Friday, before the Mayor (Mr. Martin) and other Magistrates. Albert Moore, age 22, a soldier in the 52nd Regiment stationed at Chatham, was brought up on remand charged with wilful murder of Mary Ann Marsh, age 65, who was found murdered on the evening, at the “Woodlands,” Gravesend, where she had been acting as housekeeper to Captain Scrivens, 52nd Regiment.
Last week the prisoner was remanded in order to procure the attendance of Captain Scrivens, who could give some information as to whether any property had been stolen from the “Woodlands.”
Captain Scrivens now said he went to the house on the previous day for the first time since the murder. He did not miss anything from the house. When he removed from the “Woodlands,” he left a little plate and a few small trinkets, all of which were quite safe. Prisoner would know what was left in the house.
Dr. Richmond, recalled, said there was no appearance of a violent struggle having taken place. Deceased was covered with blood and there were extensive bruises on the head and left side of the face. The bruise on the left side of the face might have been caused by a blow from a blunt instrument, such as a pair of tongs or a fist. There was no doubt but that blows had been inflicted on deceased before her throat was cut.
This being the whole of the evidence, the prisoner, after being duly cautioned, reserved his defence, and was fully committed for trial at the next assizes, on the capital charge.
Now for something a little lighter
There was little time during 1975 to get to the movies but we did see one or two. Humour was greatly appreciated respite from our long working house, but whilst I did go to see Monty Python and The Holy Grail and also The Return of the Pink Panther, the film that impacted my love of sea swimming profoundly was Jaws……Thanks to John Williams I tend to stick to swimming pools these days after checking the deep end…
On completion of our six months training we were sent as Assistant Managers to Eastbourne where we worked for five months before being offered a Whitbread pub as managers at the entrance to Cowes Harbour on the Isle of Wight. Life at the Harbour Lights was to prove just as dramatic and I will continue the story of 1975 next week.
Thanks for joining me on my trip down Memory Lane and I hope you will pop in again next weekend.. thanks Sally.