A few memories of people I have known
This is a random list of a few people I have known and who were to me memorable.
Prince Ras Monolulu
Cigarette card of the man himself!
Kindly supplied by Rodney Vincent of the Newmarket Local History Society
What seems like several hundred years ago I was getting my haircut at Mr Fred Ager’s barber shop in Albion Street. I guess I was about 9 and had been taken there by my Dad on a raceday Saturday morning. Albion Street was off Wellington Street, (was Wellington Lane in 1926) and was the rear boundary of what was the Rookery area before it was replaced by the current blot on the landscape. Can be seen on the 1926 map here, may need to search a bit for it.
The shop was wooden panelled and had curious round brushes suspended from the ceiling above the barbers chairs on pulleys which meant they could be lowered and spun, I never did find out what they were used for. At that time I imagined they were some strange contraption for brushing peoples’ hair. They were turned deeply polished rich brown wood and had dark stiff bristles that always looked brand new (maybe they had never been used).
There I sat beneath this strange machinery not daring to ask whilst Mr Ager was cutting my hair with his skillful but shaky hands, when the door burst open, the doorway filled with this huge befeathered form and this wonderful deep booming voice exclaiming “I GOTTA HORSE”
Stood in the doorway was this huge, to me anyhow, black African dressed in a bright tribal costume complete with feathered head dress
This was my first encounter with Prince Ras Monolulu, the tipster. He claimed to be a chief of the Falasha tribe of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), but his real name was apparently Peter Carl McKay born in St Croix in the West Indies.
In a kindly way he named me something associated with my bright red hair and freckles but I cant remember what, but he did say it was lucky to see someone with red hair and he reckoned he was going to have a good day because of that. I remember occasionally seeing him in the street in the following years and he always said hello and called me that name. I’m not sure if I imagined this next bit but I think he gave me a small multi-coloured ceramic bead, my memory was stirred years later when I came across this bead when sorting my mothers possessions after she passed.
Someone has kindly sent me a recording of Prince Monolulu.
Please click below to hear it.
This is a link to a YouTube clip (no sound) of Ras Monolulu leaving St George’s Hospital in London. Opens in a separate tab.
And does anyone know what those brushes were for in Mr Ager’s barber shop or did I imagine them?
Tiny was as his nickname suggested a small man and had worked in racing for all his life. I got to talk to him and almost got to know him whilst working behind the bar of the Palomino in the early ’70s when Peter and Dot Cheeseman were landlord and landlady.
I used to do the early shift between 6.00pm and 7.30pm on Saturday evenings, have a break then come back for the madness of the latter part of the evening, About 6.15 was the time Tiny would come in. To me he seemed ancient, he always wore a collar and tie and an old battered but much loved trilby which he never took off except when it was extremely hot during the summer and that was to only wipe his brow with his handkerchief. First impressions were that he was a miserable old sod and many people did treat him that way. But as you became aquainted with his ways and manner underneath it all there was a sad lonely man (I think he had been married but had lost his wife) who had a sharp and wicked sense of humour in his own quiet way. Some of the quiet asides he made to me about some of the young brash know-it-all stablelads were very witty, cutting and amusing.
He used to drink a pint of Tolly Cobbold bitter which in those days was pumped up albeit by electric pump from the cellar without added gas or top pressure, it was in fact a real ale. When poured it used to produce a head that receded to a few bubbles on the surface not thick and creamy like the fizzed up ‘smooth’ tasteless stuff of the fashionable beers at the moment. However Tiny’s beer was always flat and absolutely dead, no bubbles, nothing, I noticed this and on several occasions asked him if it was OK. The answer was always the same “That’s fine boy, that’s the way I like it”.
One particular Saturday I noticed something about the size of a pea lying in the bottom of his freshly pulled pint, thinking it was a piece of hop or some finings which being a live beer did sometimes occur I offered to change it.
“That’s fine boy leave it alone it’ll be fine in a moment, its my beer bought and paid for” was his terse response.
