Thursday, 5 February 2009

Of Mice and Men

In my time in the Odeon I made many friends. All the staff knew me, as I was allowed an almost free run in the cinema. I could spend my days with the projectionist, the usherettes and the doormen. With the usherettes I'd help them take their customers to their seats, I'd take their tickets. I'd even go down and tell customer to move because they were in the wrong seats.

The doormen were the odd job men of the Odeon. They spent their time changing the posters, lobby stills and lettering that promoted the film at the Odeon's main entrance for the current or future presentation. Another job they had was that of laying traps for the mice and cockroaches. The buildings to the rear of the Odeon were derelict in some cases and these visitors were drawn to the warmth of a large spacious cinema.

One story I loved from that time was a customer had just purchased his ice cream and orange drink from an usherette and was watching the film; then there was an almighty scream, just as he was about to pierce the top of his carton he was confronted by a cockroach staring back at him.

On a slightly different note, it's one of these urban myths; but I remember being told the story by one of the door staff back then.
"He told us that he'd been driving into town, and had unfortunately run over a cat. Not wanting to just leave it there by the side of the road he put it in a carrier bag. Going shopping with his wife he this time didn't want to leave the dead cat in the car so they took it with them. In looking at things his wife had put the bags down, turned around and the bags had gone. A few moments later there was a scream from the changing room and a known shoplifter of the day had collapsed along with all her lifted bags including the dead cat.

I spent time with the projectionists to there was always something interesting happening. New films being checked before screening or being sent on to the next cinema or back to the distributors. One of these guy's was a lover of horse racing, and when I started visiting him in the projection booth it gave him the opportunity to get down to the local bookies, by the back fire escape and back to put a few bets on. Very reminiscent of a scene from Cinema Parisdiso.
Having a free run of the Odeon meant that I could watch films from anywhere. When Saturday morning matinees were on I'd generally watch them from the boxes or the circle. If I watched from the circle I'd also return any litter to its owner in the stalls.

There was only one restriction on what I could do or watch and that was when there was an (X) certificate film showing. Then I was restricted to the foyer or the manager's office or the booking office with my mother. The only time I remember being disappointed about this was when The Graduate was showing, as I really liked the soundtrack from the film.

With the problem with mice the Odeon had a cat. Who had free run of the cinema too. On one memorable occasion the cat was in the main auditorium and had spotted a moth flying around next to the screen. The cat was jumping around chasing the moth. I was drafted in to catch the cat. So in the middle of whatever film was showing; there you had a cat chasing a moth, and a small boy chasing a cat. In the end I didn't catch the cat I caught the moth. The cat very disgruntled at this slipped off stage, to a round of applause from the audience.

One other animal related story springs to mind here. And another time I was called in to participate was during a screening of a Children's Film Foundation remake of Greyfriars Bobby. The dog playing the title role was to be presented with a very large bone on stage. I was given the bone on a large silver platter, the bone almost as big as the dog nearly killed it when I dropped it on the dog on stage. The dog was being presented as a gift to an Edinburgh children's home.

Other regular visitors to the Odeon I got to know were the police. They had a call box at St. Patrick's square, but the staff room with all the usherettes was a little more appealing. And if they timed things right and there was a film on they wanted to see they could over the space of a week watch an entire film if they timed their visits right. The usherettes made good use of them at times. There were evening that after nights out they were driven home in the Black Maria.

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