"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A blast from my past: Saturday Night - A Doorman's Journal.

(O.K. I was never that muscle-bound)


There are three clocking on times: seven, eight - thirty and ten. Tonight, mine is seven and it's a killer shift. I prefer pub hours but as the stand-in I can't be choosy: I go where the boss sends me. If someone's ill or on holiday or just fancies a night off I get the call. I've been here before; a city centre bar and club aiming at (but not quite hitting) an upmarket image for thirty-somethings, so I wear black tie and D.J. I feel slightly over dressed without my black bomber jacket but that's for less salubrious joints. I start off outside the bar. I'm on my own but they seem a decent crowd so far, cheerful and garrulous as they arrive, anticipating a good night out, shaking hands and exchanging banter with me;
"Hello Bud.”
“Alright Pal?”
“I remember you from before: It’s Jack isn’t it?" (It is.)
And the occasional "Watch yer Big Fella" which, while it makes me want to laugh because I'm no Arnold Schwartzenegger, is a respectful acknowledgement of my status so I continue to look suitably solemn. Only when you're a regular and know the customers can you afford to let the image slip a bit.

I go through my check list: What am I likely to be asked? What else do I need to know? Location of toilets, cigarette machine, telephone, fire exits, first aid kits, panic buttons and customer capacity. There is always the possibility of spot checks by the Local authority or Fire Service so it's best to be on the ball. Trade is brisk and the bar fills up: noisy and good natured. But I am not relaxed. A good atmosphere can turn volatile, especially where alcohol is involved. It's for this reason that Bouncers - sorry Door staff - are not allowed to drink. It's a sackable offence and anyone caught risks losing their licence. By eight-thirty, I've dealt with a couple of under-eighteens who obediently trotted off elsewhere. Pete, a taciturn Yorkshireman with a ribald line in humour clocks on and I can relax. He's ex-army and a scaffolder by day. We exchange the standard Leeds Doorman greeting, a very firm handshake and left hand to right shoulder pat. There is a real Doorman brotherhood and this greeting always reminds me that I belong to a select group which takes care of its own.

Pete always calls me "son" though I suspect I may be the elder. He is deeply respectful of me and believes me to be a priest. The confusion arose over my attempted explanation of the term “Lay Minister”. Pete, who I later came to realise has a slight hardness of hearing, took the “Minister” bit and ran with it. Another doorman, Eddie (Equal Opportunities Eddie) – more of him in a moment – took the word “Lay” and ran with that.
“What are you a sex worker then?”
“What? What?”
“Is it about shaggin’ – you know - lay worker? Only Pete said you were a prostitute.”
“Pete said what?”
“Pete. Pete. I say Pete – over here mate. (Sorry luv, come on through. By ‘eck you’re a fat lass aren’t you?) Pete. Didn’t you say ‘e were a sex worker? (You’re new here aren’t you pet? Not from around here? Got any Yorkshire in you? No? Would you like some? Only joking. Ha, ha, ha)
“Did I say who was a sex worker?”
“What are you on about? Who’s Jeff?”
“Our new lad… ‘im over there with the fat lass. You said ‘e were a prostitute.”
Stunned silence. At this point I have taken the fat lass (“She doesn’t sweat much for a fat lass her, does she?”) and her friend to the bar to attempt to placate them with a complementary drink, so I only faintly hear:
“No, Eddie. What I said is: the new lad’s a protestant.”
“I was only asking is all. What’s that then?”
“The lad’s a priest.”
“Jeff? Jeff’s a priest. Fuck me.”

I keep telling Pete I’m not a priest but he won’t hear it. Instead he gets very conspiratorial: “No, no, I understand, you’re not a priest this evening” (Wink) “You’re a doorman this evening. (Touches side of nose) You want to be incorrigible, I respect that” I assume he means incognito and I give up. (Although he may have a point: I am incorrigible.)

