Coronavirus – Hastings Battleaxe remembers as she clears LockDown Week Six

‘Clears’ is the right word. I said last week I was sorting out personal papers? Well, this week I finished the job. Everything is neatly filed, the recycling bin is full, all the archive boxes have gone up to the loft, empty.  Not surprisingly, after all that, this post revisits the past. The weather has collapsed, making it easier to work indoors, we have been out and about more, but despite the Government telling us that ‘we are past the peak’, the situation is not good… oh, and that Mr Johnson returned from his ‘touch and go’ death bed only to disappear again two days later because that baby got born….

Looking down from near North’s Seat

So, let’s deal with the virus saga first. As of this morning The UK had 171k cases and 26,771 deaths. The death record has gone up because they are now counting the unfortunates who have died in care homes. This gives us the second-highest death-rate in Europe, behind Italy. Pressure is growing on the government to ease the lockdown, and Johnson appeared at the briefing podium for the first time in weeks yesterday to tell us that ths time next week they will present us with a plan.  However, it is apparent that normal life will not resume for the foreseeable future… if ever.

We still have been on some walks, see picture above, but the weather is now colder and wetter. We went on a sneaky trip to the big M & S Foodhall in the Ravenside Shopping Centre. B & Q was also open, with a long queue outside. It feels as if the Great British Public has a collective mind of its own, which operates irrespective of what our leaders try to tell us. Before the lockdown, in March, most of us adopted social distancing and altered our life patterns before the Government eventually said we should. Look at this post, written on 20 March about events of the previous week… Now, we seem to be all gradually emerging again.  Whether it is safe, nobody knows, but it is certainly happening. The roads are busier, and when I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday I saw people browsing through the clothes section. I was tempted myself but Philosopher was waiting outside in the car.

Anyway, back to the clearing up. Who is this?

A while ago I was invited to join a challenge on FB to post pictures of ourselves at 20. Well, durng my sorting I found this, Battleaxe aged 23, at the start of 1972, when she went to work at Ladbrokes Casino Division as a Personnel Officer. This was my Ladbrokes Identity Card photo. I scarcely recognise that young woman. She looks disturbingly bland and innocent considering what she got up to a few weeks after the photo was taken.  What was that about, do you ask? Well, I’ll tell you anyway…

In the early seventies Ladbrokes had two casinos in London, both based in elegant, historic houses in Mayfair, which I was supposed to look after. I was based at the new Hertford Club, just next to the Hilton off Park Lane.  The saga of the Ladbrokes casinos was all over the media a few years later, so I am not giving away any secrets. Here’s a bit about it – I can’t now find much more. Shortly after I left, the company was gradually stripped of all casino operating licenses. Think high class ‘hostesses’,  household name East End gangsters, senior figures in the Metropolitan police…. Anyway, senior management were far too busy to notice what I got up to.

One of the casinos, the Ladbroke Club in Hill Street, was no trouble. It was all leather, cigars, oil paintings of horses on the walls, private salons for titled gentlemen (including Lord Lucan) and loyal, very discreet, all male staff.

However, my home base, the Hertford Club, was a very different matter. The club had formerly been another casino, ‘The Pair of Shoes’, tarnished by American mafia associations. In its new incarnation it was a glitzy, glittery, up-market and exclusive club, still American-influenced, featuring American Craps Dice, roulette and punto banco, an American bar and a restaurant that served meals from 12 noon until midnight. Unusually for those days we employed female croupiers, though the seniors, called ‘Chefs’, ‘Pit Bosses’, and ‘Box Men’, were all male. Back then, the casino floor opened for business at 2pm and carried on well into the night. Us office staff occupied the two top floors of the building.

1970’s casino life…
Excuse the Ebay sticker…

First, me and my office chums refurbished our quarters. We replaced our furniture with surplus items from the casino fit-out, choosing velvet armchairs, with antique tables to work at.  My desk lamp was a gilded putti with a draped silk shade.  I tell you, that casino was dripping with antiques, velvet, silk, gilded everythings, mirrors, and crystal chandeliers. Next, we started going down to the basement kitchen for free luxury lunches provided by the chef.

Worse, much much worse, was to come. I became ‘friends’ with the handsome Afternoon Casino Floor Manager. When the casino waitress left, I didn’t recruit a replacement. Instead, I rattled through my personnel drudge stuff by lunchtime, quit the office, changed into uniform (would you believe satin dungaree hot pants with a frilly white blouse…), grabbed a tray and was ready on the gaming floor at 2pm.

The job of the afternoon waitress was easy. The floor was quiet, except for high-rolling, very serious punters, usually older men on their own. All you could hear was the clack of the chips, the whirr of the roulette wheels and the subdued murmers of the croups. I fetched occasional drinks, ordered up the odd bit of food. It was strictly forbidden for croupiers to accept tips – they even had their pockets sewn up – but the same didn’t apply to waitresses. My manager friend would point out punters playing for the highest stakes, and I would hover beside them. When they won, they tipped generously.

This jolly business lasted for a few months. I recruited my flatmate as the evening Ladies Loo attendant – not what it sounds – it was more of a perfumed retiring room for aspiring starlets, ageing American dowagers and the likes of the Princess Margaret set. Again, the tips made the job worthwhile.

I got on surprsingly well with the gaming staff – I think most of what they got up to just totally passed me by.  At the end of the day shift, we’d sometimes pile into cars – someone had a Jensen Interceptor – and head up the M1 to the inexpressably trashy and sleazy Caesar’s Place in – yes – Luton.  Another Ladbroke casino but with a cabaret theatre attached. We’d watch the shows for free – I remember Roy Orbison,  The Barron Knights and that Irish comedian who sat on a stool – yes, Dave Allen – and then drive back to London.

But one fateful Monday I arrived at work to find the casino bossmen waiting for me.  Over the weekend my ‘friend’ had apparently been involved in some mysterious goings-on involving the contents of the casino safe, and had then disappeared.  I never saw or heard from him again. I was ordered to clear my desk, get a taxi and report for work in the Pensions Department across town. I survived in Pensions for about a fortnight – I can’t do sums, and was then told to leave altogether. I was given enough money for ‘a nice long holiday somewhere hot and sunny’, was officially classified as redundant, and got assurances of good references whenever I needed them. That was that. One didn’t argue with those people.

So, so much for Ladbrokes. There was more to come soon after –  like working for the NAAFI, and I hadn’t even got married for the first time yet…. Battleaxe has done an awful lot of things. Unlike last week’s slightly depressed post, this week I think there is more to come. Here is Battleaxe now!


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