Sunday, 30 April 2006

Moving Back

Emilio and I had been laughing and giggling together - well, I had been laughing and Emilio giggling ; -) the guest’s blue eyes flickered uncertainly between myself and Emilio, the lips tried to twitch into a smile. Thankfully Emilio, eager to get on with his evening, turned to whisk his friend away with a brief " you two know each, don’t you? " I watched them as they went up the stairs to the managerial suite where they had decided to have room service instead of dining in the restaurant. Chalk and cheese, I thought, one tall, slender and fair - very English the other shorter, stockier, with a head of thick black hair and very Latin - fire and ice, how had two such different people become friends?

Later, Jack, the Head Porter came into the switch room and sat in the spare chair beside me, the floor waiter brought down a tray of coffee and biscuits and put it on the small cupboard beside him. Just to demonstrate the pecking order - Jack had his coffee first then myself and the other porters could have ours. I didn’t feel like chatting to him, I was still puzzling over this strange turn of events, but Jack raised his brows upwards, indicating upstairs and said "they’re still up there then?" Mmm, I answered, scribbling on my pad and trying to look busy, I had no intention of giving Jack any excuse to have a pop at Emilio. Eventually he got up to go, but then stopped at the doorway and looked back - "You know, then...." "Yep" I stopped whatever he was going to say and thankfully I had to answer a few calls on the switchboard.

I felt just stunned for the rest of the evening - of all the people in all the world why did Emilio have to be friends with - Andrew!! This was the guy who had been blanking me for the last three years - and I hadn’t a clue why. We had first met when I went to do overtime at The Grosvenor Court Hotel just across the road in Davies Street, Andrew had been on reception and I had expected him to be as friendly as all the other Grand Metites that I’d met whenever I did overtime. They were usually grateful that the board was being manned otherwise the reception or the porters would have to have covered the board, when they were short of telephonists. Also, the other staff liked to come and have a chat and ask which hotel you worked in and was it a good place to work - all the usual questions. But when I spoke to Andrew he just looked down his nose at me, and spoke briefly, but in the most patronising manner. He certainly had no intention of being friendly. We would often meet at the bus stop after a late shift, but he completely ignored me, even when, on one occasion, Theresa, one of the telephonists at The Grosvenor Court was also their, she chatted to me, and to Andrew and he responded to her, but he stood with his back half turned to me and totally ignored me. When I’d shared a room with Kathy in the garret, there were just two rooms at the top of the narrow winding stairs, and Andrew often visited the girl in the next room, sometimes I would meet him on the stairs but there was never any eye contact and I might as well not bother saying hello....... Then there was the time I met him on the bus going to work, I saw a familiar face and instinctively smiled hello, but he turned away to look stonily out of the window. I think after that I gave up, I accepted he didn’t like me - I just wished I knew why.

Just as I was leaving to go home, Emilio and Andrew were coming downstairs, they were in good spirits, it was good to see Emilio relaxed and genuinely cheerful, not just the usual nervous giggle. I had never seen Andrew like this before, he was a good looking fellow, and his now smiling face made him look very handsome indeed. And as he glanced in my direction the smile did not fade one iota. Emilio saw him to the glass doors, they shook hands and off he went. Emilio turned to me, still smiling "By the way, I have good news for you - there’s a single room at Ashley Court available to you, but I need a quick answer". "Oh great, I’ll go and see it tomorrow" I replied eagerly. "You want to look at it?" Emilio almost choked. "Do you want it - yes or no?" " Yes thank you" I said meekly, "Good, I went to a lot of trouble to get that for you - don’t you dare turn it down!" He scowled at me beneath his thick, dark brows and I thought aw - he’s so sweet when he scowls like that!

Well I did go to Ashley Court the next day to have a look at the room - and what a surprise I got! No pokey old garrett, no looking over the bins in the back yard, I didn’t even have to climb to the top floor. It was a single room on the front over looking Queensgate, on the second floor - and it had it’s own private balcony! It was a long narrow room, it had a sink built into a cupboard, a large Victorian wardrobe, dressing table and chest of drawers and a small cupboard next to the single bed pushed up into the corner of the room, but best of all - double French windows which opened onto the balcony. It was going to cost me £2.10.0 a week, but worth every penny lol! I knew that a single room with shared services in central London (but not as posh an address as this!) would cost at least £5 per week, and nothing provided. We had maid service, laundry service, breakfast and social facilities such as the bar, TV room and games room. There were small kitchens situated on every floor and more bathrooms than I managed to get through during my time at Ashley Court - and I did attempt to try them all out lol!

