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the polvorin. the navy. the troubles.

This is the doorway into The Polverin in Gibraltar. A grim establishment, dimly lit.

A modest establishment with an interior not dissimilar to a large burial crypt, a crypt usually wall to wall with off-duty British army non-coms and British sailors on shore leave. The business was owned by an Englishman with little regard to the taxation laws of his homeland, Brian, wife Audrey. Attractive daughter and a fat villain for a son. They lived on an old converted Fairmile Torpedo Boat in the local marina. Top heavy it was with an unnecessary fly-bridge and a bit of a risk mid-channel to Tangiers in a stiff blow. Brian is a portly and red-faced little Englishman who wears the shaky smile of a permanently worried optimist.

Bottom heavy as well because the Maitre D’ liked to keep his cash and coin takings onboard at all times. One nights’ takings would be 50 sailors, ten pints each @ two quid a pint. Twenty army, eight pints each etc etc., ten expat Australians @ a bottle of Bacardi each @ $10. Plus Merchant seamen, shady characters, Spanish cigarette smugglers and Bennie the dope dealer. Fifty tightly rolled Moroccan numbers twenty quid the bundle meet me outside.

Bennie also did home delivery for a cup of coffee. Big dangerous fellow but always kind to the ladies.

Bennie on his mark.

Hamburgers on the side and no jumping over the bar and molesting the girls. Brian had five girls busy on the big nights, all gorgeous. He was no fool and the tips were very tidy thank you.

An Australian is in the grimy kitchen unglueing a congealed mound of half-cooked meat patties from each other prior to completing the job in a large pan of smoky fat that rocks unsteadily on a small ship’s burner balanced on an old  card table. All this in pursuit of the dark-haired girl who works the corner bar tonight.

Russel the Canadian pushes his bushy head into the kitchen doorway, not worried by any protocol, pockets empty. His stoned smile says HUGELY HUNGRY. He’s wearing one of my shirts the oaf, be nice if he asked.


Brian sticks his head out the door that opens into the carpark and nods civilly at the Australian who is sitting on a low wall sharing one of Bennie’s cheroots with David the table hand. David is English Public School and loses his interminable urge to expound upon his knowledge of Oscar Wilde with a bit of smoke in his blood.

‘ All set in the kitchen? ‘ offers Brian brightly, after a watchful pause.

The Australian takes a long second to expel the smoke, crush the roach, then he says calmly, ‘ should be ok. ‘

Brian smiles, and pulls his head back in.

Entry Conditions as follows:

Open all hours.

Enter at own risk.

Fight at will.

There was one long bar in the main hall and a small corner bar in another room. The dark-haired girl was manning the little bar the night that the HMS Hermes came into port.

The corner bar crowded by local men and a few travellers, all young. Just having a drink.

When the first of them goes down to the floor the room immediately hushes as everyone becomes aware of the arrival of violence. Now there are seven men at the bar. The eighth is desperately trying to crawl away from the accurate boot of a crew-cutted sailor who follows him around on the floor. Kick and place, kick and place. Melon ball.

The crew-cut’s mate, the hitter, a gympy little tough with thick arms and a madboy smile stands there grinning up at his next victim. His friend wanders back from his work and stands off a little, waiting for number two. Everybody is watching the show now.

The second man goes down after receiving a heavy blow to his head but saves himself from a serious kicking by hanging onto the blackboot that would deliver it.

Six left.

The third man is hit just as savagely but remains upright. He is the first to fight back but all his mighty swipe does is topple him off balance and he falls down to the floor and towards the boots. His nose, now brutally crushed, flushes blood everywhere.

Five left. Recess.

The two sailors come up to the bar and ask the dark-haired girl for a couple of pints – this thankfully gives the drinkers there an opportunity to slip away into the other room, or anywhere.

The girl won’t serve them. They insist. She tells them to leave. The gympy one smashes his hand down onto the bartop and demands a pint. Nobody comes to her aid. The other bar is busy and loud, The Rolling Stones on speakers, Route 66.

The dark-haired girl picks up a lit cigarette end left in one of the ash trays and calmly grinds it into the back of his hand.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. RS #

    Glad she burned him. He was a bit of a prick.

    July 7, 2011
    • he was bloody fearsome rh, one of those little blokes who loved to fight and was very quick to punch very hard – a couple of us went aboard the hermes on the next day and saw him working in the chain locker – massive links of anchor chain, that’s where he got his exercise – poms could fight in those days –

      July 7, 2011
  2. Loved reading this story — beautifully written as always. (I like the way it’s written in the present tense, making it so immediate. Did that just happen as you wrote it, or was it a conscious decision?)

    July 7, 2011
    • Tenses … ! they have always hated me so bugger ’em – past present and future all mixed up like a marinara – and thanks for being so kind bh, and just so’s you and nobody else knows – the dark haired girl and I have been together for 40+ years.

      July 7, 2011
  3. I too am glad she burned him – and so sorry Pete – but I’m cyber stalking here so I know all about you and the dark haired girl. Yeah – a love story that lasts. 🙂 I needed something like that today.

    July 7, 2011
  4. Another classic bar story – wise to stay clear of drunken sailors from the sounds of it…

    July 7, 2011
  5. Remember the USA and Aussie militery having a bit of a face-off in Queensland? The Americans were hastly removed to finish their R&R somewhere else.

    July 9, 2011
    • The battle of Brisbane in 1942 – yank mp’s trying to tell australian soldiers what to do, demanding id cards – that’s how it started and after both sides produced shot guns and bayonets later that night one man was killed and hundreds were wounded and injured ..

      July 9, 2011
      • That’s the one. As allies, we made good opposition back then. The history of that time is quite interesting, I’ve found, on several fronts., not just the Battle of Brisbane.

        I heard there was a fair amount of anger about the Yanks dating Aussie women in the absence of our guys……

        July 9, 2011
  6. She sure put the ouch into touche with that cigarette!

    July 9, 2011
    • We eventually found work together in another bar, and you’d never guess what happened there, another brawl, an Irishman, his wife, Gibraltar’s Olympic pugilist, a pair of bi-sexual Moroccan musos, Soraya the belly dancer, a steep flight of stairs and an Australian’s choke-lock … in the writer’s pot already.

      Just a little seasoning required, and the ladies win again.

      July 9, 2011
  7. Bob Brook #

    This was one of our favourite haunts in 64-66 when on Troubridge (F09). Never saw any trouble in all the nights we spent there (up to closing time).

    June 13, 2015

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