So, back in 1979 my mate Chris Baccino and I, after yet another morning in the careers office under Fontenoy Gardens are off on what might be another wild goose chase. We would be called into separate rooms in the careers office but would always come out with half a dozen interviews each, four of these being for the same place. We would go to Bogans Carpets and Letherens wood place and a Shipping firm in Dale Street in competition with each other, Chris got the first two, myself the latter. Earlier than these though, we'd be sent to Ricky Brown's sports shop near the bottom of Sir Thomas Street - the job, stringing tennis racquets. We were both sat there when out of the interview room came a lad loosening his tie and blowing for tugs, sweating profusely. Chris and I looked at each other, the lad looked like he'd been on a threadmill for an hour - on Tenerife beach.
Chris went in and came out shaking his head saying he thinks he's got the job, the way the fella was talking, he was still shaking his head saying no way, I don't want it, there might be more than one vacancy going. I soon found out why. The boss started off by saying. Right, we don't want any messers here. It's a standing up job, eight hours a day, government scheme, half an hour dinner and it's stringing racquets like these lads here, pointing to some poor souls whose palms were bleeding with criss cross lines indented into them. I don't remember saying much but he must have seen the look of shock on my face.
Chris got the job but decided he didn't want to be disabled by the time he was 20 so passed up on it, and back to the beginning of this story, we were now heading for an interview to a place we'd passed a thousand times before but never really looked at twice. It was that big sandstone building on St. John's Lane that we didn't even know the name of. It turns out that these two fellas were recruiting about 30 lads to work about 5 to a gang with half a dozen tradesmen, each learning a bit of a trade whilst doing the place up. It was the old Pearl Assurance Building on St. John's Lane and we were in.
On our first day, I remember a load of us being in one of the rooms on the first floor drinking tea (well isn't that what all the workies do best) Nicky Kelly and Eric Swindon were the bosses of sorts and they sorted us into who we were working with and I was summoned by Steve who worked on the Kango drill demolishing walls in the basement and Chris was with Dezzy, slightly chinese if I remember correctly He went off upstairs using a blow torch to burn all the paint off the doors ready for sanding and repainting. I remember a lad kept going past me with a wheelbarrow full of broken bricks, then sand, up a plank of wood used as a ramp for getting over bits of half demolished walls to the other side of where he was going, this lad turned out to be Martin Jones from Old Swan. A bit later Chris and I were together working up on the roof with obviously entailed getting up on the scaffolding outside. No health and safety straps/clips or whatever, just a gang of 17/19 year olds used to scaling such like when larking about on bombdies a few years earlier when collecting bommie wood etc.
We'd have tea breaks where we'd all come together and some would play cards, some just natter about footy or what was on the telly last night. There were a couple of lads there from Gerard Crescent where i'd lived and went to our school, these were Frank Tasker and Frankie Ryan, both good decent lads. Dale was another lad who I think was related to either Nicky or Eric, well he got the soft jobs anyway. The handy thing about this place was the bus drivers cafe down below which done fantastic bacon butties. There was a little sweet shop next door to this too, both of which served the bus drivers of whom there were plenty as the buses parked at the Old Haymarket and St Johns Lane.
One time Chris and I were in one of the upstairs rooms when in came Eric with a brush and told me to start brushing the floor, he wanted me to get the head of the brush under one of the big fat metal pipes running around the skirting boards from the radiator to get at the muck under it. The pipe was pretty loose and he lifted it and said 'ere'. I took my time and he said 'come on hurry up', so I dawdled over a bit quicker and started just casually getting there. He was getting a bit more frantic now and shouting 'bloody hell, this is hot will yer hurry up'. I done it then he dropped the pipe muttering something about seeing more life on a mortuary slab blah, blah blah. I turned to Chris saying 'what's up with him' so we touched the pipe and let me tell you, it was absolutely scorching and how his skin never melted to it I don't know - no wonder he was yelling.
Another of the lads was poor A.J. Clarke, the fella who was killed in town a few years back when he was sepearated from his wife after a night out, it was on Crimewatch. He was a popular guy, I remember him well from that time there, he was one of the card players. At the bottom end of the building was a little art gallery/studio with a shop front which had paintings on show in the window and some on show in the little rooms upstairs. The fella who ran that was Mr. Cool personified, a fella called Bob Williams, very laid back. It seemed he spoke with Nicky and Eric and sort of seconded us into this gallery part, telling us our job was to put the paintings away in the safe each night and hang them or window display them in the morning and in between times he wanted this ceiling painting as he pointed upwards.
