Last Orders – Jan Jones
Today’s guest is the very lovely Jan Jones, with a Last Orders blast from the past…
“After A-levels, I got a job as a trainee computer programmer for British Gas at the London Research Station just off the Kings Road. I was an experiment (they’d never employed programmers below degree level before), and as such they weren’t entirely sure what to do with me. They scratched their heads and gave me to a cheerful Liverpudlian engineering student who worked in the computer department during the summer holidays. “Copy Rollo,” they said. “He’ll teach you Fortran, tell you what to work on and check you’re doing it right.”
Shadowing Rollo meant going to the social club at lunch times. This was on the other side of the site, amongst the warehouses, plant and machinery sheds. The old hands took one look at me – eighteen, mini-skirted, just out of an all-girls grammar school – and told me non-plant employees could join, but it was a condition of membership of the social club that they took a turn on the bar rota now and again and was that all right by me? It didn’t occur to me for ages that I seemed to do a lot more lunch times behind the bar than the other people who used it. I was really very gullible in those days.
The bar manager was Edward. Deep-chested, deep voiced and with a vast ginger beard, I think he was a physicist in real life. He watched me carefully that first shift until he was satisfied I could add up the orders accurately, carry a tray without dropping it, pull a pint without ruining it, and wash up (it’s worth mentioning that my bar training was FAR more vigorous than my programming training).
So… scene set, characters sorted. Still with me?
On Thursdays, last orders were always called early, because we needed to leave by two o’clock when the payroll truck arrived (the plant employees being paid in cash). The barrier between the Works and the Offices then came down and we couldn’t get back to our labs until the security van had been unloaded and the barrier was up again. This could take between twenty-five and forty minutes. One Thursday, we’d been busier than usual, but had just finished when –
“Payroll van,” said Rollo, looking out of the window.
“Oh dear,” sighed Edward, without any discernable show of regret
I dashed across to the window to see the barrier descending. “Oh no,” I said, aghast. “What do we do now?” (I was law-abiding as well as gullible in those days.)
“Wait it out,” said Rollo, trying to look stoical. He and the fourth member of the bar shift (possibly a bloke called Graham) glanced at Edward hopefully.
“Yes,” said Edward, “Yes, I think so.” From a small crate in one corner, he gently extracted a dusty bottle of beer. “Locked-out perks,” he said, tilting the bottle so I could read the label. It was Imperial Russian Stout, of which I had never heard. He got four of the posh glasses from the top shelf, looked at me judiciously, as if assessing me for dosage, and poured me an inch-and-a-half from the bottle before sharing the rest of the bottle between the others.
“It’s a bit like Guinness,” Rollo told me.
Naive I may have been. Stupid I wasn’t. Alerted by my companions’ reverent swallows and slow smiles, I took my first sip with the utmost caution.
Good thing too. It turned out that describing Russian Stout as ‘a bit like Guinness’ was akin to saying Jersey double cream was ‘a bit like milk’. My eyes widened in shock as warmth rolled along my veins.
“Another thing we do when locked in,” said Edward thoughtfully, “is to give the shelves a good dust while we’ve got the chance.”
Yes, I know. I was still gullible. But it was worth it for the Russian Stout. Sadly, this particular beer isn’t brewed any more, but even now, if I catch a glimpse of the clock at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon, I can taste that glorious, chocolatey, velvety, malty liquorice flavour again.
Oh, and in the two years I worked at the London Research Station, it would have been possible for Health & Safety to have eaten their dinner off the shelves of that social club bar.”
Thanks, Jan! I think The Star and Sixpence should track down a bottle or two of Imperial Russian Stout, for medicinal purposes…
‘Old houses have secrets … sometimes they are not that far back in the past’
The fortified pele tower of Fairlights, with its beacon shining out across the harbour, has guarded Whitcliff by land and sea for centuries. Sorcha Ravell is determined to keep her ancestral home viable by converting it into a hotel, despite friction within the family. She thought she’d recruited the perfect restoration expert in Nick Marten, but he turns out to be dangerously attractive, knows far more about her than she can account for, and is very, very angry.
As the autumnal storms build and the tension rises, Sorcha must overcome a paralysing physical fear and confront a terrifying mental enigma. What happened years ago on the treacherous pele stair? When did she lose a strip of memory? She must conquer both in order to lay hold of Nick – and keep him.
Set on the ruggedly beautiful west coast of Cumbria, this breathless, atmospheric short novel finds the heroine battling the elements as well as her own internal demons in order to get her man safely home.