It was 2.30pm, and on a Friday I knew exactly where Uncle Ted would be. The Stanley Arms in Bermondsey. It was a tradition. The pub put on food and live music from 2.00pm every Friday and all pensioners drank for free. All paid for by Uncle Ted and his mates, who were the local “faces”.
The journey took forty five minutes and as I drove through the Rotherhithe Tunnel I couldn’t help but wonder if Uncle Ted knew anything about Ginny Nolan. If he did he would surely also know about Bobby. Ted was dads’ younger brother by four years. They were close. But close enough for dad to confide in him about his secret? I wasn’t sure.
I parked the car outside one of Uncle Teds “lock ups” and walked the short distance to the pub. I could hear a piano playing and people singing well before I got there. I opened the door and at 3.15 on a Friday afternoon the pub was heaving. On stage was a pianist and a drummer playing “It had to be you” a particular favourite of dads. At least eight old couples were dancing and singing at the same time. Then I heard a familiar voice.
“Well, well, well. Here he is! The pride of the east end. My favourite nephew!”
Uncle Ted was standing at the bar looking immaculate in his dark grey suit. His thick silver hair was slicked back. He had on a blue shirt and red tie and the shiniest black shoes I’d ever seen. His arms were outstretched and his smile was as wide as the Thames itself. I walked over and hugged him. Although he was seventy nine years of age his arms held me in a vice like grip for a full thirty seconds.
He let me go, took a step back and looked me up and down.
“Look at you. The spitting image of your old man. Good to see you Tommy.”
Uncle Ted introduced me to his mates. All in their seventies, all dressed as though they were going to a posh wedding.
“This is my brothers’ boy, Tommy. He’s from the other side. But he’s okay apart from the fact he supports West Ham.”
There was a chorus of boos and jeers. This was a staunch Millwall area and The Stanley Arms was a Millwall pub. I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. So did everyone else. The ice was broken. I offered to buy a round of drinks. The group fell silent. Uncle Ted put his arm around me.
“Don’t embarrass yourself son. You’re in my manor and we have to abide by the Bermondsey Rules. We buy the drinks. When we come to your manor…you buy the drinks. Them’s the rules.”
Uncle Ted said it with a smile on his face. But I knew he was serious. These men lived by certain rules.
“So what you having?”
I was tempted but I’d already had two gin and tonics and I had to drive home.
“Just a coke. I’ve got the car with me.”
Uncle Ted shook his head.
“Fuck that. Leave the car here. I’ll get you a cab home and get one of the boys to drop your car off in the morning. Deal?”
I loved my Uncle Ted. Whatever the problem, he always seemed to have the solution.
No one was drinking beer. It was all top shelf and all doubles. I ordered a scotch, Uncle Ted led me to a quiet part of the pub.
“So come on then. Why you here? You in trouble? Need a bit of money to tide you over?”
That was typical Uncle Ted. Always the first to put his hand in his pocket. Always the first to step up.
“No. Nothing like that. I was hoping you could help me get some information. Do you remember a Ginny Nolan?”
Uncle Ted frowned. It was obvious he knew the name but I could tell by his face that he wasn’t sure where from. Then he clicked his fingers.
“Nice girl. Green eyes. Worked with your dad. I think he might have had a soft spot for her if you know what I mean. I met her a couple of times when I was out with your dad at some of his work dos. Why?”
He was sincere. He obviously didn’t know the full story. I quickly made up a story.
“I bumped into her today. Got talking about dad and the old days. Seems she’s not well. Might not have long, maybe a few months that’s all. But she’s got a son and she hasn’t seen him in years. She’d really like to see him before she pops her clogs and has asked me to help if I can. I’ve got all his details. Seems he’s been a bit of a rascal. Done a bit of time so he should be easy to track down. I wondered if you knew anyone who might be able to help?”
I took a piece of paper out of my pocket and gave it to Uncle Ted. It had on it everything Ginny had told me about Bobby. He looked at it, turned and gestured over to one of his mates.
“Jack. Come here. Need your help with something.”
I recognised Jack Simpson. He’d done more time inside prison than out. In the mid seventies he was on the front page of every daily newspaper. His nickname was slasher and not because he pissed a lot! Now he was an elderly gentleman and lived off his reputation. But…you still wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him. Just like Uncle Ted he was dressed smartly in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie. I noticed his hands. He had a gold ring on every finger including two big chunky sovereigns. Uncle Ted gave him the paper.
“Can you find out where this kid is Jack?”
He looked at it for a few seconds then put it in his pocket.
“Easy Ted. Might take a couple of hours but I’ll make some calls. Always easier if they’ve done a bit of time. He’d have had to have an address to go to before being released. Then they’ll be a probation officer who he’ll have to report to on a regular basis. I’ll sort it.”
Uncle Ted shook his hand.
Slasher turned and walked away. But then he stopped and looked back at us and casually asked.
“Do you want him hurt?”
“No Jack, nothing like that. Just doing someone a favour.”
Jack Simpson shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the bar.