By pure chance one Saturday morning I was fortunate enough to stumble upon quite a jewel. It had been less fortunate circumstances that had brought me to Paddington in the first place however. The scenario begins on Friday morning when we were formed up on parade in front of the Company Sergeant Major who had informed us that the Company Commander’s wife had given birth to a baby boy and we all had to attend a compulsory function that afternoon in celebration. Throughout the day we all wondered if it was indeed ‘compulsory’ or if we could scatter away after knock-off and not show up. The function was to be held at the Paddington Tavern, a well-known establishment among soldiers and the unemployed who were drawn in by the significant amount of poker machines and presence of young females of questionable character.
The day drew to a close and I found myself in a discussion in the car park with a number of others. The group was split on whether to attend or not. We decided to show our face and then try to fade away into the chaos and confusion which accompanied every large gathering of soldiers. The celebration was sure to have a tense mood as the Major wasn’t quite a popular fellow. He was an arrogant Englishman who would strut around with his shirt tucked into his pants wearing a tight belt as they did in the British Army. You would rarely see him and he would only make rare appearances. He was famous for standing off to the side while observing our PT sessions and would yell out token comments like “Get up there!” or “Get a move on!” at whoever was closest to him. On the way there we had to stop off at one of the guy’s apartments so he could grab some cash. He didn’t come back and sent us an SMS saying he was having an argument with his girlfriend and please would we tell the Platoon Sergeant that he couldn’t make it.
We arrived and parked the car, walking in through the back entrance and making our way to the pool tables. Army functions were always a bizarre social experiment as you would be forced to socialise and drink among your superiors who in some cases you absolutely despise, and could consist of the same Sergeant who had sent you to the cells the week before. There was an awkward atmosphere in the air as we played pool and others stood in huddles drinking, with the Major and his officers at a table staring at us and making observations. You’d think if you were forcing your soldiers to celebrate the birth of your baby in their own time on a Friday that at least you would work that crowd and at least be friendly.
After about an hour of absolutely nothing happening I saw a few lads making their way into the poker machine area and realised that they were making a break for it. As I wanted to drink I’d left my car at the barracks and needed a ride back. I joined up with the other escapees who agreed to give me a lift, the last seat, thank God. It was only later that night I realised I had left my hat and wallet under the pool table. I phoned the tavern and it had been handed into the bar. It must have been another guest who had found it and not someone from the function luckily, as that may have made it obvious that I had left early.
On the way back from collecting my wallet I had become lost which led me to an encounter with the Paddington Antique Centre. The interior was unusual and in the shape of an aircraft hanger. It was quite grand and appeared to be an old theatre. I also happened to purchase a remarkable pair of boots which I discuss in another post.
I quickly worked out that the clientele could be categorised into several groups:
Odd-looking types who sold things on ebay for a living
Young slightly obese women with lots of tattoos and colourful hair