Week 83: My Handshake & Terry Pratchett

Friday, 2 August 2019

Reading time 03 minutes 08 seconds 

A firm, hearty handshake gives a good first impression, and you’ll never be forgiven if you don’t live up to it – P. J. O’Rourke

Never meet your heroes, but if you do try not to hurt them is good advice that I should have followed.

I was a bell boy in the London Marriott Hotel and worked on the Concierge front desk. There were four Concierges who could source anything a guest required and each one in some small way shaped the person I am today. Looking back I had great lessons taught, some painful to learn, some necessary.  

They had all been doing the job for some time and traditions were followed one of them being the hello handshake. I would start my shift and no matter what they were doing, they would stop everything and give their full attention to greeting me. 
“Good morning Matthew”. 
I was never Mat or Willsy always Matthew as that was the name on my badge. Then they’d shake my hand while making eye contact.

What a lovely thing to do, or as I’ve noticed in other places I’ve worked, what a sad thing not to do. That handshake offered you a connection in some small way, that physical contact reminds you that your colleagues are real, that they are there. It tethered you to each other as human beings. I miss it.

One of the concierges was Dagenham Dave, he was funny, very cheeky with eyes to match and always had a great story to tell. At the first time of meeting me and after shaking my hand he said my grip and my whole manner of the greeting was wrong and that he’d show how it was done. This happened every day for two and a half years.

Dave was a huge man, he had boxers hands, a boxers nose, and boxers ears. He might have boxed in his youth.  
“Morning, Matthew” he’d announce then his hand would swallow mine as if I was slipping it into an oven glove. He would grasp my mit then squeeze tightly.  
The first time it hurt, the next time I was ready and I offered resistance. He responded in kind.  

These days he’d be done for physical assault, but back then it was a lesson to be taught, and more importantly, learnt. Over time my grip grew stronger, it probably helped that I was also a teenage boy. 

Once I could shake hands like a Dagenham man, Dave took his lesson onto stage two which involved crunching my hand on the shake until I could withstand it no more. Once again my grip grew stronger and eventually Dave’s Bearpaw held no power over me. My right hand was a lean, mean, squeezing machine and very well moisturised, because I was a teenager.

To this day I still grip everyone’s hand in greeting way too tightly. it’s as if I am overcompensating for my height, or something else. I’m not. I’ve just got a very strong right hand thanks to Dagenham Dave the concierge.

A few years later I met one of my favourite writers who was signing his latest book opposite a computer shop I worked in. He sauntered in wearing a hat, a long coat and a beard and looked like the type of man who wrote the books I loved, mainly because he was.

I introduced myself and shook his hand. He screamed.  
I stood there amazed by my heroes high pitched wailing but failed to stop, I just kept shaking while he kept screaming. 
I was Lenny from Mice and Men and his hand was the helpless mouse that I patted and squeezed and called George.

The Author could not escape my clutches because Dagenham Dave had taught me well. He then stopped his wailing and shouted at me to let go of his hand. 

After ice was applied he explained in a long writery fashion that he’d been signing books all afternoon as well as just having completed writing one. His hand was in agony and I had not helped him any. If only he’d met Dagenham Dave when he was a teenager, he’d have a stronger grip. He said he wouldn’t be able to write for days, maybe weeks, and he was furious.

He did go on to write more books, lots more. He became quite successful and I hope that was partly down to me making him develop stronger hand muscles. Sadly I was so disappointed in this man’s handshake that I never read another one of his books again. If you get a chance though you should, he is a very talented writer and I’ve been told his books are marvellous. His name is Terry Pratchett.  

It’s good to have mementos to remember people by and I think fondly of Dagenham Dave on a daily basis as I’ve now got arthritis in my right hand. 

Picture: Me on the first day of the Fringe taking it easy watching comedians work. What a great job!