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Bell Boy, I Got To Keep Running Now

By Bernie Bostik

  

Got a new job and I'm newly born,

You should see me dressed up in my uniform

I work in a hotel all gilt and flash

Remember the gaff where the doors we smashed?

 

 

If you, like me, lived in the Northwest of England, left school during the 80's, did as Norman Tebbit said and donned a pair of bicycle clips and cycled around looking for employment. You more than likely ended up peddling down south to somewhere exotic like Eastbourne, Bournemouth, Jersey and of course London . It was here in the last one, London, that a high percentage of people from my village had been treading a well worn path since the early 80's and at one stage there must have been 25 of us all living, socialising and working within a close proximity to each other in the big city. 

 

The first pioneers to make the move south had staked a claim in the Hotel game and more specifically tried their hand at being Bell Boys. They had also bought the rent book off some Portuguese family for a three bedroom flat in the infamous Trellick Towers , designed by an architect called Ernö Goldfinger. It was a 31-story apartment slab, part of a complex of several buildings in North Kensington called the Cheltenham Estate. When it was built, Trellick was one of the tallest buildings in Europe and it came to epitomise all that was thought to be wrong with modern tower block housing and urbanism. Trellick was regularly featured in the tabloids as “The Tower of Terror”, and there were stories of women being raped in the elevators, children attacked by drug addicts, and homeless squatters setting fire to empty flats. The underground garages were especially dangerous. Well, the lads couldn't have chosen a nicer abode. 

 

So with a place to crash and the chance of a job in one of the lads hotels, every year spawned more and more jobless Dick Whittingtons moving down south in search of streets paved with gold. When I moved down a good few years after the first landing party, I got my nut down in the flat, It was quite empty at the time with only 8 occupants! The most occupants it had at any one time was 45, on a all Merseyside cup final weekend!  I took up the new comers position of the 'cubby hole' bedroom under the stairs -basically a space just big enough to squeeze a mattress in - but it wasn't long before I got promotion to a bed in a proper bedroom, when three of the lads moved around the corner to a flat in Manchester Drive, next door but two to Aswad, which got christened the Golden Girls flat after the TV show. 

 

I loved living in the flat, I loved the area. The local boozer ‘The Earl of Warwick’ was a pleasure to bevy in. It was a proper rough arse old boozer but it had plenty of character and characters who drunk in there. While in there one winters evening some mush stormed in brandishing a shotgun, screaming 'If anyone sees Brian tell him he's going to get this' and then proceeded to pepper the ceiling with gun shots  before strolling out as cool as you like. We got on fine with all the local Gangsters who used the pub, they quickly accepted us and we became a part of their community. Sundays were my favourite, roast spuds on the bar as the ale flowed and the card games got more serious as the day went on. 

 

If you needed a weed you went to see Richie the Rasta in the bookies for a ten pound bag of sweet smelling sensi, if he wasn't in the bookies you went around to his birds flat Barbara, which if I am truthful I hated going round and so did everyone else. It was never an in and out jobbie, you always felt obliged to stick a spliff and share it with her. She could jangle for Jamaica and if the rum came out you could be there for a good couple of hours. While the lads were all going cold turkey back at the flat waiting for the green! It got so bad that we use to have a showy (a game of 3 card brag) and who ever had the lowest hand went. In-fact the showy was our way of decision making in the flat; Who's doing the dishes?...showy…Who's making a brew?...showy...Who's going to tell Hooky to change his socks because his feet are starting to smell like Stilton?...showy. The showy ritual had been passed down from one generation of Trellick dwellers to the next. It was the law and anyone who didn't honour a showy got branded worse than a grass. 

 

A job was quick in coming and I got a start as a night porter at the Marlborough Hotel on Bloomsbury Street . Fish Pie Pete one of the lads was the Assistant Concierge and had got me the job.  Most of the original lads who started off 'on the bags' in the early days had all gone on to bigger and better things. Baby Al and Holsten Joe were both on the bags at the Savoy , Mogger was the junior Concierge also at the Savoy , Terry Watts was head honcho at the Hilton Mews Hotel, Sausage was the Doorman at the Grosvenor House on Park Lane , their kid Gazza was Head Luggage Porter at Claridges, Joey Melia was Assistant Concierge at The St James in Piccadilly, Neach was Head Porter at the Rubens in Victoria, Billy Buff and Macca were on the desk at The St Giles and Terrapin was at The Dorchester. Now the Marlborough wasn't as prestigious as some of the for mention establishments. It was a 4 star deluxe compared to their 5 star and it just didn't have the same clientele as the other Hotels, were as the other lads would be telling you tales of Lady Di popping in for afternoon tea, I would have to make do with telling them about carrying Orville up to Keith Harris's room! 

