Pompey Bar Room Banter 3: Mr Difannyous, Part II

John Oke Bartlett continues his tale from Ted, a regular at The Rocket, Cosham, previously the Railway Hotel. If you missed Part I of Ted’s tale, catch up here

Time for a pint. Lager or fizzy keg beer was all that was on offer at The Rocket. The jukebox blared out the popular tunes of the day and the electronic slot machine added to the din with a crescendo of rising and falling pips, whistles and whoops. Ted lived just around the corner from The Rocket and being the closest pub, it naturally became his local.

Returning from the bar with two beers – it was time for another personal story. As a young man, Ted carved out a career for himself in the Navy, specializing in something to do with catering. He told me that on one posting, the Admiral would send out an order, every Christmas, for one of Ted’s Stilton’s to be delivered to his flagship.

When the tot ended on July 31st 1970, many ships still had some rum on board for a considerable time afterwards, even years later. Eventually, these stocks dwindled for a variety of reasons but, on one occasion, a request went out to all the ships in the harbour where he was stationed. Was there anybody qualified in dispensing rum? If so, they were to report to HMS Tiger. The captain of the Tiger wanted their old stock of rum to be disposed of and destroyed. Ted volunteered for the job and was duly dispatched by cutter to the ship anchored in the harbour. He was met at the gangway by a young officer who led him to where the rum was kept under lock and key.

‘Well I’ll leave you to it’ he said and with that, off he went. Ted got on with the job in hand and had completed the task by the time the officer returned. ‘I hope you saved a little for yourself,’ the officer said.

‘Yes sir,’ said Ted grinning sheepishly, ‘just a small bottle.’

‘Good, I’m glad to hear it, well that will be all.’ He then escorted Ted to the waiting cutter and away he went. What the officer didn’t know was that Ted had secreted many bottles of rum about his person, up his trousers and in his jacket. Far from ‘just a small bottle’. Laughing, Ted said that he was surprised that he didn’t clank as he walked across the deck.

Ted travelled the world with the Navy but he gave me the impression that most of his career was spent in the Far East, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. It was on one such posting, during a run ashore in Hong Kong, that Ted and a mate had decided to visit the red-light district. Jolly Jack had a penchant for the ladies and the adage ‘a wife in every port’ probably has a lot of truth in it for him. Although the authorities had decided that the red-light area was strictly off limits to all service personnel, rules are made to be broken and Ted and his mate were not going to thwarted by any such edict. The brothel they had chosen was much the same as you would find anywhere – the girls were first paraded in a fairly, dimly lit room, festooned with drapes and Chinese lanterns. Once they had chosen a paramour to pleasure themselves with, they were shown upstairs to a small cubicle big enough for a wardrobe and a double bed. Things had only just started to heat up when a great fracas could be heard down the hall. They were being raided by the provost.

‘Quick, quick!’ said Ted’s Chinese lady, “you go out of window, quick, quick!”

Ted did as he was told and jumped out of the window and into the yard below. Ted’s mate had done the same but there was no escape. The whitewashed brick walls of the quadrangle were far too high to climb. They were trapped. As these raids were a regular occurrence, fortuitously both girls had quickly hidden their uniforms in the cupboard. The provost burst in trying to catch any unsuspecting rating in the act. Disappointed, they were about to leave when one of them caught sight of Ted’s naval cap slightly protruding from under the bed where the girl had hurriedly kicked it.

‘They’re here somewhere,’ the man roared and looking out of the window, he found them, both naked as the day they were born.

‘Make like a chicken’ Ted’s mate ordered. With arms bent, hands on hips, head moving backwards and forwards, whilst clucking loudly, the pair of them strutted around the yard, before being hauled off to the ‘chokey’. The next day they were brought before the officer in charge for punishment.

‘What’s the charge?’ the senior officer barked.

‘These two were caught red handed and in a brothel, sir.’

‘I see,’ said the officer, ‘anything else?’

‘Yes sir, one of them was heard to say; make like a chicken, sir.’

‘Make like a chicken?’

‘Yes sir, the pair of them were apprehended, completely naked, strutting around the courtyard of Madam Lei Ying Lo’s place and crowing like a couple of demented cockerels, sir.’

The officer, barely able to contain his amusement, turned away and said, ‘get out of my sight the pair of you and don’t get caught again!’

Ted and his mate did as they were ordered. They turned on their heels and were marched smartly out of the room to freedom – a lucky escape indeed.

When I first met Ted, he had been going to ballroom dance classes and was looking around for something different. So, on one dark Thursday night, Ted fetched up to the Irish Club in Southsea to try his hand at Morris Dancing. One thing led to another and soon he was firmly ensconced into the ranks of the Victory Morris Men. I think Victory have a lot to thank Ted for because in my view, it was mainly due to his influence that the Side changed its attitude towards newcomers. Victory, whilst not meaning to, had traditionally been rather offhand with beginners, almost to the point of being rude. It was Ted’s larger than life, friendly persona that changed all that. From the moment he joined, he always made a specific point of welcoming, in the friendliest way possible, new members and putting them at ease. It didn’t take long for Ted to become one of the true characters of The Side.

On occasions, when the mood took him, he would give us his version of Widecombe Fair. This would often lead on to a most peculiar little song about a strange alien creature with eyes on the top of her head. Ted’s fondness for dancing was a lifelong passion and when in the right environment, Ted was always first on the floor. This character trait always made him very popular with the ladies and no matter what the style, he was always happy to oblige. He particularly liked jiving and I have fond memories of him with legs bent, slightly leaning forward, right arm to the fore and knees gyrating together, whilst spinning the current lady of choice across the dance floor. Happy days indeed. Ted also joined Broadside Mummers and gave many a fine performance. I particularly remember, in rehearsal, when he had to say the word diaphanous. Try as he might it always came out as ‘di-fanny-ous’. Although we collectively tried to correct him, in the end, it occurred to us that ‘di-fanny-ous’ was actually much funnier than diaphanous.

I have just heard, with some sadness, that along with The Railway Hotel, the Fair at the top of Portsdown Hill and the Trams, Ted is no more. Ted has gone where all the best men go but his memory will always remain fresh in the minds of all the people that knew and loved him. Cheers me old mate, I raise a glass to you Mr Difannyous, and to all the fun and laughter you generated.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.