On April 1st I had a lot of fun over on Surroundings commenting on Rob’s discovery of a lost poem by R D Thomson. However, much of what I wrote there was actually based on fact. In 1961 I was a barman in the North British Hotel, and at times it was a bizarre place to be. There was an old guy in a shabby mac who took the lift from the Waverley Station into the hotel foyer, lifted the Glasgow Herald from its rack, and read it cover to cover over a half pint of shandy. I’ve no idea who he was – none of us ever asked – but he did exist.
The other thing was that the NB’s Corner Bar was one of the very small number of gay bars in Edinburgh. This was at a time when it was still illegal to be gay, so there was a lot of pretence and subterfuge going on – nobody was ‘out’ when the Vice Squad were so active. However, there was one guy who regularly came in wearing eyeshadow and mascara. He said he was an actor, but nobody was fooled. When I made his dry martini and asked for payment he would tell me to wait until he’d sipped it first, to make sure it was to his taste. And the toilet attendant made a fortune in tips by keeping lookout for the customers. Speaking of tips, the (getting on a bit) barmaid, who looked a bit like the Julie Walters waitress in the ‘Two Soups’ sketch, ripped off my tips every week by claiming that the kitty was a lot smaller than it really was. I was only 19, straight and innocent, writing poetry in the afternoons (bars closed between 2:30 and 5 in those days), and playing jazz after 10 o’clock closing time at weekends. Happy Days? I don’t know, but they’ve given me a lot of material for writing since then.