The Magdala had far more than its share of eccentrics and, although from different eras, none were more glorious than Bob the Bag and Cornish Pat. Bob gained his sobriquet not surprisingly because wherever he went he was never without his Gladstone bag. He never opened it and nobody ever saw its contents – it was just there like a silent statement. However an acquaintance did visit Bob’s bedsit on Constantine Road on one occasion. Left to his own devices for a few minutes he mooched around the room and spotted a large Tesco carrier bag under the bed. He peeped inside and found the bag was stuffed to the brim with gold Krugerrands. The mystery of what or who Bob was deepened.
He became known for his nocturnal ramblings around SEG and one night, at 3am, was seen climbing aboard the 24 night bus heading down to Trafalgar Square to buy cigarettes. Not that unusual – until one realised that Bob was still wearing his pyjamas and dressing gown for the trip.
Bob the Bag eventually found his metier with the arrival of the Trivial Pursuit machines in pubs across the country. These were based on the board game and were set to quiz your general knowledge – the questions were divided into various sections such as Entertainment, Sport and Leisure, Art and Literature, etc. The money jackpots could reach quite profitable levels. Bob tried out one machine and was hooked. However, in defiance of the inventors who had intended their machines to be fruitful sources of extra income flowing from the sucker punters to the pub landlords, Bob decided on a serious challenge. For months he immersed himself in the gaining of knowledge. One day he would arrive in the Mag to sit and study piles of old Wisden cricket manuals, then the next day he would be there deep inside an anthology of post-Modernist poetry. The extraordinary thing was that his work paid off.
He would arrive at an unsuspecting SEG pub (he wisely left the Mag alone) and proceed to spend a couple of hours stripping it of its last penny as he poured out his collected knowledge. Soon, of course, the landlord would get wise and bar him from the premises. So he moved on – his field of operations came to include most of North London. Finally his notoriety was such that he could not enter any hostelry north of the Thames. One of the last times anyone chatted to Bob was when he was spotted, bag in hand, on his way to Paddington Station. When asked, he explained that he was on his way to Exeter as he’d heard they had a Trivial Pursuit machine there that he hadn’t emptied yet.
One salient point about Cornish Pat was that he was raised in Banbury, educated in Warwick, and lived for the next thirty years in North London. His link to Cornwall was confined to holidaying in Padstow occasionally to visit family. Thus is the random nature of nicknames. A second salient point was that Pat could imbibe large amounts of alcohol without apparent ill effects. The problem was that he imbibed huge amounts of alcohol. This could and did led to some odd behaviour. Brian Kettell once commented:
“The Mag is really quiet these days. I looked in the other night and there were only five people in there. And two of them were Cornish Pat”.
Most of the trouble with Pat concerned getting him from the Magdala to his flat on Courthope Road in one piece late at night. For those unacquainted with the district, the route entails turning left out of the pub, climbing half way up Parliament Hill, before turning right down the hill of Nassington Road, following a small path across 100 yards of the Heath, crossing over the railway footbridge and down the ramp, before turning left again on Savernake Road, walking past the tops of Roderick Road and Sherlock Road, past the church of All Hallows, and finally turning right into Courthope Road. Sober and unencumbered, it’s an easy ten minute walk.
One night the present writer returned with Cornish Pat over this route and bade him farewell at the top of Roderick Road. He kept an eye on his friend to make sure he arrived back safely. Pat gave a vague wave of his hand, then tottered off home. However, he miscounted which turn he should take, and instead of reaching Courthope Road and inserting a key into his front door lock, he turned into Sherlock Road and tried to insert his key into the front door lock of All Hallows Church. To do him justice, both doors were in roughly the same geographical position – it was just the wrong door. In the wrong road. And it was a church.
However, this was nothing compared to the antics surrounding another homecoming about a year later. The present writer was roused from his sofa one midnight by the arrival of another friend – Hairy Richard. Richard is a large man whose slightly balding pate, long hair and splendidly bushy beard gives him a certain resemblance to Karl Marx (late of this parish).
Richard had himself been returning from the Magdala at about 11 30pm when he came across the comatose figure of Cornish Pat lying on a bench at the top of Nassington Rd. All entreaties and threats had failed to rouse Pat, so Richard came to request the loan of a wheelbarrow with which to transport him home. The present writer unearthed one from his garden and both walked back up the hill to where Cornish Pat still lay, dead to the world.
With some difficulty we picked him up and stuffed him into the wheelbarrow, head resting on the handle end, and legs dangling over the wheel end. It was tricky enough balancing him down Nassington Road, but we managed to do it and also got him over the road bridge and into Savernake Road. Resting up for a moment, the present writer stood to catch his breath and to watch Richard tackle the last section.