In the quiet times, Pete tends to use me as his confessor “’Coz you understand these things.” He leads an amazingly chaotic personal life: so many moral choices badly taken in such a concentrated time span. At the same time I know he’s a very private person and has probably not discussed these things with many other people so I am touched by his confidence. We have often stood out the front in companionable silence when the rush was over, me shivering, Pete have a reflective smoke.
“You know, I thought about what you said last week……”

Anyway. Back to this evening: Pete knows the regulars and takes seniority, sending me to prowl the big staircase that leads to the upper bar.
"You look like Sean Connery," giggles a tipsy girl.
I take this as a compliment mindful of the thirty odd year’s age difference and settle into a watchful reverie, frequently checking my watch.
"Too dull for you?" asks a passing moron as if a lack of mayhem was a disappointment.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many people assume that we're just waiting to unleash G.B.H. on the unwary and that we go home disappointed if, at the end of the night, we can't keep a check list of broken bones, blackened eyes and split lips. In fairness, though, I know it's like that in other cities where there is no regulation of Bouncers and clubs will employ any shaven-headed, tattooed psycho providing he's built like a brick outhouse. (O.K I am shaven headed and tattooed too, but I’m classy.) No. Me? Give me a quiet night any time!

Greg starts at ten: a stylish and witty Afro - Caribbean heavily into body-building. “Evening Vicar, it’s good to see you.” I like Greg and count him as a friend too. He is very sorted. It’s also a great relief to see him as I was expecting Eddie.
"Oh he got the push for being violent and offensive."
Surprise, surprise. Eddie was never a Doorman. He was a Bouncer. A dinosaur inherited from the old days - pig thick and dog ugly with fists like hams; very quick with his punches but very slow with his brain. None of us ever really liked him - he was a liability and caused more trouble than he sorted. On top of that he used to brag about how hard he was but often it was pure fiction.
"Where were you when I needed you? Didn't you see me? I just threw six lads out on my own!"
As if such a fracas would have passed unnoticed. Pete used to wind him up:
"You see that blond? She just took me out the back......"
"Yeah?" Eddie came back, never one to be knowingly beaten, "Well I had her last week…and her pal."

Poor old Eddie. I think he knew the writing was on the wall when they advertised for Gay Doormen to work a new club - and got them. And they looked more macho than him which is no mean feat.
“I’ve got a dick thick as a baby’s arm, me.”
“What? What?”
“I’m just saying.”
“I’m only saying, is all.”
“Just go away.”

We observe a minute's silence to rejoice at Eddie's passing, probably the last of his kind and, like the dinosaurs, unable to cope with a changing climate. Still, bad news for Eddie means good news for me. At the rate the agency finds new staff, I’ll be here for a while.
“You know his real name is Aubrey?”
“Yeah and I’m called Jeff.”
“No really. He’s called Aubrey. Edward is his middle name.”
We stand there with tears running down our faces, Greg sobbing with laughter. And people think this is a crap job.

When the council decided the city's Bouncers would have to be registered and become Doormen ("far more up-market, much more the image we want to encourage" – and in Leeds you can't get a licence if you have any convictions for violence or drugs) we all had to undergo a training course. This included the memorable session "Equal Opportunities and the Doorman" which went down a storm. We had to do role play and practise being sensitive. Well you can imagine can't you? Fifty or so big lads, with aggressive haircuts, some smoking furiously and most exhaling pure resentment. It was one of the funniest evenings I can remember in a long time. It all seemed like common sense to me: a bit of basic psychology.
“It’s not rocket chemistry you know.” And that from the lead police trainer.

None of this bothers me: I get on well with people and enjoy working with them. I get a buzz out of spotting a situation in the making and being able to diffuse it without being confrontational - a friendly word, an appeal to reason here, a firm warning, a little cajoling there. But poor Eddie, bless him, couldn't quite grasp exactly why "Fuck off Nigger. You ain’t coming in here,' might possibly be construed as racist and offensive.

It's a funny world isn't it? Now we're the Benneton boys: a multi-racial team in every club so that no one can claim they've been turned away on racial grounds. And there are a growing number of girls too. It's a good idea, don't get me wrong, but it hasn't quite worked out tonight because the lad I'm replacing is called Asim and there's no getting away from the fact that I'm not Asian. Greg brings me a glum looking youth.
“His ex-girlfriend just had an abortion. Can you have a word? You can talk to people. I owe you.”
Too right, Greg. You do.