“But there’s a big lump of something floating in the bottom” I said.
“Its OK, leave me alone, haven’t you got work to do” retorted Tiny.
Fair enough thought I and got on with serving.
About half an hour later I was washing glasses at the end of the bar near to Tiny who was just finishing his beer, he nodded to me to come close and whispered in his gravely voice
“Sorry to snap at you son, I put that stuff in me beer, I always do”
“What is it I asked suspiciously”
“Cheddar cheese, to make the beer go flat else it gives me jip”
“What do you do when you finish a pint?” I asked.
“Eat it, what else” he replied.
Then he said something quite sad.
“I suppose you won’t serve me anymore, you must think I’m barmy”
This was from a man countless years my senior and infinitely wiser.
I said “If it works for you, you carry on”
“Good on yer boy” and he smiled, which was an unusual sight.
In the following months when possible I would pour Tiny’s beer straight from the barrel down in the cellar. I’ll never forget the look of enjoyment on his face as he savoured the first mouthful and the mischievous wink he gave me as he dropped the cheese in before the second.
George Lomas, another person I got to know whilst working at the Palomino. Another interesting chap. Underneath the rough diamond like facade there was a very intelligent and deep thinking man. I had many an interesting and extremely varied conversation with him. He was a great greyhound man, he always had and raced them with the help of his long time partner Laura a German lady who was also quite a character, they both loved their dogs. But on occasion George could get a bit nasty and argumentative with little or no warning and had to be told to calm down often by me, which he did. The next day he would always come in and apologise first and then ask for a pint! He was a wizard at playing chess and would often play Peter and Doff’s young son in a coaching role. I played him several times during quiet spells and he would always absolutely thrash me, with a great big grin on his face.
Duff, was a character to say the least!
I knew him in the late sixties early 70’s from my time working at the Palomino. When I say I knew him, I knew who he was and to say hello to and join in the occasional conversation with. He worked or had worked in racing, I think, although I never actually knew for certain. He was an interesting chap who always, and I mean always had an opinion about anything to do with the racing industry, especially what horse was going to win and often subsequently why it didn’t. The jockeys were usually the main target of his criticism with the comment
“He couldn’t ride my bike”
more than often used to describe their ability of horsemanship.
He had been a prisoner of the Japanese during the 1939-45 war and had been badly treated. Apparantly, whilst a prisoner he had been attached to a pole with wire twisted around his thumbs, as a result he had lost both thumbs. War or Japan were not subjects to talk about in his company.
Enough of these gruesome tales I hear you say, there is a reason however….
Duff used to frequent the Conservative Social Club and enjoy the occasional game of snooker, usually with a small wager riding on the game. Regardless of being thumbless, he was very good, but on the few occasions I saw him lose, his good humoured reaction was always the same. He would slam the cue down, wave his hands in the air and shout
“If I only had these”
Back to the “He couldn’t ride my bike” phrase. A favourite wind up response to this was “Oh yeah, you could do better?”
This always brought the same loud raucous laughing response…….
You’ve guessed it….
“IF ONLY I HAD THESE!”
Norman Gray was the manager of Hogg’s paper on the corner of St Mary’s Square and Mill Hill when I started my first paper round in November 1962. He reminded me of Ronald Shiner the comedy actor (remember him?) always seemed to be zipping about and could be very loud on occasions. However having said that he was very understanding and thoughtful especially towards new and usually very nervous recruits to his band of deliverers embarking on their first paid work.
I started towards the end of November 1962 little did I know what a winter lay ahead, I plan to add more about this on my Memories page.
