Ramsgate is an old town, and old towns have old stories. As time goes on, you hear all the ones people want you to hear: great moments, town heroes, wartime memories, etc. There’s some you don’t hear so much, these days and I’m talking about the heady mix of bullshit and bitter that used to fly around the pubs during the eighties: legends like Jim Scarridge, a man known as ‘The Blade’.
As most BCD readers know, I spent a portion of my childhood in Ramsgate pubs (some of it is covered here). I was at the Horse & Groom when a lovely couple called Bill and Babs ran it, I was propping up a table at the Camden Arms during the reign of John and June, and one of my earliest heroes was old Johnny Giles from the Iron Duke (his wife recently celebrated her 100th birthday).
I first heard the story of Scarridge the Blade from a guy called Jack Tolmer. He was a friendly man of indeterminate age who seemed to have a lot of women followers. Although my mum wasn’t one of them, he would always buy me a packet of cheese and onion crisps when he was saw me in the saloon bar of the Horse & Groom, and he’d always refuse to part with them unless I told him a story.
I always told Jack stories, even if I had to make them up. I did this because he always told a story in return…and his stories were the bulldog’s testicles. They would nearly always be about regulars who came into the pub, but I took them to be either outright lies or massive exaggerations, because in the whole time my mum and Nan used the pubs I never once saw any of the people he told me about….
…until he told me about Jon Scarridge, a man he called ‘The ‘Blade’. Jack described Scarridge as a grizzled war veteran with a very distinct difference from other soldiers: he’d been dismissed from the army for refusing to use a gun. Scarridge, he said, would only use swords, knives and other bladed weapons…and he preferred to fight a man in close combat.
I remember thinking this was ridiculous, and saying so. ‘The first time he went off to fight, someone would have shot him.’
Jack would nod sagely and saying ‘They did: he took one to the shoulder, first day on active duty.’
Still…it was just another story, and would have remained so until, one Saturday lunchtime, I walk into the Horse and Groom with my Nan and there this tall, gangly old man at the end of the bar in a sort of sailor’s cap, smoking an old-school pipe. The pub is beginning to fill up when Jack, who’s in for his lunchtime tipple, runs over to me and whispers: ‘That’s him: that…is Scarridge the Blade.’
I look over, but I don’t see anything special about the guy: he’s wearing a pair of slacks and a scraggly old jumper, and keeps coughing. He doesn’t look at all well, and he’s nursing a gin and tonic. The whole thing is a giant letdown, and I don’t believe Jack anyway. It actually made me pretty miserable.
I sit in the pub while Nan has her drink, and then we go home. That night, as I put my head down on the pillow and drift off to sleep, I have absolutely no idea that the following day is going to be one I’ll never, ever forget…
…because, when my Nan and I go in the following afternoon, he’s there again….only this time he’s got a small sheath on his belt and he’s sitting at the bar stabbing a knife blade between his fingers like a character out of Ian Livingstone’s City of Thieves.
Everyone in the pub looks nervous, and people are muttering in a way that suggests the police might have been called….but drinkers in those days refused to leave their beer until the blood actually started flowing (I was the Iron Duke on the night a guy called Rudy lost an eye in a dart match, and he was practically dragged from the pub by the ambulance crew because he’d had to leave a full pint).
It’s at this point I realize that two young, long-haired guys are taking the piss out of Scarridge, snorting and pointing at him in a way that isn’t at all discreet. He must have been able to hear them, because he suddenly looks up and says, very loudly: ‘Why don’t you two get out in the alley and pump each other?’
The two guys, who quickly take issue with an old man calling their sexuality into question, start giving off mouthfuls of abuse and to show they aren’t frightened of the old man they begin walking up behind his stool, getting closer and closer with each pass.
I remember two things happening very quickly. The first was Scarridge kicking the legs out from the bar stool next to him and sending the smaller of the two guys onto the floor with the same sort of impact you’d get from a bowling ball hitting a skittle. The second was him simply hurling his knife at the bigger guy, pinning the dopey bastard to the dartboard by half the length of his own hair.
We all left the pub as if an air-raid siren had just gone off: me, my Nan, the landlord and all the regulars. There were a number of sickening crashes from inside, but we all just looked sheepishly at each other and waited.
Eventually, the police arrived and Scarridge was brought out in handcuffs…but the conversation wasn’t the sort of abuse you see on modern TV reality shows between the police and violent offenders.
As he was led past me, I saw Scarridge turn to one of the arresting officers and say: ‘Yeah, my wife hates Bullseye, too…but what can you do? There’s never much else on.’