At the ripe old age of sixteen, I was promoted from behind the public bar to the relative elegance of the restaurant bar next door. My black tie was borrowed and my white shirt still boasted those sharp vertical creases from the packaging. I felt fairly refined.
Pat, the manager, showed me the ropes to the accompaniment of James Last on the stereo.
"In here, you just have to put on the bit of a show," he explained. He was gone before I could ask him what he meant.
An elderly tartan-clad American gent sat up on one of my stools and ordered himself a 'Bloody Mary'. We served those out in the public bar now and again so I knew what to do.
I got a small whiskey glass and fired a measure of Vodka into it. Then I added two economy-sized ice cubes and presented it to him alongside a little bottle of tomato juice which I had skilfully opened. Remembering about putting on the show, I wiped the bottle with a tea towel as I laid it in front of him.
"What in the hell is this?" the American thundered as Pat the manager reappeared magically at my shoulder.
Without a word he swept my version of a Bloody Mary from view and smoothly produced a gleaming cocktail shaker. He opened it, added vodka, juice, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and just a hint of Tabasco. He sealed it all up and gave it a vigorous and theatrical shaking. Then the cocktail was ready, beautifully presented in a tall slender glass and finished off with a stick of crisp celery.
The manager's smile became a little more fixed when he turned back to me. "Remember," he hissed, "put on the show."
It was a fairly quiet evening so I spent much of my time shining up glasses and watching all the beautiful people eat. I had a fine array of sparkling glassware in front of me by the time my next complicated order arrived. It came from a little bald man with a tweed jacket.
"I'd like a 'Fifty-five' please."
These days, most people know that a 'Fifty-five' is just lemonade and orange juice. You can even buy it in its own little bottle. But this was 1980 and I was at a complete loss.
"What's in it?" I whispered. When he told me, I smiled. I knew what I had to do. I took the gleaming cocktail shaker and added an impressive scoop of ice. Then I opened an orange juice and a white lemonade and poured them equally in on top of the ice.
The bald man in the tweed jacket looked a bit tense but I tipped him a reassuring wink as I sealed the top of my shaker down. I picked it up and shook it vigorously.
It is a truism of bar work that lemonade is not well disposed towards being shaken.
The top of my shaker exploded and took off across the restaurant, nearly decapitating the American with the Bloody Mary. A fizzy sticky mess of orange juice erupted all over my array of polished glasses and onward over the man's tweed jacket and bald head. The entire restaurant stared at me in disbelief, even James Last on the stereo seemed momentarily knocked off his stride.
And all the patrons of the public bar were surprised to see me back so soon.
"We thought you were trying out the posh bar tonight," they said.
"I was," said I, "What can I get you, a pint?"