I was at the switchboard the next morning when I took a call and heard a soft voice say "Freda?" "Yes" I replied desperately trying to recognise the voice, "It’s Andrew, could I speak to Emilio please?" I nearly fell off my chair in surprise. They seemed to be on the phone for ages, but eventually Emilio came downstairs to give me a cheerful ‘good morning’. I was on with my supervisor ‘Angie’, and even she remarked on how cheerful Emilio seemed to be. Angie was in her late fifties and a wise old soul - everybody’s shoulder to cry on, and thankfully she did not seem to have a ‘down’ on Emilio. So, perhaps knowing he had ‘back-up’ in the switchroom, at least, he spent quite a lot of the morning talking to us. Angie was very happy that I was now going back to live in Ashley Court and pleased with Emilio for working so hard in getting the room for me. Unfortunately I could only give Pat & Dickie a week’s notice otherwise I would be paying for two lots of lodgings and I couldn’t afford that. I would miss their mad cap company, but not all the travelling!


Have to go and cut the grass - so sorry - no cliff hanger lol! ;-)

Sunday, 23 April 2006

New Year 1965

New Year 1965

Despite having done lots of overtime at the various hotels that belonged to Grand Metropolitan, I still hadn’t managed to get round them all, similarly, although I’d met many of my fellow ‘Grand Metites’- there were still many, many more that I hadn’t, and Emilio was one of them. I knew absolutely nothing about him when I went back to work at Stratters, other than that it was his first assistant managers job - a job that was the absolute pits. At least as a humble telephonist I knew where I was in the pecking order - the bottom. Whereas every head of department seemed to think they were the most important person - enormous egos made for lots of upsets amongst the staff. The assistant manager’s job was to make the manager’s job as easy as possible and keep the staff in order - and consequently take all the flack. It needed a calmer and more confident type of person than Emilio was, to succeed in this tricky position.

Maybe he and I got on ok because I had no reason not to respect him. I knew he would have earned his current position in no easy manner. Everyone on the 5 year training course would have had to work in the kitchen, restaurant, bar, control, reception, become head receptionist and then move on to assistant manager, where they would have to develop the hide of a rhinoceros and the wisdom of Solomon. Mitch, the head porter, treated Emilio with the utmost disdain, I found it painful to see and wished I could have advised Emilio to ignore him, unfortunately he would give vent to his Latin temper which, of course, only made matters worse. Also, I had come back from Switzerland with the intention of learning Italian - I much preferred the lilting, sing-song way of speaking to German. Emilio seemed pleased that I knew something of his language and was happy to help. He found it highly amusing to discover that I shared a flat with two fellers and teased me remorselessly - despite my protestations that they were more interested in each other than in me.

The bizarre thing was, when I wrote and told my mother that I was sharing a flat with friends of Jenny’s - a couple called Pat and Dickie - intending to give the impression that they were a married couple - my mother wrote back that she was glad I was settled, but mentioned her concern about ‘the couple’, " why do I think that they are two fellers?" she asked, and it was obvious that she could not quite believe what she was asking, nevertheless this was what she thought and wanted me to put her right. I was dumbfounded, I would have thought that anyone would automatically think ‘a couple called Pat & Dickie’ would be a male/female couple. I decided to come clean, even though I knew my mum, with her straightlaced attitude would disapprove, because I wanted to know how on earth she had come to that conclusion. She said she couldn’t explain it, it was just a feeling she had - scary! The last thing a daughter wants is for her mother to be able to see into her life with such accurate

I was happy to have Emilio back after his few days away, he makes me laugh with his rather self-conscious flirtyness. I wished I could have got to know him before he became part of the management, as the gulf between the ‘plebs’ and the management was one difficult to bridge (yes - I know I have mnaged it in the past.....) - especially during working hours........I liked him a lot and wished I could instil in him a little confidence, he didn’t appear to have any at all and seemed to veer from vulnerable to temper tantrum, with very little in between.

