Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Mad Friday, Squaddies, Septics and Keeping Customers Safe

Mad Friday, Squaddies, Septics and Keeping Customers Safe

As a writer I am open to appreciating perverse events and occurrences and my work in nightclubs as a Door Supervisor/Bouncer affords me plenty of real life experience to draw on as inspiration  for my stories.

The creative processes are sometimes sidetracked for proper work and I sent my editor an end of year note of thanks for his patience in my delaying sending the next batch of chapters for editing. I told him that if I wrote in my novel’s plot what actually happened on the front door he would have put a red line through for lack of credibility.

Christmas is always a strange time on the doors and the week before Mad Friday, as we call the last day of work for most people before their festive holiday, is often the worst night of the year for trouble. People, both men and women come out for sometimes the only night and there is mayhem around town. Some are just drunk and stupid, others are aggressive and nasty, for one night feuds are resurrected and new hatreds forged, all in celebration of the season of goodwill.

A mild mannered mechanic or office clerk becomes the cage fighter of his wildest dreams. Cocky young buck gets put down by an old-headed stag, or the old stag tries to relive his manly status of 20 years before and gets put on his backside by someone younger, fitter and less drunk. Alcohol and drugs play their part but self-discipline goes out of the window and there is little class and sophistication to start with. Many a family Christmas has been wrecked by a stay in the cells for the eejit who reckoned they could fight the world, including the nice policeman who asked him to calm down… or her, gender is not really a barrier to aggression.

All this is watched and dealt with by those of us who work in nightclubs and as I teased one of my younger colleagues who had a night off, if you don’t work a mad Friday you can’t call yourself a proper bouncer. I worked Mad Friday and went to bed at about 5 AM and then was up again at 7 to catch the ferry to Ireland for a holiday on the Wild West Atlantic Coast. As we made it further West I recounted the lesser incidents of the night before to my wife. She kept her peace but I know she wonders why I enjoy the job dealing with ‘pricks and princesses’. As the next couple of days progressed with a peaceful calm environment, plenty of sleep and maybe a Guinness or two, my aggression levels drop and my tolerance levels returned to my normal relaxed self.

Last mad Friday we had plenty of incidents to add to my trove of writing anecdotes, marked in my head ‘for later use’. On the front door the ferrety guy on his phone who was barred for previous incidents and told the caller on the other end of the line that he would meet him after he had “a fight with the 2 bouncers” in front of him. I’m not small and my oppo standing next to me has half a foot on me in height and shoulder width. We sort of looked at each other with raised eyebrows as he allowed himself to be dragged off by his brother as though that was a moral victory. Or the big 50 year old man wearing a santa hat and a reindeer jumper who tried to bully a young colleague but wouldn’t stand up to me.  

They go with the cherished memories. Like the one of the young girl who when refused for fake ID told me that she “would commit suicide if all she did in life was be a security guard,” then wondered why I wouldn’t let her in when she tried to join the end of the queue just 5 minutes later. Every Door Supervisor is on the receiving end of that attitude and as I have said before if you take a backwards step then you might as well give up the keys to the safe and the chastity of the barmaids. 

Do I enjoy the job? Enjoy is perhaps not the right word but the job gets under the skin and when I had a break last summer I missed the camaraderie and the craic with the lads and girls I work with. Not all customers are horrible and in fact the vast majority have great fun and go home happy. My boss’s ethos is ‘here to keep you safe’, it says so on the back of my hi-viz jacket and we are indeed there to protect customers and staff of the venue and to keep them safe. If that means I have grief for refusing a potential troublemaker then so be it. If they bite with me for a simple question then what will they do to an unsuspecting punter inside and a fight inside the venue is much worse to deal with. If 5 people being refused a night stops 25 being involved in trouble then it is a better night than allowing the trouble to walk through the door and I have done my job and kept people safer than if I was not there.    

So back into the New Year and last Saturday night the queue is building along the side of the venue. It’s midnight and I am working the street and ushering to the far end of the line as punters stroll down from the town’s pubs and bars. Taxis are pulling up and I direct all newcomers down the line… its not rocket science.

A tall scruffy guy comes up and enquires in an American accent “Where’s the veteran’s line?”

My reply is “sorry we don’t have one but the queue is moving quickly and it will only take 5 minutes”.

He growls and swears at me and stamps off to the back of the queue. He is part of a small group of English youngsters in their early 20s who are following just behind. I take the decision that with his poor attitude then he is borderline to not being allowed in for trouble he might cause inside.

I approach him and as I normally do checked that if I had got his attitude wrong on first impression I would give him a second chance. His attitude is still poor and he deliberately ignores me trying to speak to him. I inform him and his friends that this gentleman would not be coming in. I then received an uproar of entitlement from his friends explaining that he was a veteran from America and I should be giving him special leeway because he had served. A floppy haired blonde lad asked if I was a veteran myself, as though that would have made a difference. The lone female of the group became agitated and wanted to give me a piece of her mind but was dissuaded by a couple more sensible lads and they left. I told the duty manager why I had refused the American and we both shrugged our shoulders at yet another ex-soldier turned away for being aggressive outside rather than us waiting for him to go in and kick off inside.

