The job consisted of washing up and waiting on tables in a transport café on the A40. It was quite a notorious café in its heyday. It would service the wagons with diesel and service the drivers with a good British fry up which was all the rage in those day. Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner was always the same, a fry up, these were the days before the M4 motorway when the A40 was the main haulage route from Wales to “the smoke”. Wagons laden with everything you could possibly imagine. Coal from the Rhonda Valley for Didcot power station, lorries filled with fruit and vegetables collected from the Avonmouth docks, Matchbox lorries filled with toys, bricks, steel, wood, almost every kind of produce and material imaginable would travel up the A40 and this café was positioned in an absolute ideal spot, roughly half way and the drivers loved it.
The job was really quite interesting, especially if you could give the coal drivers or the Walls drivers some cheek for a damaged pack of ice cream or some sausages or get the coal wagon to tip up a little bit and leave a heap of the precious black stuff, especially in the winter time. We would all share whatever any of us managed to get, but the most exciting thing to me as a thirteen year old kid was every now and again the wrestlers would come in on their way down to Cheltenham Town Hall. Wrestling today is no big deal, however, in those days, wrestling was massive. ITV’s World of Sport would put on a wrestling match every Saturday afternoon around half past four, and it would attract anything from ten to fifteen million viewers a week. These wrestlers were house hold names. Mick McManus, his tag partner, Logan, they were definitely the ones in the black hats. The tag team always with the white hats were the Royles, Joe and Burt Royle. Then there was Jackie Pallo with his well-known pony tail, Johnny Quango with the largest forehead I had ever seen. Bill Toronto from Canada. These were the school boys’ greats, I could go on and on but the list is too long to mention, and my favourite was the comedian, Les Kellett, who would always give me a two bob bit which is the equivalent to ten pence today. “Have a go on that one armed bandit and if you win we will go halves,” he would say. The one armed bandit was next to a beautiful pin ball machine that I had perfected getting free goes on as I never had any money and I could beat all comers on this machine, and right next to that was the juke box.
One particular evening, towards the end of my shift, all the wrestlers were in and I was constantly being rollocked by the boss for time wasting but these wrestlers, I found quite mesmerising, for instance, Mick McManus was Mr. Evil on TV, but in real life, he was a total gentleman, whereas the Royles, who were always the nice guys on the TV were really quite miserable, but Les Kellett was Les Kellett, he was the same off TV as he was on and everybody seemed to like him. I had just put the two bob into the one armed bandit when the boss came lumbering down the centre of the café. “If I’ve not told you once, I’ve told you half a dozen times this evening, sort yourself out or I’ll pay you up until tonight then you needn’t bother coming back again.” This was serious as I used to give all my wages to my mother as times back then were terribly hard and she could ill afford to be without the little bit I was earning, however little, and it made me feel quite big and grown up that I could help my mum and dad with this token amount. I left the machine and carried on washing dishes back in the kitchen. It was nearing the end of my shift. The weather outside was raining and I had to walk to and from the café so I was in no hurry getting out in it. “Sausage, egg, beans and chips,” was shouted from the counter and tray in hand I was off down the café as I recognized the number. It was Les Kellett’s. The time now was five past seven, five minutes after my shift had finished. I put the food down on Les Kellett’s table that was also accommodating several other wrestlers. Les Kellett had a new wrestling move that I had seen him do on TV that looked both amusing and hideous in the same measure. It was called “The Mule Kick” where he would get his opponent knelt down on the canvas and he would then swivel round and seemed to kick them in the small of their back and I had asked him earlier on in the evening if he would show it to me so I could learn it and perfect it and then I could demonstrate it to my school chums in the school yard.
“It is five past seven, are you going to show me this mule kick or not?” I asked. The other wrestlers, Johnny Quango, Mick McManus and Logan all laughed. Les Kellett was out of his seat in an instance, he was moving quickly as he didn’t want his food going cold. He got me by the ear and marched me down to the machines, the music coming out of the juke box was by the greatest band in the world, in my opinion, The Who with their record Pin Ball Wizard. Les Kellett knelt me in front of the machine, the other wrestlers were slow clapping and Les Kellett started to do his long wind up. He had my arm pulled up behind my back which was known in wrestling terms as a “Backhammer” and then he let the kick go. I felt the kick in the small of my back very gently and then I overdid the playacting. I rolled all over the floor moaning. By this time all the other drivers were stood up watching and cheering but as I rolled about on the floor pretending to be in agony, the cheering turned to jeering. Les Kellett knelt down on the floor beside me and said “That shouldn’t have hurt.”
“It didn’t,” I replied winking up at him. He then slapped me across the ear.
“This will hurt,” and it did. “You really worried me you bloody fool.” The other wrestlers were laughing and so too were the drivers now. As I got up from the floor to the clapping and cheering of the drivers and wrestlers the boss was stood right in front of me.
“Don’t bother coming in again, here are your wages paid up to date.”
The wrestlers immediately rushed to my defence saying that it was quarter past seven and that I had finished my shift. They also added that if I was to go they would never come back into the café again.
“I’m so sorry,” said the boss, “I thought he was annoying you.”
“No, not at all,” replied Les Kellett, “You’re annoying us.”
I had caused a mutiny with the TV wrestlers and wagon drivers.
I have told this tale a thousand times and as I watched the rough and tumble of the badgers, I thought of the old greats, Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, The Royles and last but not least, Les Kellett, I thought of them all, and how good they had made me look for a short while in the school yard, demonstrating their TV catch-phrase like moves on my chums but these badgers for downright entertainment would have given any of those wrestlers a run for their money.
Daddy Cool keeps an eye on his play fighting cubs.