The Three Compasses stood (and so far as I’m aware it still does) on the corner of Beach Street and Coppin Street. The pub itself was something of a reminder of my fairly recent past. I’d arrived in Deal in 1972 and stayed in digs in Coppin Street, making the Compasses my local. It was a proper boozer, well run and frequented by a wide range of people including the son of the landlord, a Coppin Street resident who happened to be the Assistant Cox of Deal lifeboat. Charles Hawtrey had a house in Middle Street, not far from the Compasses and it wasn’t unusual to see him in there when he wasn’t away working. He was a proper nasty old queen who loved a drink nearly as much as he loved boys, which meant the pub had a reputation for having “colourful” clientele. We were tolerated as a group partly because I had been a regular customer before slipping back into my old ways, the rules were simple. They’d serve us if we had money so long as we didn’t try to smoke dope or get too full of ourselves. That particular Sunday, when we were all in that semi high state from the nights partying we just wanted to have a couple of drinks and relax.
This was before all day opening and, all too soon, last orders were called and we decided to have a walk up to Walmer to visit some people who we’d recently got to know. They were an unusual couple, I don’t remember their names but I do remember where they lived and something of their lifestyle. Both of them were in their late 30’s or early 40’s and had been a couple for a long time. They now shared a Victorian terraced house on The Strand but were no longer in a relationship although, from what I could see, they remained very good friends. She was a beautiful and mysterious woman, very confident and fully at ease with her bohemian life, we thought she might be minor royalty or from the landed gentry but that was never confirmed or denied. He was Eastern European and played the violin to a very good standard, he may have been in an orchestra but I’m not certain of that. We hadn’t known them long but they were good customers, they always had plenty of money and were always happy to allow us to sit in their be-cushioned lounge, smoke dope and listen to music.
What made us wander down into the town rather than walk along the beach I don’t know but by the time we got into the High Street the girls had gone home and there was just Andy me and Tom. We were goofing about and a bit stoned, having rolled a spliff for the journey, and talking about how we shouldn’t be turning up empty handed on our visit. The streets were empty, it was a lovely day and most people were either on the beach or in their gardens. All the shops and pubs were closed, Sunday was still a day of rest for many in 1973. Just before the junction with Broad Street there was a pub (The New Inn I think) with an off license attached, like everywhere else it was closed but I jokingly decided to try the door, saying maybe we can get a bottle of wine to take with us.
To my complete surprised the door was unlocked and had been left on the latch, I quickly pulled it to and looked to the guys; “did you see that” I said “the door isn’t locked”. I’d suggest that if this happened to me now I would have knocked on the back door of the pub and let someone know. No such scruples in those days though, we got in a bit of a huddle round the window and looked inside the shop. Just through the door was one of those wire bins, full of wine. I wouldn’t really even have to enter the premises. Andy went to the corner of Broad Street, Tom went across the road, giving him a view both ways up and down the High Street while I quietly lifted the latch and reached in to grab four bottles of wine. A shoulder bag was an essential part of the “hippy” kit in those days so we had somewhere to stash our ill gotten gains. All thoughts of Walmer were now out of the window, it was going to be an afternoon of wine drinking on the beach.
I got so drunk in the space of just a couple of hours that I have no recollection of how many times I personally went back to the off license, or how I got back to the house from the beach, I suppose whoever was with me had helped. Some time later that afternoon I woke up on my mattress in the squat, I’d been laid on my side so as not to choke on my own vomit. A friend from Folkstone had turned up and quickly been made aware of the situation. I think he figured out that I was not going to be in a receptive mood for any kind of communication but as he left I clearly remember him saying, only half jokingly; “You need to stop man, you’ve got enough problems at the minute, the next time I come to see you I’ll need a visiting order because you’ll be back in Canterbury”.
I must have fallen into a drunken sleep for a couple of hours. When I woke, fuzzy headed but almost sober, an impromptu party had started and there were already a dozen or so people in the house. Joey Friend, one of the guys on the fringes of our group and a well know petty criminal had heard about the stolen drinks and wanted in on it. I was finished, or so I thought, I’d got away with it all afternoon, and people were saying that I’d personally drunk 5 bottles of wine which might well be true. I said I wasn’t interested but Joe had some speed and emboldened by taking a hit I decided that the least I could do was empty the wine bin. For a couple of hours the theft of alcohol from a small business became something of a comedy affair.
Every time I went back to the shop I was accompanied by a different small group. I was “the man” and, high as a kite on a cocktail of hash, amphetamine and booze I reveled in the back slapping that followed every successful foray. All through that evening the pub was open and how I kept getting away with it is still a mystery but get away with it I did and the more I got away with it the more I continued. The wine bin was empty and I’d ventured inside and started to take bottles from the window display, I didn’t even care what was in them, I stole them anyway. By closing time it should have been clear that my luck had been pushed to the limit, I think I’d more or less realised that my fingerprints, recently taken for the fourth time in my life, would be all over the shop and I would be very lucky not to get arrested but, egged on by what was now a small crowd I decided to give it one more go.
The spirits were behind the open counter of the shop, ranged on shelves. Bottles of gin, whisky and vodka twinkling away, it was finale time. For the last time I entered the shop, this time going all the way in and started to pile bottles into my crooked arm. I was smashed but mentally in a place where I felt infallible. I looked out through the open shop doorway, over the road a couple of people, including my new “best mate” Joe Friend were waving me on, encouraging me to collect as many bottles as I could. I don’t know how many bottles I had but, halfway out of the shop I tripped on a mat and dropped them all, the sound of breaking glass saw my “friends” disappear like smoke and the landlord of the pub, along with his Alsatian guard dog appeared at the door. I think I tried to be funny, saying something like “Hey man, I’ll pay for any breakages” but he surveyed the scene very quickly, realised what must have been happening and grabbed me, bending me face down over the counter, all the while shouting for the police.
Even if I’d been sober I don’t think I could have challenged him but, even if I had, the dog, growling menacingly, would have been enough to put me off that course of action. The bobbies weren’t long in turning up and arresting me, the landlord had been pretty rough but that was acceptable in the 70’s and, with a bloodied nose and mouth I was led off to spend a night in the cells before appearing at Dover Magistrates the next day. I suppose I got lucky, I didn’t enter a plea of any kind and I was remanded, on more bail, for probation and medical reports. Within three months or so I’d won the appeal against the possession with intent charge and been fined heavily for the off license burglary. I had a sympathetic probation officer to thank for the fact that I didn’t get sent down again but here I was at 22, estranged from my family, without a real home or prospects and reliant on the good will of people who lived the same transient and hedonistic lifestyle that I did.
I din’t know then when or if I would make the changes I needed to make, or if I was even thinking about making them. Looking back I don’t think I really cared. The only motivation was getting high, any way I could, but I knew that if I stayed in Kent it would only be a matter of time before I was back inside. I left Deal and moved back to Stratford on Avon for a short while but that asked more questions than it answered and it nearly cost me my life. I might write about it one day.
Just Another Sunday (Part one)
© Coloniescross 2018