Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reaching Out To The City Lights...Chapter Twenty

Thank God it was Friday! It’d been a long day and busy week in the office. Around 6.45pm I walked into the apartment, kicked off my shoes and plopped myself down onto the sofa. Smocka jumped up on my lap ready to tell me about his day. The phone rang.

“Honey! Can you come to the pub as soon as you can? Most of my staff haven’t turned up. I need your help,” Randall pleaded on the other end of the telephone.

“But, Randall…I’ve never pulled a beer in my life! It’s Friday night! My God! It’s going to be bedlam city down there tonight!” I exclaimed.

"You can do it! I know you can do it! There’s no one else I can call this late in the day! C’mon, sweetie! Please, I’m in dire straits here!”

In for a penny, in for a pound! I figured I had nothing to lose other than my pride, my dignity, face, my sense of humour! Quickly changing into a pair of jeans and comfortable shoes, I raced down to the Regatta Hotel, which was just down along Sylvan Road from where we lived in Cadell Street, arriving right on seven. The place was a-buzz with Friday night revelers. I had no time to think about what I was letting myself into. Randall pointed me in the direction of the cash register that would be mine for the evening and left wishing me luck. Luck! I felt I needed bucket loads of it plus more. If I could have found a hole in which to hide, there I would have been in a flash, but before I could dwell on my plight across the bar in front of me were many eager, thirsty faces holding out hands of cash with pleading looks in their eyes. How could I refuse? It was Friday night in the large lounge bar of the Regatta Hotel, Toowong, one of the most popular hotels in Brisbane and I was on the wrong side of the bar!

The evening became a blur. One face blended into the other. The laughter and noise of the increasing crowd grew as the evening progressed. Beer flowed freely. Glasses of mixed drinks splashed like surging waves. Every so often, Randall wandered out to the lounge bar from the public bar to see how I was progressing. I didn’t have time other than to nod at him, recognizing him vaguely as someone I should know. A customer came up to me, ordering eight mixed beverages, all different. I felt like choking him! A while later I noted he was back for refills. I pretended not to see him.

“You’re ignoring me, aren’t you?” He said with a knowing smile on his face.

“Yes, I am. How did you guess?” I replied, half-smilingly. “I won’t be a moment.” Fortunately, he understood the pressure I was under.

Closing time loomed. The thirst of the patrons heightened. Panic began to set in for last drinks. The air was electric. The pressure was tangible. Voices from the verandah overlooking the bottle shop rose above the wave of noisy heads. Any moment I expected trouble. I wasn’t disappointed. Someone looked cross-eyed at another and blows ensued. I asked someone to get Randall. A couple of tables were upturned in the melee. A few soft punches thrown as some cheered on. I kept mixing drinks and pouring final beers. It was the end of my shift. The ruckus soon settled down. The two culprits who started the fray quickly decided either wasn’t worth the trouble and went on their way. Everyone else finished their last drinks and headed off to greener pastures. In the meantime, my heart was pounding, not from the “rumble in the jungle”, but from what the tally of my cash register would be at the end of the night.

Fearing the worst, expecting my register to be way out when I totalled it, I broke out in a cold sweat. I’d been thrown into the deep end, not knowing the prices when I began the night, I gingerly waited as Mrs. Milo, the wife of the hotel manager counted my takings.

Turning to me, Mrs. Milo said. “I don’t know what you’re worrying about, Lee. You’re eleven cents over!”

My “end of shift” drink was most welcome. I sighed with relief. It certainly had been a rude, swift introduction into the bar industry. And it was the last time I helped out at the Regatta Hotel. My adrenalin still raged when back at home, Randall and I sat recapping the evening’s events over a couple of scotches.

Shortly after that night, Randall gained employment at a new restaurant in the city. “Scaramouche” was the brainchild of Peter Fluckiger (later to become Peter Hackworth when she married Colonel David Hackworth, the most highly decorated soldier in the US army. I’ve written about this in a previous post).

"Scaramouche” was being fitted out when Randall joined the family of staff members. He helped with the interior construction of alcoves etc. The building had been a church in its hey-day. It consisted of high, vaulted, wooden-lined ceilings and had ambience beyond description. Upon opening of the restaurant to the public, Randall waited tables during lunch and in the evenings he waited on tables at “Manouche”, the sister restaurant to "Scaramouche" on Milton Road, Toowong. “Manouche” was just around the corner and up the road a bit from where we lived. Both restaurants were owned by Peter and both served French cuisine. At the time, both restaurants were the “talk of the town” and were extremely popular with Brisbane diners.

Again, I was at the right place at the right time (or vice versa!) when Randall called me in to help out at Scaramouche one Friday evening. Peter’s “goffer” was away sick and couldn’t make it in for the Friday night trading. Of course, Randall put my hand in the air for me. As soon as I finished my day job at Kolotex, I raced into town from Fortitude Valley to don a different guise (or disguise!). Not satisfied with polishing glasses, writing up the blackboard menu and re-setting tables, I helped serve meals and didn’t leave until after closing time. Again, I’d been bitten by the “restaurant bug” and there was little I could do about it. Randall, finishing earlier at Manouche, arrived at the apartment before I did and was surprised not to find me at home waiting for him. I walked in about an hour later, satisfaction glowing on my face.

