Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sheila's Opening Night - A Blue Bruiser

Opening night arrived. It was 1983,  May or June, I can't quite remember. The place was ready. The invitations had gone out;  some declined (the local member for Bennelong- John Howard being one), the staff were all in place; the pink coasters were on the table; pink napkins and tablecloths on the dining; room tables set for 100 diners.
 Chef Bob, who had broken his leg the day before (giving a new meaning to “break a leg") was in a wheelchair directing the cooking, starting with hors d’oeuvres for 500. The bar staff was behind the two enormous bars. The Usefuls were on the floor - 10 of them, ready to pick up glasses. Video screen on, band in the band room, Brian the Publican, Crowie, Col Joye, Kevin and David were enjoying a beer before the 8pm opening.
Not so me. I had been delegated the job of “doorwoman” along with Bob, The Lady Killer and Paddy the Irish Street Fighter, who had fended for himself on the hard streets of Liverpool. An unlikely trio, but all formidable in our own right!
“How are you guys?” I asked as I approached the door in my red business suit and high heels. Appropriate dress!
"Have you looked outside, Lyn?” remarked Bob.
I looked outside.
Sheila’s had a curving ramp edged with palm trees that stretched from the front door to the street one floor below. The ramp was filled with people standing four abreast.  I went to the windows flanking the top bar and looked again. The line continued 500 yards along Berry Street, then angled into Miller Street and out of sight.
“Looks like we’ll have a good night,” I said, “Don’t forget the dress code.”

We had a very strict dress code —for the guys; collared shirt, trousers (no jeans) leather shoes (no runners). In those days girls always dressed up to go out so no dress code for the girls. Brian the Publican’s philosophy was that where the good sorts went, the guys would follow. He was right.
The doors opened. Some of the guests had the official pink invitation, others had the verbal “Brian invited us” invitation.  No-one was refused entry! We began cloaking coats and directed the patrons to the bottom bar and conservatory.
I stayed on the door until 10 pm and then thought it was time to join the party. The guys had the drift of the dress code and besides, the local priest; the brothers who had taught Brian the Publican, and the nuns, who had taught our children were in there. Maybe I should keep an eye on them and make sure that they were ok.

The party was in full swing as all parties are when the grog and food are free. However, as things go, there is always a greedy group. They had stationed themselves in the prime position- at the end of the bottom bar and in front of the kitchen exit.  They couldn’t believe their luck; free food and drinks and they were first in!
 The evening wore on. The alcohol held out but the food didn’t, despite the chef’s team emptying the coolrooms and cooking everything in sight.  Behind the bar the drip trays - the aluminium trays under the beer taps that catch any overflow beer - had been emptied three times. Each time they were emptied an purple-blue ethyl dye solution had to be sloshed in, so that the contaminated waste had to tipped out after it had been measured. This was a health directive and was strictly enforced by the health inspectors, because in the old days, it was tipped back into the kegs and resold.
As a note of interest, Jean, my mother-in-law told me about the “heart starter”.  The nip measures for spirits, a silver cup-like pourer that held one nip- 50 mls or half a nip-25 mls, also had to be upended over a tray of ethyl dye, but before this was law, the left-over spirits from the untreated  drip tray were emptied into a special bottle. This bottle was kept for the alcoholics who were first through the doors when they opened. One shot of this, their hearts started again, and the trembling in their hands stopped- hence the name “heart starter”!
This night, as the trays were emptied, the bottle holding the dye made by mixing ethyl dye tablets and water in a bottle, was empty. “I’ll get you some,” a Useful told the barmaid as he bent down to the cupboard under the sink and put the large plastic bottle containing the tablets on the top of the bar. He then showed some initiative. Somewhere, somehow in the adrenalin of the night he thought,” this could happen again tonight.” So he tipped out enough tablets to fill a saucer and left it on top of the bar above the sink while he put the plastic bottle back.

Meanwhile, our merry little barflies at the ends of the bar missed this. They were too busy watching the kitchen for the next tray of food to come out.  After grabbing a bit more food as the waitress passed by, they turned to the bar and their eyes lit up.
“Look guys”, chortled John, one of the group, “They’ve even got some lollies for us!”
“Best place ever this,” enthused Allan.

With that the Greedy Eight jostled for the saucer and managed to grab a handful each. They swallowed them. Next minute - pandemonium! They were frothing at the mouth! Their lips were blue! They looked at each other, started screaming ”Blue Murder”! And then stopped stunned! Eight pairs of eyes had seen eight sets of blue teeth! I have never seen men part a crowd so quickly and head for the gents - rocket-propelled!!  I have never known men to stay in a toilet so long or to come out with their lips so tightly pressed together!
These guys had no hope of picking up a Sheila at Sheila's that night!

The content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan, edited by Jan Cornall. Jan and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013

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