Now this was no ordinary ceiling, it was like Joseph's amazing technicolour dreamcoat but was badly faded. He wanted the lovely tiling on the walls buffing to be able to see your face in them too. He had a colour scheme in mind then drove with us to Rapids in Renshaw Street. 'Oasis' was the rich terracotta colour chosen as well as a 'wedgewood' blue - another half dozen tins of paint of varying colours followed including greens and reds then off we went to the Pier Head where he bought us all cups of tea in those polystyrene cups and we went up on the roof of the bus terminus building overlooking the Mersey to one side, the roofs of the diagonally parked buses to the other. I was thinking of all the poor sods doing the real graft back at base while we were on a jolly. He was alright was Bob. He stared ahead drinking his tea as a police siren sounded off ithe distance. 'it's getting like bladdy New York' he said - in his almost fake American accent we would come to skit him about, behind his back of course. 'Right' he said 'Come on back to work' I almost spluttered. Chris and I had only taken a sip of this roasting hot, not very milky tea and old asbestos stomach had downed his.
We were up there painting away one day when he summoned us down. The Royal Liverpool hospital had bought some of the paintings in the gallery and we were to go with him to help carry them etc - he wasn't one to get his fingernails dirty, nor his flowery bermuda type shirts he was prone to wear. At the front of the ozzy, he said 'here we go, they're for the chapel' and started reversing the little van up towards the entrance to the chapel which is that red brick construction just by the main entrance. A fella come out waving his hand saying 'oy, no, you can't reverse up here, it's consecrated ground'. Bob, deadpan said 'What do you want us to do then, float up?' Needless to say, the van was reversed up and that's where it stayed for as long as it took.
Back at the sistine chapel, we were having yet another break as we looked out of the window across St. Johns Gardens. This job was a bit of a back breaker and also done your neck in. It had to be done in fits and starts, well that's my excuse for stringing it out for four months anyway. We also had to pull the scaffolding around the room by hand, across those lovely little mosaic floor tiles that were getting all cracked, it was sacrilege. We felt the scaffolding shake and looked down to see our mate Martin Jones climbing up. Time for another break. We'd play an A-Z game, like the one so popular on Yo. We'd do pop groups first. A: I'd have Abba, Chris would chip in with America then Mart with the Animals, then it'd be Chris's turn to start B, then Mart C etc. I always remember worrying if i'd get first shout on Q - my mind racing ahead, otherwise you'd struggle after Queen, speaking of whom, we soon learned was Martin's favourite group.
Back up at the tea room and the talk was all about Stan getting the sack. Stan came into work each day with a kwik save carrier bag. His carrying out we thought, only it seemed he was carrying out the lead from the roof ha ha. Back into our little safe haven of the room with no bosses watching over us and having bought some stink bombs from the Ace Place we lashed them at the wall facing us across the well at the back of the building where our old neighbours and school mates the two Franks were working up the scaffold. We heard them smash then ducked back in. During the afternoon tea break, all the jealous b'stards were remarking about how the two blue eyed boys had got this cushy job painting a bloody ceiling when Frank Tasker turned to us and said 'The f'kin drains stink where me and Ryano are working'
So, one day it turns out that it's Alan Constantine's 18th and the plan is to down tools, well brushes in our case and all go over to the pie shop which was the local name for the Byrom public house. It's dinner time and we all traipse in there, probably trebling the takings for that week as the hour turns into two before Eric and Nicky waltz in saying 'err come on - back to work'. The shouts of derision ranging from 'fcuk off' to 'stick yer job up yer arse' left him open mouthed before they gave in, joining us for a pint before leaving saying 'c'mon lads, back after this one'. That approach went down a lot better and by three o'clock we decided not to push our luck but not a lot of painting got done that afternoon with what looked like a double brush.
Chris and I had nicknames for most of the lads. One lad was Bernie Flint to us, just simply because he looked like him We never knew his real name so just called him Bernie and he inexplicably answered to it every time which just made it funnier, well we were only 17 you know. Another lad who was Gordon and quite springy on his feet became Gordon Lightfoot. He worked a lot with the electrician who spent all of his dinner time in the Sportsman pub in the precinct - bugger that - drunkeness and lecky??? Another lad who was Ian just happened to look a bit like Ian Ogilvy so that's who he became and this went on.
There are many more stories like the one were we all had to go to Brownlow Hill post office to cash our wages when Dale, thinking he could jump the queue just because he was some relation to the task masters, got well and truly told where to go but i'll let Mart tell you all about the downfall of the St. Johns House Empire and the subsequent ahem err police involvement - if he dare
Chris around this time.
Franky Ryan (left) enjoying a pint in Concert Square in the sun last year. He hasn't changed much in all those years.
St. Johns House went on to house the clubs Earl St. Johns and Rockfords in the 1980s.