I wanted to do a blog as a kind of salute, or the raising of a glass is probably more appropriate. To a woman who touched me deeply a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away.
I was doing the typical backpacker trip around Europe. I was paying my way by doing odd jobs here and there. One of which was selling a vibrating hairbrush at a home show. It was supposed to massage your scalp, and we had to demonstrate to people how it worked. I was the only guy who worked there, and there were about 30 female hairdressers working with me, I won’t go into details of my sales technique, but I was their number 1 salesperson, the closest anyone came to me sold less than half my number. Every time I did a demonstration, I knew I would get either a sale, or a slap, I never got a slap….. but anyway, that’s another story…
Predominantly, I was working in Pubs, a setting I was quite accustomed to. Basically, you work for board, food and a small pay packet. However, as you have no expenses to speak of, and as you drink free mostly, you save more money.
It was in 1996, that I met this gorgeous woman, and was instantly captivated by her charms.
The Pub was called The Red Lion Hotel, it was in a little town called Wendover, about an hour north of London by train. The pub itself was quite upmarket, it offered accommodation, had a restaurant (not a bistro), and was considered to be one of the better establishments in the area. The Pub itself is an old 16th Century Inn, it boasts an impressive guest list that dates all the way back to Oliver Cromwell.
I was working in the bar full time, she was a waitress in the restaurant doing casual shifts.
I must say, her reputation preceded her, everyone talked about her, staff and patrons alike, everyone. So I was quite keen to meet this woman who by all accounts was a total knockout, and once met, never forgotten.
It was about 4 days after I had started that I finally met her. All of the talk had been true, I was instantly smitten by this amazing woman. We only spoke for a couple of minutes at first, as we were both working, but once the restaurant had closed, I bought her a large scotch and soda, and we got to know each other better.
Her name was Dolly, and she was a bit older than me, but I fell in love with her in about ten seconds flat. She had a light in her eyes, and a manner about her that just made you smile all over. She was as sharp as a tack, and had a slightly wicked sense of humour. She also had a level of intelligence that would make you think she was 100 years old. Perhaps that’s because she almost was.
That was back in 1996. Believe it or not, Dolly is currently 96 years old, and still working in the pub. If you don’t believe me, here is a news clip from the UK, this clip actually got played at the end of Channel 9 news in Sydney about a year ago. She is officially the world’s oldest, and longest-serving barmaid.
I worked at the pub on and off for about 3 years, and came to know Dolly pretty well. Whenever Dolly was on duty, everybody was in a great mood, she really brought the place to life. The customers all loved her, she was everyone’s friend. We could even pull pranks on her, and play tricks on her that would have some in tears. Not Dolly, she would laugh at everyone and take it in her stride. She was an absolute trooper.
Every time she was on duty I would fill her up with a couple of large Scotch and Soda’s, although I see from the clip she has now switched to Tonic. I swear that half the time she was working half drunk, but nobody cared, least of all Dolly.
One year on her birthday, the hotel organised for her to go on a hot air balloon ride as a surprise. The balloon was in the Hotel car park out the back, and our receptionist rang Dolly to tell her that 3 people had called in sick, and she was desperately needed…. we had pre organised this with Dolly’s granddaughter.
When she arrived, in a bad mood at having been dragged in on her birthday, she was pleasantly surprised to find a cake, and a large Scotch waiting for her. The bar was packed, as was the beer garden, as I think most of the town had come in to watch. I poured Dolly an extra-large Scotch and Soda in a tall glass, and we told her that her present was outside.
The look on her face when she saw the balloon was priceless, I thought she was going to faint. After calming a few nerves, and the operator letting her take her drink on board with her, she took off, and half the town were there to wave to her. It was so good to be a part of that experience for her, as you knew it was a memory that she would always treasure.
Anyway, there are many stories I could tell you about Dolly, but that day was one of the best I remember.
The Red Lion Hotel, is the centrepiece of Wendover, quite literally. If the Red Lion is the heart of the town, then Dolly is the heart of the Hotel, I mean, bloody hell, they named the bar after her. She is the grandmother that everyone would love to have. Once met, never forgotten.
I don’t mean to sound like a tool, but, I’ve had more than my share of teary women. However, I can assure you, that the day I left Wendover to come back to Australia, saying goodbye to a teary Dolly in the car park was one of the toughest and most gut wrenching things I’ve had to do.
One thing is for sure Dolly, I will be there for your 100th birthday, with bells on.Follow @madwixxy