He still owes me from last week when he brought a distraught girl for “a word” who had just caught her husband having oral sex from her best friend outside by the kitchen bins. Classy.
“Greg, I’m not a marriage guidance counsellor.”
“I know. You’re a priest.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yeah. Pete said you were sensitive about it. Go on. I don’t know what to say to her.”
“How about “Knee him I the nuts girl?”
“No seriously though. Surely the Bible says something about blow jobs?”

"Probably Leviticus", I think.

Which reminds me that Eddie still “owes me” from the time he had me giving sexual health advice to a young lad who had just confessed to being new on the gay scene. “You know about jonnies and that” he said over his shoulder as he disappeared at the speed of light, what with homosexuality being contagious. It struck me at the time that it was a pity Eddie didn’t know about “jonnies and that”. He’d spent a significant proportion of the last month keeping a wary eye on the door and hiding in the gents trying to avoid a girl who he had got “up the duff.”
“If she comes in you don’t know me.”
“Oh right” I said rehearsing that conversation in my head. “You mean Eddie. Big, fat ugly guy. Ginger, no front teeth, dog breath, thick as pig shit. Tattooed neck and a scar on his cheek. Can’t keep his flies done up. Works here. That Eddie? No, I’ve never heard of him.” As if.
“And you had sex with him? Where’s your guide dog? What were you thinking girl …..Sorry? He’s got what? Right…no...I’ve heard all about that. Yeah, thick as a baby’s arm. Thanks.”

A subdued half an hour later I move across to the club. (Glum looking youth is in the process of drinking himself into a stupor. Glad I could help.) Antonio the manager is camply temperamental. "No riff-raff. Remember the dress code." I do but Antonio plays me off against the customers to appear generous. I have a look in the gents. Three student types look shifty and ill at ease. Greg follows me in and so we initiate a random drugs search. Their truculent objections to a "pat search" evaporate when Greg gets out a surgical glove and invites them to the office and they fall over themselves to cooperate. Finding nothing we let them go. As the door shuts Greg's severe demeanour melts into a wicked grin.
"Never fails does it?"
It's all bluff of course but very few are prepared to take us up on it. This all began once, I'm told, when Pete was convinced a lad was dealing: he seemed clean and Pete couldn't find anything on him so just by way of a joke Pete asked him to submit to an intimate search. The lad looked horrified, bent down and took off his left shoe.
“No mate, you're alright" and handed him a little bag of E's.

Asim is a nice guy. I’ve worked with him before. He is a charismatic lad who is very popular with the girls. I remember one conversation:
“Greg says you’re a vicar.”
“Yeah, about that…” I make, I think, a good job of explaining the difference between Lay Minister and Ordianed Minister.
“Sounds like a vicar to me. Still I’m a Muslim, what would I know? I don’t go to Mosque or anything, but I feel it here.” He puts his hand over his heart. “There’s loads go to Mosque regular as clockwork but they don’t feel it here. You do don’t you? I can tell. I’ve been watching you since Greg told me. You’re different to most guys who have worked here.”
“I guess I’m not a typical Doorman.”
“No, but I’m not saying that’s bad, not at all, in fact you’re a bloody good Doorman. It’s a different approach. It’s ‘coz you’ve got it here too, know what I mean? Do you know anything about Islam?
“Yes I do as it happens.”
“Would it offend you if I told you why Muslims don’t believe that Jesus is who Christians say he is?”
“Not at all. Then I can tell you why Christians do, if that wouldn’t offend you.”
“O.K. Just before we do I think we should have a word with that group of tossers over there….”

So, I came home from a quiet night on the door, arriving about 3.30am, put the car away, put the washing machine on, climbed into bed and immediately thought: "That rain doesn't sound like rain, its got a crackle to it. Why is there a glow coming through the curtains and why is there a powerful smell of smoke? Is this house on fire? What's that bloody child left on in the loft? Hang on, why isn't our smoke alarm going off then?"