Job done yet the incident left a sour taste in my mouth. My first novel Splinter is about an ex Royal Marine and how he deals with life after his service. No, I am not a ‘veteran’. Although my childhood focus was joining the Royal Navy I never served in any of the forces. At 18 I went to Hong Kong planning to come back for entry interview a few months late but stayed in the then British colony for 2 years working in bars and nightclubs doing the doors. I tell youngsters starting with me now that at that age you can take on the world. Now I have learned to shake the proffered hand for the quieter life and put an end to a quarrel rather than escalate the argument. As happened with the man in the santa hat and reindeer jumper who thought my young colleague was not giving him the proper respect. I told the older man to grow up and act his age, I can do that in my 40s but wouldn’t have at 20 but that shows life’s lessons have been learnt.
In Hong Kong I saw all sorts of trouble from expat stockbrokers and bankers to Tourists, Triads and plenty of Servicemen from all nationalities. In an agreement with the bar owners, police and military authorities the Lan Kwai Fong bar area where I worked was out of bounds to the British soldiers from the garrison regiment. The garrison all knew it and with their short hair cuts and regional accent then they were pretty easy to spot. It kept the supposed bad behaviour of the lowly British Squaddies away from the nice people who were visiting our bars and making them drink in the rougher areas of Wan Chai and Tsim Tsa Tsui. After a drunken altercation with an American expat, which was hushed up, then we kept their officers out too.

I worked with a couple of lads from the garrison who were good doormen, If anybody asked they said they had special dispensation to do so but probably not. No badges and cash in hand in the supposed good old days. In a world of slang then squaddies for soldiers, matelots (pronounced ‘mattlows’) for sailors or Bootnecks for the Royal Marines were the terms bandied about. We let the Bootnecks in because they were better behaved and the Navy lads based at Tamar knew the score and we were on first name terms with the Gurkha officers who fitted smoothly into the expat world.

Bars are a business unlike any other and when visiting ships came into port then we usually let them in too. The British ships crew on shore would be ok up to a point. I threw out one big matelot for being over boisterous, the next day I played rugby against his ships team and looked behind me in a lineout to see him standing behind me. I expected a kicking but he told me that his mates had said I threw him out nicely and he had deserved it, we had a few drinks together after the game. The Australians were worse for trouble and we banned them at all times. I was at the wrong end of a shoeing from a New Zealand Infantry platoon when I intervened in a tussle with a local on the dancefloor.

Drink too much, get drunk, try to meet women, can’t meet women, drink some more then get into a fight. Perhaps that is unfair but young men full of testosterone on a ship or in barracks under rigid discipline then the pressure builds up and needs to be released when on shore. I can understand that and know it goes back to the days before Nelson and Wellington. War is a bloody business and training for war is boring.

…And then there were the Americans. One of the barmen was a cockney and called them charmingly ‘Septics’ after the rhyming slang for Septic Tank/Yank. It is a derogatory term of course but after trouble with all sorts of British and Commonwealth forces the Americans of the Pacific Fleet were a pleasure to deal with. They had a few drinks, bought drinks for the staff and the expats girls in the bar. If they didn’t meet a woman then they still had a good night. When the US Fleet was in town the American Military policemen with their snowdrop helmets patrolled in Jeeps and went in hard with night stick batons so yes the ‘Septics’ usually behaved.

I had been in Hong Kong nearly 2 years having a blast, selling crisps by day and working doors by night when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. CNN showed the war building up and the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz with attendant warships sailed into town with Ten Thousand American Sailors and Marines convinced they were going into the biggest military action since D-Day and they were out to party hard. A long term resident, an old China hand told me it was like he remembered during the Vietnam War when Hong Kong was used as an R&R stopover from the front.

 Some of them thought they were going to die and I remember that weekend for the ‘Buzz’. There was a crush of men and women on the Dancefloor, I remember throwing out a drunken expat for complaining about the Americans talking to all the women. the beer pumps were on constant flow, the tills were ringing loudly and the good time girls I knew had a good time,

I have just written about the atmosphere of that time in a novella called “Dragon”, which I hope to publish shortly. That weekend was one of the formative experiences of my adult life. The Americans behaved, they spent a lot of money and they were almost all respectful of the job we did.

When the Septic “veteran” growled at me the other day then he didn’t show me the respect that I remembered from American servicemen nearly 25 years before. Perhaps I bridled at the insult to that memory. I sympathise with the “veteran” for his experiences of violence in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever he served and how that must have affected his life. I know many from the forces who have fought away and seen images I can only imagine. I’ve worked doors with them and maybe after a few drinks they might open up, they want to be respected for a job well done. To a man they are quiet of their achievements and their experiences. If we can we let them in quickly, without ado and with a nod and a wink of appreciation.

I have met some aggrieved at the way they are treated by civilians and 2 years ago I was punched in the face by a wild eyed squaddie out with his father and uncle to celebrate his return from Afghanistan. We didn’t get him arrested in good faith that his dad would sort him out. It wasn’t his fault “he was just back from Afghan”.  

But its the same with every other customer who I deem to be unfit for entry into the venue. I make a decision to keep the majority of customers safe. The majority are civilians and like me have little comprehension of the horrors of war. We might have watched the news and the documentaries but we were not there. It is a fact of life that most do not care but neither did the public after Trafalgar or Waterloo.

I’m sorry sir, if we did not have a veteran’s line and yes I am a civilian but you are still not coming in.

As an aside on the same night there was a customer from when I ran the pub. He was a young squaddie going back to the war and at the end of his leave I gave him a good malt whisky to savour then next time he was in a foxhole and to remember to keep his head down. He necked it like a shot of tequila and grimaced. He is out of the army now but when he saw me on the door he was pleased to see me and told me he now appreciates and savours a good whisky, a Glen Morangie.

I let him in! 

JR Sheridan