As he did so, a car drew up on the far side of the road. Two couples emerged, the men dressed in black tie and tuxedos and the women in long dresses. It was obvious that they were returning from some fashionable event. Suddenly they became aware of the spectacle passing by across the road. They stood silent and transfixed. To all intents and purposes they were witnessing Karl Marx trundling a corpse along the street at midnight in a wheelbarrow. What made things even more macabre was that, as they stared, Pat’s right arm flopped over the side and lifelessly started to sway with the movement of the barrow.
Pat’s most memorable moment (whether high or low point of his career is debatable) came with the 1994 Status Quo Christmas Concert at Wembley Arena. The present writer was late arriving at the venue but joined Cornish Pat and another companion called Gary at their mid-stalls seats towards the end of the opening set by a warm up band. Both Pat and Gary had been pre-loading and by this time were very, very high on booze. Somehow they had also managed to smuggle a bottle of vodka through the Wembley security cordon. A considerable amount of the vodka was downed during the intermission.
Then the house lights dimmed, the strobe lighting flashed and dazzled, the amplifiers roared up to eleven, and Status Quo burst onto the stage to a mighty wave of yells and applause. The first driving riffs of ‘Whatever You Want’ thundered out over the auditorium – Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt bounced into the limelight – the building shook with surging excitement. As the fans in the front rows jumped on to their seats to acclaim the band, it forced the rows behind to follow suit in order to see the stage. Accordingly, we also clambered up and stood on the seats.
It was at this point that Cornish Pat decided that he needed to urinate. Not wishing to miss any of the action, he unzipped and proceeded to direct the flow on to the floor ahead of him. Unsurprisingly much of it missed and the row in front found themselves sprayed.
Now, to the 21st century mind this may well appear to be gratuitously disgusting – but not to the world of the late 1960s when Status Quo were a specifically heavy rocker band. When jammed in the middle of a heaving mob of Hells Angels it was not unusual to urinate standing on the spot and often indiscriminately spraying anyone in the way. It was quite normal with some football crowds – at one ground the phenomenon was known as ‘the Anfield Hot Leg’. Pat did have some historical justification.
The trouble was that this was 1994, the venue was Wembley, and the row in front were not made up of Hells Angels or even Liverpool supporters, but middle-aged punters on coach trips from Stevenage. As they realised the reason for their increasing dampness, a howl of outrage was added to the general racket. Within seconds of their complaint, three burly security guards in high viz jackets barged their way along the row, seized hold of Pat and dragging him by his neck hauled him out of the row and out of the auditorium.
As they disappeared, Gary stared around with a wild look in his eye, shoved his way to the aisle, and then started running down towards the stage screaming that Francis Rossi was his mother. He was seized by security guards and also vanished.
The present writer, still relatively sober and suddenly devoid of his companions, decided to make the best of a bad job and, lifting the vodka to his mouth, drained the bottle. What he had not realised was that the area around him was now the subject of close scrutiny by guards with night vision goggles. Seeing him downing the contraband alcohol, yet another team of security guards filed along the row, seized him, and forcibly escorted him to the exit. All this had happened while Status Quo were still on their first number: ‘Whatever you want – whatever you like – whatever you say…..’ All three members of the ill-fated Quo expedition were back drinking in the Magdala before Rick Parfitt had finished singing ‘Rocking All over the World’.
One evening Cornish Pat was chatting to Charlotte, one of the Mag’s most observant barmaids, and remarked: “There seem to be a lot of strangers in the pub tonight?”
Charlotte replied: “Don’t worry, Pat. They all remember you.”
Cornish Pat and Mary Watson
To see other chapters – go to top of page and, under the main title, click on the small heading ‘Under Ken Wood’
Feb 28: 1 South End Green – Prologue
Mar 7: 2 Where Eagles Dared
Mar 7: 3 Murder and the Magdala
Mar 14: 4 The Hepburns
Mar 14: 5 Private Godfrey and the Dame of Soho
Mar 21: 6 Garland and Mercer
Mar 21: 7 Laureates and Spies
Mar 21: 8 The Silver Fox
Mar 28: 9 The Hoffmeister and Kelly
April 4: 10 The Harvey Brothers
April 4: 11 The Journos
April 11: 12 Five Funerals and a Resurrection
April 18: 13 Scallawag
April 25: 14 Crime and Punishment
May 2: 15 Good Companions
May 9: 16 Sasthi Brata
May 9: 17 Bob the Bag and Cornish Pat
May 16: 18 Eddie Linden
May 16: 19 The Branch Offices
May 23: 20 The Mulls Kid
May 30: 21 The Musos
May 30: 22 Closing Time