Peter asked me to come in again the following night, Saturday. Thereafter every Friday and Saturday night, I exchanged my daytime office attire for my waiter’s garb of a long black skirt, white blouse, comfortable shoes, grabbed my “waiters’ friend” (wine and bottle opener) in readiness for the restaurant’s three sittings. Somehow or other, I was delegated the front, main section and my nights were spent racing between tables, re-setting for the next influx of diners. I loved it.

Meanwhile, being paid “cash money” with the bonus of tips, both Randall and I were able to put away a lot of cash away from the greedy hands and prying eyes of the tax man! One was able to do so at that time until the tax department decided in its “wisdom” to clamp down on such practices!

Two doors up from the apartment block where we lived a little worker’s cottage came up for auction. Randall announced we were going to attend the auction, not only as spectators but as bidders. The Saturday morning arrived and I was a nervous wreck! I let him do the bidding as I stood off to the side. We failed in the bidding, but during the following week managed to purchase the property next door to the original cottage for $17,000.00, two thousand less than the one that went under the hammer. Both were similar in age and construction.

After six years living in the apartment, eighteen months of which Randall shared with me, we packed up our goods and chattels to move into our first home, a home we intended to renovate while living in it. Excitement was rife, spare time a rarity.

To be continued....


  1. Thank you for the to be continued. Well things are looking up here. Can you imagine what that place would be worth now?
    Good yarn as usual Lee.

  2. Ah-ha the plot thickens, home makers/renovators what next?

  3. Gosh, I have never worked pulling beers ...but I do have a love for the hospitality side of things, having worked in two small catering companies....set up by myself....18 months in six years? Sounds like some of my life!

  4. Hey there jmb, Peter and Rebecca...nice of you to visit. :)

    And yes, I can imagine what it is worth now, jmb...if it is still there, but probably a block of high-rise units are there now. ;)

    Pulling beer is no easy feat, is an art in itself, of that I can assure you! :) I don't think I ever quite mastered the art!

  5. Hi lee
    What a trooper you were to buckle down and provide schooners ?(oops maybe not in QLD) and up to 8 different drinks at a time for those thirsty patrons then !

    But I suspect there would also be regulars who would have been mindful your were new and doing your best ! At least I would hope that's the case.
    best wishes

  6. Hi Lee ~~ You sure get dragged in screaming for some of these jobs-but you did well 11 cents
    I wonder how long the home
    together will last. Thanks for your congrats about the awards
    Glad you are getting some good rain too, which was badly needed. Take care, my friend, Love, Merle.

  7. Oh! Lindsay...I'm always up for a challenge! ;)

    A few years yet, Merle...hang in there! ;)

  8. I think I like the part where you get cash that the tax people don't see! I don't resent paying taxes but it sure makes a heck of a dent in a paycheck!

  9. Oh Lee
    This is the best Chapter yet. I love your desriptions. I laughed at he phrase "should know".

    Pulling beers is an art and even though I could do it after one Friday night I was done. And you had the cash register to boot. Wow, way to go girl.

    Your story is beginning to sound like a bottle of fine wine, better with age.

  10. Lovely chapter, Lee. I just adore the bit about Smocka "telling you about his day" 'cos Simi does that as well! You really convey the pressures and excitement of working in bars and restaurants and I can see how you got hooked. Now we want to know all about the cottage and EVERYTHING....

  11. Hi DesLily...yep...that was the good part. Tax-free cash! It was good while it lasted! ;)

    Pulling beer definitely is an art, Lady Di and I never cease to admire those who can pour three at once, perfectly. That feat I never did achieve, much to my disappointment, but I was never game to try it for fear of losing the lot! ;)

    Hi Welsh...yep, the bug had grabbed me, sinking its teeth in and found a weakness in my veins...and there it crept, ever so sneakily, until I became addicted! ;)

    Thanks for popping in's always nice to see you. :)

  12. Hey Lee, I'll have a draw, a bowl of popcorn and here, buy yerself a drink. And btw, what'er ya doing after work tonight?
    (and as she points to the other bartender) Oh, Him? Well never mind then.

  13. Lee this story is wonderful. Your talent lies in painting pictures with words!

  14. Hahaha,'re a character! ;)

    Hey thanks, american woman. I'm glad you're enjoying it. :)

  15. A worker's cottage for $17,000! That would hardly be the deposit now, Lee.

    I was so happy to see another chapter of your wonderful story up...I had to make a cup of coffee before I sat down to read it. You know, it's like a surprise present. Get yourself ready and then gradually peel back the layers.

    Oh you sent me way back to my restaurant and bar days with your descriptions. It was exactly like that!

    Waiting for the next now...

  16. Hi there, Robyn...glad you're still a follower of the saga! lol I'm about to make myself a cappuccino...I did a bad thing...bought some goodies from the bakery a little while ago! Well, it is Sunday, after all! ;)

  17. That was one of your best chapters. I can feel the excitement and the tension of running the register in the bar.

  18. There certainly was a lot of that, CD , but after a while it got so busy, I forgot about it until the night was at an end.