The timing for a relationship with Carol Hislop was bad. I was becoming extremely fond of her when she had to leave on the next leg of her adventure, which, ironically, was booked to South Africa. As a nurse, she had no trouble getting a job in Cape Town at the Groote Schuur Hospital there, which was home to Dr Chris Barnard and his heart transplant team. She wrote regularly, and told me that hardly had she settled into the nurses home when the handsome doctor offered her a paid-for flat…
To avoid that sort of innuendo, Carol left for Rhodesia, getting a position at Salisbury Hospital. Amongst others that she met there was an SAS sergeant Woods, who, with two
other SAS men, despite the sanctions by Britain against Rhodesia, posing as civilians, came to the UK on a diver’s course. While they were there, Carol, the only nurse with a valid passport, accompanied a frail USA patient back to the States and stopped off in London on her way back to Rhodesia.
Of course I was delighted to see her, and pretty jealous of sergeant Woods, whom I met with his mates in the Zambezi Club in Earl’s Court. It was obvious that Carol was under some emotional strain, but she didn’t discuss it with me and I was only too grateful for whatever time she chose to spend in my company.
That Saturday she came with me to a rugby match – I don’t remember where. We were late getting there; it was raining, cold and miserable, and we lost, anyway. After the match we met up with some of my IPS workmates in The King’s Head, Earl’s Court. Carol, who had been tense and distracted most of the day, left for a while and when she returned, it was to tell me that she had broken off with Woods and that I was her choice.
Somehow I knew that she was really still torn and that the sergeant would always get between us, especially as she would soon be returning to Rhodesia; as would he. She left again after I told her what was on my mind…
I switched from beer to triple Bacardi and coke, throwing them back to drown the loss, half cursing myself for being a bloody fool and half for the sadness, knowing it had been the right thing to do.
I have only snap pictures of how the evening proceeded, but I pieced it together the next day from witnesses. And from a South African barman, to whom I will be eternally grateful.
It happened to be a Glasgow Old Firm Derby Day. Annually the rivalry of the two football clubs, Rangers and Celtic cause many assaults and even deaths, even in London, when the supporters clash. I had never heard of either club as I was a rugby man and took not the slightest interest in soccer. A Ranger’s supporter knocked my drink over. I mildly told him to replace it and he told me what to do with myself. I hit him over a low table where he split his head open on the oak panelling on the further wall. He obviously had a lot of mates with him, because the next moment I was flat on my back, watching as a barstool began to descend on my prone head.
It froze in mid-air as the barman snagged it, maybe saving my life.
Somebody – maybe the cops? – restored order, ordering the Rangers mob out of the pub. An ambulance came to take the man away.
I ordered another drink.
My mate, Dennis Barrett, somewhat plastered, started pestering me. When I was short-off with him, as I never had been before, he squared off for battle, but I said I’d take him on outside as I didn’t want to fight in the pub.
As I’ve said before in “The Big Dry”, Beanpole Pete and Lofty Den were tall and rangy, scrawny men, so when Dennis staggered out of the door, the Rangers mob thought it was me. A little sallow Glaswegian wanted into him with a knife and Dennis was too bombed to back off, so another Rangers man, a six-foot-six giant, fairly sober, clocked Dennis on the jaw to get him out of harm’s way. Kevin O’Connell, my other mate, was having some fairly harmless verbal with the giant, telling him Celtic was still the better club as I joined them, but none of them seemed to realize it was me they were looking for. The giant said, “Each to his own,” and the fight fizzled out. Kevin and I helped get Dennis into our Mini and we set off home to Sumatra Road, West Hampstead, where all three of us now lived.
Next day, Dennis thought his sore jaw was due to me. He seemed to regard me with more respect from then on. Snigger.