We had a belated Christmas/ New Year Party at The Londoner Hotel just further along Welbeck Street, I went there often to do overtime. The entrance hall was enormous and so was the restaurant, so it was an ideal place for the two hotels to have a bit of a do. Our pay was pretty dire and so was the food which we had on duty and was allegedly part of our pay - but when it came to celebrating, it seemed no expense was spared. There was lots of lovely food, party hats and streamers, plenty of booze - enough for us all to get a little sloshed, music and dancing. I was a bit miffed when Dottie claimed Emilio for a slow dance and I had the ‘pleasure’ of dancing with Alasdair Fraser - who had two left feet and a broom stuck up the back of his jacket. As soon as there was a break in the music I switched partners with Dottie and Emilio didn’t seem to mind at all - he held me very tightly - and I didn’t mind that at all ;-) I also managed to get him for the last dance, he held me tightly, his cheek pressed against mine. I even managed to get a kiss under the mistletoe - albeit a chaste kiss on the cheek! And as it was now so late, he said I could stay at Stratters tonight. There was much teasing for days afterwards about our ‘flirting’, which merely brought raised brows a deep, noisy sigh from Mitch.

9th January and the hotel is coming alive again - we have an American Pop Star called Johnny Thunder staying here. Johnny was a member of legendary Groups The Inkspots and The Drifters. He had a self-penned hit in 1963 of ‘Loop De Loop’. I confess to having got this information from his website, as back in 1965, I had never heard of him. He was here to appear on ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’. He seemed quite alone, he spent much of his time in the front hall talking to the staff. I was happy to talk to him, he was a tall, handsome, cheerful guy and when he asked to take me out to lunch, I was happy to accompany him. There was a really nice cafĂ©/restaurant in Bond Street called ‘Sands’, it was the ‘in’ place to go, I loved sitting at one of the pavement tables sipping tall mugs of hot chocolate topped with swirls of thick cream and cinnamon, and hoping to catch a glimpse of 60's supermodels Jean Shrimpton or Celia Hammond as The Lucie Clayton School of Modelling was nearby, so was the very popular fashion store - Fenwicks. So this was the place I suggested we could go to. The place was crowded, but we managed to get a table downstairs, after perusing the menu, we both decided we liked the sound of the steak and salad served on wooden boards - well it seemed different - lol! But it turned out to be the most difficult meal I have ever attempted to eat, trying to eat off large blocks of wood on a small table was fraught with problems, the boards wobbled every time we tried to cut into the meat, and the salad went in all directions. It could have been very embarrassing, but Johnny had a fabulous sense of humour, he kept me and the rest of the diners in stitches, but in the end, I gave up and settled for a calorie laden dessert to fill the empty spaces.

We also have Film Star Dean Stockwell staying here. I’ve always thought he was one gorgeous guy, ever since I saw him as a child star in the film ‘The Boy with Green Hair. He has appeared in hundreds of films over the years and more recently, he was the star of ‘Quantum Leap’. He’s a very friendly feller and is happy to stop and give me his autograph and have a chat. The strange thing about him, and quite in contrast to his ordinariness, is the way he dresses - all in black, topped by an all enveloping long black cape. He sails through the front hall, his cape flowing behind him and out into the street, seemingly totally unaware of his, er rather unusual appearance. I had the temerity to ask him why he dressed that way and he said it was just his style, he felt comfortable with it. I wake him every morning and take his breakfast order when I am on the early shift and he usually cracks a joke or two - he reminds me very much of Gene in this respect - he’s such an easy going guy, no ‘starriness’ about him at all.

I take it that Gene Pitney is on his way here too, as already we are getting phone calls for him. Tony Hall rang to say he was coming in the hotel and would stop by to say hello. How long ago is it that I first spoke to Tony Hall? So much water seems to have passed under the bridge since then, and I feel that I have known him for ages and yet we have never met. He came in later accompanying The Righteous Brothers. I’m really quite surprised to find I have written this in my diary, as I have no recollection at all of having met The Righteous Brothers. I do remember meeting Tony Hall though, we shook hands and said the usual things. He was also accompanied by his assistant, a young man called Jimmy, who rang me the next day to ask if I would like to accompany him to see Ready Steady Go, but I’m working - sigh.......

