All Night Wrong - An Odd Essay
Looking back, there is no denying it. Polly was just a bully. Though we were so young we mistook his aggression towards all things smaller and weaker for hardness. Then again we were in a difficult position. We were underage drinkers and Polly turned a blind eye; just as long as we sat in the corner near the back door so we could make a hasty exit when the odd lot arrived. I say 'when' because a visit by Her Majesties' was a regular occurrence at the Top House. They didn't call it 'The Powder Keg' for nothing.
To be honest the unremitting violent aspect of the pub held us in good stead. Hardly ever did the odd lot even bat an eyelid in our direction, and when they did, it was to make sure none of us were on the receiving end of a fist, boot, glass, chair or any of the other available weapons of choice. They knew us all by name. They knew our parents. They knew where we were. They had better things to do.
Polly ruled his empire in the manner one would expect from the fat lazy oaf he was. Derek reckoned he looked like a short sighted, overweight Dr Zaius. Derek had nailed it. Unfortunately Polly had none of the philosophical tolerance of his on-screen, rubber faced, orang-utan doppelganger. He was actually more like Urko the gorilla warrior when it came to social skills. But Polly let us in his pub and served us beer and, more importantly, he left us alone.
I remember waiting to be served one Saturday afternoon when 'Basketcase' pointed out to Polly there was a group of teenagers sitting by the concert organ smoking a joint. Polly replied quite casually that as long as they were buying beer he didn't give a toss. When, an hour later, Basketcase decided to try and eject the offending stoners, Polly came from behind the bar and punched him in the face, breaking his already broken nose. It was Polly's empire and he ruled it exactly how he wanted to rule it. He gave Basketcase some ice wrapped in a beer towel and a free pint and nothing more was said. Needless to say the stoners left in a hurry and never came back.
The beginning of the end at the Top House was the Saturday of the Wigan Casino Christmas Party. Usually we would all congregate at Louie's Bar prior to jumping on the train. Noddy would always turn up with minutes to spare and there would be a frantic exchange of pills and money before we all peg it to catch the eight fifteen to Preston. But, because it was supposed to be a special occasion - meaning they had sold tickets in advance - Noddy had decided to come along and do a little extra business. It was Christmas after all and he had presents to buy for the kids. This meant that we all had to go to Louie's Thursday to buy our gear. That way Noddy could turn it around and restock accordingly by Saturday.
Now I am a nothing if not an advocate for being prepared but we all got paid on Thursday in those days and having a sock full of illicit tablets and a prepaid ticket for a Saturday all-nighter gave each of us a false sense of confidence. Polly being more beast than man, instinctively recognised this. So when we traipsed into the Top House carrying bags, wearing capped sleeve tee-shirts, ridiculously baggy trousers and leather shoes he knew right off that we were up to something. More to the point he knew we weren't staying long. And even more to the point he hated Noddy and Noddy was barred.
Of course this hadn't even been thought about. To us it was simply a matter of practicalities. The Top House was right next to the train station. As we had already bought our gear it made sense to go there and wait for the train. Louie's was at the other end of the Square. It was cold and we didn't want to have to our wear coats and flat caps until we were in the queue outside the Casino. It was easier to stick them in our bags with our towels, deodorant and change of clothes. Innocent as it all was - well apart from the illegal substances - Polly took it upon himself to be offended by our presence.
He served us as always but when he did you could detect an underlying resentment. He used the word 'sonny' instead of 'lad' and didn't swear at us. When Derek arrived an hour later, having just arrived home from a course on 'car alternator repairs' in Watford, it lit Polly's fuse. Don't get me wrong. If Polly had a soft spot for any of us, it was Derek. They swapped profane banter like a mutant father and son team. But when Derek came in and went straight over to Noddy to buy his gear, Polly clocked it and didn't like what he saw. Maybe he felt betrayed. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he his wife had been out shopping all day so he hadn't had chance to slap her. Regardless of all this Polly was not a happy cramper.
For the first time since he broke Basketcases' nose the landlord of the Top House came from behind the bar. He headed straight over to our corner and grabbed hold of Noddy by the neck. Derek first impulse was to help his dealer and he lashed out sending Polly's bottle bottom spectacles flying across the room. They landed at Basketcases' feet who promptly stamped on them.
There is nothing more frightening than a blind man in a rage. Polly went ballistic and began to swing random punches hoping to catch one of us. The crowd at the bar were egging him on. This was the most entertainment they'd had since the brawl the night before. Noddy, Mick, Tommy, Phil, Adie and Becky grabbed their bags and ran for it, leaving me and Derek cornered. Our nearest means of escape was the Ladies toilet. We backed in there thinking we could climb out of a window. No such luck. The room was hermitically sealed by eighty odd years of repainting.
We could hear Polly raging outside. He was calling us pill heads and drug dealing scumbags. He said he knew we were in there. But Polly wouldn't come in. Something in that idiotic, tyrannical, bald head of his prevented him from going in the ladies. We had the think fast. The train was due in three minutes. I came up with an idea.
We opened the door slowly and peered into the bar. Polly was about four feet in front of us. Blind, sweating and very angry. No one else was speaking. All eyes were on me and Derek. We were the proverbial slaves in the amphitheatre. We walked out wearing our coats and flat caps and speaking in 'old men' voices. It was the only plan I had. It wasn't much of one. But, by George, it worked a treat. Granted, Polly reached out and touched Derek on the cap. But when Derek protested in his best Albert Steptoe voice and told Polly to leave him alone and get on with sorting out 'those pill popping hooligans who had locked themselves in trap one', Polly actually apologised and called him Vince.
As we left the pub things were going back to normal. Everyone had lost interest. Polly must have reasoned that if two of his oldest male customers were using the Ladies it must therefore be alright for him to go in there. He had done so and had apparently spent the next two hours blind and screaming in there, unable to find his way out. In the meantime Basketcase went behind the bar and started a free-for-all which only came to an end when Tony the Vulture hit Gordy with a pool cue and all hell irrupted. The odd lot were called and arrived just as Polly escaped. In his blind rage he managed to punch Constable Hughes on the ear and was arrested for assaulting a police officer.
Two months later the place was boarded up. Polly got five years. The brewery had decided to investigate and discovered he was selling smuggled liquor. They found over ten thousand pounds in cash hidden in a commode upstairs and his wife had him charged with 'persistent violent physical and mental abuse'.
The Wigan Christmas Party was superb. Me and Derek danced all night, even went for it at Mr Ms in the morning. A few months later the Casino was closed down. An era came to an end. It was a sad time. But at least we didn't have to wear those ridiculous cloths anymore.