I first met Jack Kemp on the first day of my first paper round job at Hogg’s paper shop on the corner of what was the wonderful St Mary’s Square, sadly now a shadow of its former self. He was one of the men who helped sort out all the papers for the different rounds and other shops. At that time Hogg’s was the paper hub of Newmarket, all the papers for the area were delivered to the shop initially by van from Newmarket station and later by van from Cambridge, more about this on my Memories page. Jack’s day job was at the hospital on Exning Road in the maintainance workshop, I seem to remember he was a plumber by trade but turned his hand to most jobs around the hospital apart from surgery. At the paper shop he alway had a very sharp knife for cutting the string that bound the bundles of still warm newspapers, I can still remember the lovely smell of freshly cut bundles of papers. One thing that always fascinated me was how Jack was able to tie a sorted bundle of papers for collection, even though he showed me the knot he used countless times I could never repeat it as effectively as he. He always wore workmen’s dungarees and a flat cap and a shirt and tie of course.
Sid was another of the helpers at Hogg’s paper shop. He was always cheerful and had a story to tell.
I didn’t really know Bill but can remember being amazed at just how many newspapers he could carry on his trade bike. The bike had a small front wheel with a great big tubular steel basket for carrying a box, above the rear wheel was a platform that held another great big box, in addition he would have a newspaper bag around his neck also packed full of papers. He looked a bit like David Jason as Granville on the original Open All Hours programme on his trade bike. Bill would then bike to Exning with this load to do his round and then onto Burwell to finish, this was every day including Sundays! He would do this as soon as the papers arrived, often around 6am, before us boys were officially allowed to start which was 7am.
Mr Zavaroni (Newmarket Secondary School)
Mr Zavaroni joined the Newmarket Secondary School as the new P.E. teacher shortly after I first ‘went up’ from from Houldsworth Valley Primary. In my opinion he changed the way sport was approached previously in a nothing but positive way. I seem to remember sport being boring, dull and cold until he took over. He was an Italian Scot and had the demeanour to match combined with a huge passion and an infectious enthusiasm for sport. He introduced rugby and soon formed very successful teams for every year. I can remember playing in an extremely successful Under 14 team where in one year we were unbeaten against many other school teams throughout the area and the only non-win was a draw against I think it was Cambridge High School. He also expanded all the other sport activities including athletics, gymnastics, badminton, basketball as well as football.
I’m sure he inspired generations of pupils to participate in sport.
Mr Pollard (Newmarket Secondary School)
Mr Pollard taught Technical Drawing. It was he who lit a spark in me that was to become my career as a Draughtsman and subsequently a Mechanical Designer. Back then it was all tee-squares, protractors, cartridge paper and drawing board clips. I’m not ashamed to admit I still have my original tee-square and drawing board from way back then and yes I still have the occasional use for the square!
Mr Spencer (Newmarket Secondary School)
Mr Spencer taught Woodwork. Under his patient guidance I thoroughly enjoyed Woodwork and made several pieces over a few years. In fact I still have most of those pieces including a ropy rattan woven stool, a sewing work box (that my Mum always used out of choice rather than duty!), a bedside cabinet, a coffee table and a bookcase/cabinet. We were running up to taking our GCEs when the school decided that we would also take the inaugural CSE examinations. One of the subjects I chose to take was Woodwork and I can still remember the look of delight and surprise on Mr Spencer’s face when I got a grade 1 which was the equivalent of a GCE pass (but there wasn’t a GCE woodwork exam – but you know what I mean).
Mr Foster (Newmarket Secondary School)
Mr Foster primarily taught English. He was a character to say the least! He would not stand any nonsense and there was never chaos or bad behaviour in his classes. But he did have his idiosyncrasies. One was to stand in one of the cupboards that were either side of the blackboard, but because of the shelves he couldn’t get right in so the doors were only almost closed and his feet would still be visible. He would wait until the whole class were more or less seated and then jump out.
He was the teacher who chose the ‘volunteer’ to read the lesson at the morning assembly, always a worrying time for us pupils.
He had the amazing ability to remember all his pupils names years and years later. Indeed years and years later I used to have a chat with him over a pint at the New Wellington which was his local, I asked him how he did it but he had no idea he said it just happened. I asked him once how he got the nickname Fradge, but could not remember, “Lost in the mists of time”.