I do not recall spending a lot of time with my nautically displaced toy wrapping associates, sharing a lunch table with them, squandering my meager salary on a post-paycheck blowout at the local drinkery. Although I occasionally may have. You would have to ask them about that.
(Try laidofflongshoremanwhowrappedtoysatHarrodscircaChristmas1967.com. Or the like.)
What I do remember was struggling to wrap toys just well enough avoid getting myself the boot.
As well as…
The bolstering sounds blaring from a co-worker’s portable radio. This was the Golden Age of British pop music – “Penny Lane”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Hey, there, Georgie Girl…”, “To Si-i-ir, With Lo-o-o-ove.” For close to half a century, a catchy though less than chartbusting little toe-tapper has been playing in my head whose title I could never recall but whose mundane but evocative lyrics included:
I like my football on a Satuhday
Roast beef on Sundays is all right.
Only recently did my daughter Anna help me discover this irretrievable artifact to be “Autumn Almanac” by The Kinks.
I loved listening to that music, as I substandardly wrapped Christmas gifts for the European “One-Percent.”
And I’m talking royalty! Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister) was the recipient of my handiwork. As was King Olaf of Norway. That one received special attention.
After wrapping His Majesty’s presents, I adorned the traditional Harrods-green wrapping paper with some personally handwritten messages.
Referring to the classic I Remember Mama, whose central characters were all Norwegian immigrants, I wrote, in tiny print on various locations on the packages:
“Mama is fine. Lars is back working again. And Dagmar’s growing into quite a lady.”
During our midday break, the store generously provided subsidized three-course lunches in the “Employees’ Canteen”, charging less than the equivalent of a dollar for the entire meal. For some of us (Read: including me), this was the primary dining experience of the day. (Taking full advantage, I would occasionally sneak out a banana or a bran muffin for later. Hey, I was making a big thirty-five dollars a week!)
I looked forward to those lunches. But my big treat of the day…
Wait, first the setup.
In the opening post of this series, entitled “Christmas At Harrods”, I mentioned that the store had certain unwavering regulations concerning the deportment of its employees; to wit, no using the store’s actual street entrances (we’d come in via an underground tunnel leading from the “Employees’ Entrance” across the street), and no riding the elevators or the escalators.
You know I’m a rebel. So I did occasionally ride the escalators. (I get claustrophobia in elevators.) My more flagrant gestures of subversion, however, were invariably more subtle and indirect.
Like this, for example.
After enjoying my subsidized lunch, I would not infrequently repair to the Harrods Smoke Shop, where I would purchase a moderately priced Havana cigar, a “moderate price” that exceeded the cost of my subsidized lunch. I needed to show them I was more than some “faceless nobody.” I was a faceless nobody with style!
I would then descend to the store’s ground floor “Banking Hall” – a traditional “meeting spot” for Harrods’ upscale clientele. The hall’s most recognizable feature was a layout of plush and inviting Harrods-Green upholstered leather couches.
It was there, amidst the chatter of the congregating “Ladies Who Lunch”, that I would plunk myself down on one of the couches, and then light up my expensive Havana cigar (you were allowed to do that back then), regaled throughout this enjoyable interlude by the sounds of a recorded Phil Harris warbling “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book. (Some kind of promotional “tie-in”, I suppose. Anyway, it’s a classic. And it went with the cigar, which, for me at least, was a bare necessity.)
Upon finishing my cigar, I would then slip off my sneakers, curl up on the Harrods-green leather sofa and surrender to a brief catnap, arising – miraculously – just in time to head dutifully back to work.
Even ordeals have their intermittent satisfactions.
The most delightful of which I shall tell you about tomorrow.
In the meantime...
In the meantime...