And another party - at The St Ermine’s Hotel this time. Went back to Ashley Court with Dottie to get changed into our glad rags. Had most enjoyable time, a crowd of us went back to Ashley Court and into Lionel’s room for coffee, chatting until 5.30am. Dottie is on the early shift so had already gone to bed, rather than disturb her I accepted the loan of the floor in Alison’s room..........

Johnny Thunder has gone home and Gene has arrived! I heard his familiar voice out in reception - he got quite a surprise when I went out to say hello, not realising that I was back. He asked if that meant that my predecessor had gone, I assume he meant Rona, who, by all accounts had been using Stratters as a way to ‘drum up business’ ;-) he had found the ‘attentions’ of Rona not quite what he had been used to from the telephonists lol! We had always treated him with respect - as he had treated us. I would loved to have known all the juicy details, but, well, you can’t ask, can you? Suffice to say that Rona was now ‘persona non grata’, in fact no one even wanted to talk about her - bringing the hotel into disrepute and all that.

Mitch tells me, with some asperity, that Emilio is expecting a friend round for dinner this evening - nothing wrong with that, the assistant managers didn’t get much in the way of perks, but this was one of them. They would havetheir girl friends round or more often than not, an assistant manager from another hotel in the Group, where no doubt they would share their highs & lows of their chosen profession. Good for him, I thought, he needs someone to have a good natter with, and hopefully give a bit of a boost to his sagging confidence.

Emilio popped his head around the door of the switchroom and asked me to let him know when his friend arrived but then stayed talking to me. We were standing chatting by the switchroom door, he seemed in good spirits, suddenly his eyes brightened and a faint flush spread across his face as he looked past me and I guessed his friend had arrived. I turned to see who his guest was - and my jaw hit the floor as I found myself gazing into a pair of familiar blue eyes...........

Friday, 21 April 2006

Christmas 1964

I have agreed to work over Christmas and Emilio has arranged for those who are working to stay in the hotel, so hopefully we will have some fun......... even Emilio said it should be interesting.........sometimes he says things with such a naughty twinkle in his eye..........

The guests have been very generous to us girls and apart from money we have received nylons (lol still waiting for tights to come along) chocolates and Theatre tickets - not to mention invitations to dinner ;-)

Christmas Eve - I am working 12.0pm til 6.30pm. Met Jenny after work so went to do some later night shopping. From November the shops in the West End would stay open quite late to enable workers to do their Christmas shopping - 24 hour opening was still decades away..........sigh. Then went to Trafalgar Square to join in the Carol singing - it was a lovely sight with all the beautiful Christmas lights. Then met up with Bernie and some of the staff from Stratters and The Grosvenor Court Hotel at The Woodstock pub, which is just across the road from Stratters, for a few drinks. When Dottie, my fellow telephonist, finished work at 10.30pm we met in her room, the lads on reception finished at 11.0pm and then they joined us. Emilio knocked on the door and asked us to keep the noise down - but then gave us a couple of bottles of wine lol!

My room was comfortable, but I found it difficult to sleep. On at 8.0am Christmas Day - Emilio asked what time I had got to sleep - I think it was somewhere around 2.0am - he just raised his brow and gave me a knowing look :-/ Whatever was he thinking............?

We were all invited into the Restaurant for a very good Christmas lunch, so different from last year when Alasdair Fraser put the kibosh on any possible frivolity. Emilio kept giving me funny looks, but think he was feeling a bit out of his depth, he tends to giggle and pull funny faces when he’s feeling awkward (aw bless!) He bought us all drinks, and at 2.0pm I finished my shift and went over to Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair to work till 6.0pm and it was more drinking there.....Went back to Stratters to keep Dottie company whilst she worked the evening shift - we were feeling rather giggly by this time as what few guests we had in the hotel kept buying us drinks.....Emilio came in and spoke to us rather sternly, which rather knocked the Christmas spirit out of us, but then came back to apologise and bought us more drinks.......He fussed round us all evening asking if there was anything we wanted. The night porters didn’t turn up, so me’n Dottie stayed to cover the switchboard and the boys stayed on Reception until midnight then we all went to Dottie’s room again for another party.

Stayed in bed late then had a leisurely bath and breakfast in my room - ah this is the life ;-) We all had dinner in the restaurant again, Emilio said he could hear me giggling last night at our party..........Working 2.0pm til 8.30pm, met Pat & Dickie later at the Gresham Ballroom in Islington, had great fun, then singing all the way home in the snow - oh didn’t I mention it had been snowing?........Yep - it snowed at Christmas in those days ;-) Fell into bed 2.0am.

