Shoe polishing with Flash

I was Second Porter in the old Grand Hotel in Glasgow’s Charing Cross, in 1968. My brother Neil was page boy, and our mutual friend Mike was also a porter. On the night staff, one of the night porters was an old chap called John (I forget his surname), whose nickname was ‘Flash’ ; and believe me, it was thoroughly ironic. The head night porter was an Irishman called Les.

The Grand, being a hotel in the old style, offered a boot and shoe cleaning service, where guests would put their shoes outside their bedroom doors, and one of the night porters would take the polishing trolley around each floor (there were three in the Grand), and polish the shoes, a good night-time’s job.

There were regular tours arriving at the hotel, from all part of the UK, and one day, a tour arrived from Wales. There must have been nearly a hundred, as there were two coaches on the tour. Getting the suitcases from the coaches up to the bedrooms was a real challenge for the porters, because, being Welsh, almost all the surnames were either Jones, Evans, or Davies, and matching luggage to rooms was very time-consuming and fraught with errors. However, we managed it and had all the luggage up by completion of check-in.

Les sent ‘Flash’ on boot polish duty that night. And Murphy’s Law being what it is, almost every bedroom had at least one pair of boots or shoes outside. The prospect of a night trawling around each of the three floors, going from door to door, polishing shoes as quietly as he could, was not appealing to Flash, so he tried to think of a way to reduce the drudgery, and applied his mind to a solution.

Flash was what might be called ‘challenged in the thinking-things-through’ department. After some cogitation, he hit on the labour saving scheme of fetching one of the big wheeled laundry baskets from the laundry room. He then went round every floor, picking up all the shoes and boots, and then took them in the lift down to the little Porters’ Rest Room that was just by the lift door on the ground floor. There, he set about industriously polishing everything, brown, black, grey, and neutral. Then Les, who had been up to the Still Room for a pot of tea, came back, looked in on Flash’s industry, and said

“Why, that’s a good job ye’ve been doing there, Flash.”

“Aye, Ah thocht it wid be easier tae dae it a’ here, save me movin about a’ the flairs.”

“Aye, aye, Flash, good thinkin’ there, I’ll grant ye. Now, how are ye goin’ to get them all back in the right places?”

Flash looked up, and it took several seconds for the significance of Les’s query to dawn on him.

“Aw shite. Ah nivvir thoat o’ that. Jesus, whit’ll Ah dae noo?”

“Aye John, that’s somethin’ ye’ll have to figure out next.”

The next morning was a crazy morning, and not all the Welsh saw the funny side of it …