 

It wasn't long before I was on the day shift which gave me the chance of meeting the head porter Rafael D'Angiola (Raffy) who was from Naples . I had heard so many stories about this fellow, everyone of the lads had served their apprenticeship under him at one time or another. On the porters grapevine he had been called strict, stubborn, ruthless, evil and down right nasty but one underlining factor that everyone had mentioned was that the cunt could make money. He could have worked at one of the bigger hotels but he preferred to operate at a smaller level were he could get away with virtually anything he pleased. His job consisted of doing none of the hotel duties at all; he left them down to his assistant Fish Pie and the rest of us boys. What he did do was stand at the concierge desk from 9 to 5 everyday with the phone permanently stuck to his ear, dealing in theatre tickets. He was just using the hotel as his office. Sold out shows like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Miss Saigon and Starlight Express were the big earners of the time. He had a contact in Albemarle (theatre ticket agency) and could get as many tickets as he wanted; he then sold them on at a premium to hotel guests, other concierges and cockney spivs. 

 

The tickets wasn't his only scam, he also had the car-park trick which consisted of when a guest came to the hotel in a car he was told that the porters would park his car in the NCP car park around the corner and the charge would be added to their bill. The price of the nearest NCP was £24 for overnight parking, was as the NCP about a 15 minute jog away, was £12 a night. With a pad of blank NCP receipts to help us, the cars went in the cheap one and the guest got charged the dearer rate, the profit got split 50/50 between Raffy and the porters. Some weekends we would have 30-40 cars to get out and us porters went through shoes quicker than Emelda Marcus. Parking the cars was one of the perks of the job, I have drove Porches, Mercs, Rollers, Lexus and a Lamborghini Diablo once. We even use to use the guests cars to deliver theatre tickets to various places around the city, until one of the lads took one home one night and while it was parked up outside the flats a police car crashed into it whilst chasing a stolen vehicle. So Raffy bought us a mountain bike instead to make our deliveries, which we use to get a fiver a time for (we would do about 10-15 deliveries a day). Sometimes if he still had a few tickets that he couldn't shift, he would send us out to try and graft them outside the Theatres which was virtually impossible as getting chased off by the proper cockney touts seemed to be the order of the day. 

 

We porters use to pool our tips and share them out at the end of the day. Which was great if you were working with one of the lads or someone who you could trust, but that wasn't always the case. I once had the pleasure of a couple of months in the company of a new Moroccan porter called Ahmed who was a right little vagabond. The arguments between us were often fierce and a few times blows were nearly exchanged as both flied accusations of 'sticking down' at each-other. In the whole time I worked with him he claimed he never once received a fiver tip. I even caught him trying to get a sneaky 'flyer' away when I came back from my dinner early once. Let me explain about 'flyers'. A flyer is a taxi job to the airport. Now airport jobs were normally booked in advance (when the guest had been grilled by us porters when they arrived, about when they were leaving and where they were going and if they needed a taxi) If you had an airport job you would call our trusted cabby (Fat Al – loved a bet and was always eating) and book it. He’d give you £15 for a Gatwick job and a tenner for a Heathrow. We also had Sieed sat-off around the corner incase of any spur of the moment flyers. It was while I was returning back from dinner early that I seen Ahmed waving a couple of guests off who were in the back of Sieed’s cab. When it came to the chop-up at the end of the shift the little snake didn't declare his flyer, suffice to say the cunt didn't last long.

  

I wasn't an Angel myself but I would never rob another porter, my target was the guests. You see our luggage rooms access was gained by inserting a special key into the lift to make it go down to the basement but it wasn't used just by us, everybody had a key, the maids, maintenance, room service. So if anything went missing out of the guests luggage the finger could be pointed to about thirty people. One time (apologies Fish Pie if you read this) I coped for a load of Lira out of some Italians bag - the trick was taking something out of someone's luggage who will be going to the airport, so when they got home and realised whatever was missing wasn't there, it was to late and the baggage handlers at the airport probably got the blame... everyone knows they're robbin' bastards!  I had seen the Italians off in Al’s cab going to Heathrow thinking my job was done. To my horror the cab returned thirty minutes later with a rather irate Italian shouting the odds at Raffy. Well that was it twenty of us were summoned to the managers office. He walked around giving the finger and shouting at everyone like some mad demented Windsor Davis in 'It Aint Half Hot Mum' as he got to me he slowed down and stopped then paid me extra attention as he said 'We have a thief in our mist and believe me I will find this person' He then moved on, not before giving me an icy glare.

  

With my card well and truly marked by the manager and after getting overlooked for the assistant’s job when Fish Pie left I was a little disheartened to say the least. That much disheartened that I was on the look-out for any career opportunity's that came my way. That is how I was drawn to the dark side. Let me explain, for the last twelve months of my stint at the hotel I had been getting cheap rooms at staff rates for a couple of good friends of mine from Norris Green. I didn't ask what they were up to but I knew it was something non kosher. They would be down in London at least two days a week. I would spend many an evening with these two lads drinking and eating in some of London 's finest establishments, and it was on one of these evenings in some fancy Chinese restaurant in Mayfair that they asked me if I fancied giving up my job and coming to help them out.  So with a "you can take that mail and all that other rubbish I have to go about and you can stick it right up your arse" moment with the General Manager, I was off to pastures new…

 

 

 
   
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