On late shift today, so cooked Christmas lunch with Pat & Dickie, Jenny came over too. Sorry that I had to leave them playing party games to go into work :-( Emilio in and out of the switch room all evening - nothing better to do, as the hotel is so quiet, eventually he said I could go home early. They were still partying at Pat & Dickie’s and I have the feeling that this is when we took the silly photographs........

By New Year’s Eve I was feeling pretty wobbly - I’d done a lot of over time over Christmas - we get double pay and very well looked after at other hotels, so have to earn a bit extra whilst we can - and too many late nights. Jenny has invited me to a party tonight and as it is New Year’s Eve, I feel I have to force myself to go - can’t stay in on the best night of the year. The party turned out to be at Cardew Robinson’s home. He was popularly know as ‘Cardew the Cad’ due to his part in the film ‘Fun at St Fanny’s’ circa 1956. He was on TV Saturday 1st April in ‘Carry On Up the Khyber’ playing the Kafir. A tall skinny fellow with a big boney nose, he was never a Star, but popped up all over the place in films and on TV. The house was bursting with partygoers, he seemed to be a very affable chap who didn’t mind all these strange people in his house. There was a large conservatory at the back of the house where there was plenty of food, drink and dancing. Didn’t leave until 3.15 am, went to Jenny’s, who lives out in Clapham, for a couple of hours sleep then on to work for the early shift.........I even managed to do an extra shift at The Green Park Hotel in the afternoon - talk about burning the candle at both ends :-/ Joined the boys in mulled wine and hot mince pies before falling into bed.......

I finally asked Emilio about finding me a room at Ashley Court, and a couple of days later he got back to say that there was a double room available. Well, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, and I know rooms at Ashley Court are not easy to come by, but I really didn’t want to share. I’ve told him that I’d rather hold out for a single room. He sighed, raised his eyebrows and told me not to be so fussy - but he will make further enquiries.......

I have started knitting again, I’d seen this black mohair wool in Marshall & Snelgrove - a rather old fashioned and slightly posh store just next to Stratters. I used to go in there just to use the ladies toilets because they were so grand, very large and decorated in beautiful art deco tiles. Anyway, I noticed the wool was half price, and never one to resist a bargain, I looked around for a suitable pattern. I settled on a button up jacket, but as I got knitting, noticed the dye coming off on my hands! I took the wool back and they exchanged it for another batch, but the same thing happened. The assistant suggested washing the wool to see if that made a difference, but if I wanted to continue buying the wool, I could have it at a bargain price. I found that washing the wool did solve the problem of the dye coming off, so I took up the offer of buying the whole batch. With so much wool, I decided to turn the jacket into a coat. When it was finished I lined it with a leopard print silk lining . With some of the left over wool I knitted a matching bag, lined it with the same material and attached a long chain necklace in place of a strap.

As Emilio worked over Christmas and New Year, he is now having a few days off, and it’s not the same without him. I can understand to a certain extent why he is not very popular with the rest of the staff, poor Emilio - he’s his own worst enemy, but I can see the vulnerable side to him and for as long you treat him with a certain amount of respect - he’s just fine. Well apart from the sudden temperamental outbursts.........

But then, there was something I didn’t know about him that others did................

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Gene Pitney

First thing I do when I come in from work is to switch on my radio, I was pleased today, to find that they were playing one of Gene's records and then they talked about him at some length - "Oh a programme on Gene - how nice" I thought, until the News Reader ended by saying "Gene Pitney, who died today aged 65"!!!!!

I simply could not believe it, Gene was always to fit and loved to tour and meet his fans - he had only just celebrated his 65th Birthday on 17th February, and he's just a few weeks older than me.

It's hard to believe that he won't be touring GB again, he came regularly, and I always hoped he would come to a theatre locally. I haven't seen him for a while, but I have fond memories of the fun we had during the 1960s.  His live shows were extraordinary.

What a sad loss - Gene was unique.

A very sad Freda :-(


Gene Pitney was found dead at a hotel


-- Obituary: The Rockville Rocket

Saturday, 1 April 2006

Added Photos

Just a quickie to let you know I've added photos to my last entry. Hope they give you a laugh!