So I stagger out of the bed and open the curtains to see the garage of the house opposite going up in roaring flames and Doris, the 86 yr old next door to it standing in her kitchen doorway, with melting guttering dripping on her, burning door-frame and all and with her dustbin gently melting at her feet, throwing a cup of water on the conflagration.

So, dressed in nothing but boxers and body art I leg it over the road as Doris's's shed roof catches. (My neighbour, Maude, watching from her bedroom, said my near naked dash was by far the most enjoyable episode of the whole incident, but she is also 86 and wears very strong glasses.)

The owners of the garage have now appeared, both much the worse for alcohol and mill about aimlessly, wailing. (They are new to the street and have not long returned from their Elvis themed Las Vegas wedding. Enough said.) My wife has had the presence of mind to dial 999 and I have joined a small group of voyeuristic passers by who have appeared out of nowhere at that time in the morning and none of whom seem interested in doing anything other than making fatuous comments on the events like a Greek chorus.
“That’ll have been started by something you know.”
"Hot isn't it, fire?"
"Is that a burn or a tattoo?"
“I’ve got a pair of shorts like that, only mine are green.”

I bundle Doris into her kitchen and lock the door just as the heat cracks the window. It's hard to know whether its the fire or me, now wet from the rain, dripping in her kitchen, which worried her the most.

It must be the spirit of the Blitz, but she was not going to be hurried out of the front door and over to our house, where my wife had, of course, in the time honoured way of these things made a pot of strong sweet tea. No.
"Where is my hearing aid? (Pardon) I can't find my glasses. You know I've nothing on under my nighty."
"You may have noticed I'm not exactly over dressed. Lets go. Out."

We now have two fire engines with blue flashing lights but no crowd of bystanders because it is now raining very hard. (No staying power, the British public.) The wife of the garage owner is actively impeding the dousing of the flames by lasciviously chatting up anyone she believes to be a fireman: "I like your uniform. (Obviously not directed to me, that one.) Are you married? Can I sit on your engine?"

And I've got no shoes on!

Guttering and piping is melting, dustbins have gone and so by now have one garage, one shed, a fair bit of fencing, some hedge and half a tree. Windows are cracked, doors are charred and tiles have buckled. I have now got dressed. (Maude, disappointed, has gone to bed believing my having got dressed to be a sign that nothing of further interest would occur.) The chief fire officer insists on reporting to me as the least insane member of the party now gathered in the ashes in the pouring rain. He believes the cause of the fire was a discarded cigarette end. Garage owner's wife looks both drunk and sheepish - difficult to achieve and deeply unattractive.

The next day the garage owner's wife will have a shock when she tries to use her washing machine with the now melted piping and the garage owner will have a shock when he showers: I hope they were insured for fire and flood.

And I still got to bed by five a.m. even after Doris told us for the eighth time that she'd been just getting ready for bed, couldn't find her hearing aid (“Pardon”) or her glasses and has no knickers on and, by the way, had I seen that man with no clothes on? Did I think he might have started it?

Perhaps one of the most bizarre events of my life as a doorman had come some weeks before.
“You know I was never baptised…”
This is a conversation I had been trying to avoid for some time. When Greg had broached it before I’d tended to side step by saying something like, “Go to church, talk to your local vicar, get the family together and get it done properly. Make it an occasion”
“No-one goes to church.”
“I do.”
“But like Asim says, you don’t need to go to feel it here.”
On this occasion, tired, I say, “Don’t go there Greg, just don’t”
“No but…. It needn’t be any big deal. Maybe a sink in the Gents when we’re closed. You must know the words. I really want to do this and I want you to do it. You’re my vicar. I feel it here. I do.”
“Greg, I’m not properly qualified.”
“I don’t care. Will you baptise me?”
Now I do know you don’t have to be in holy orders to baptise. So I did it. Actually it was very moving. It was a very odd congregation crowded into the upper bar after closing: Pete, Asim, bar staff, cleaners and a couple of punters we hadn’t quite managed to get rid of. The subdued lighting of the bar and the remains of the smoky atmosphere added to the sense of occasion. An acoustic guitar track, speedily retrieved from Antonio’s car, played quietly in the background and we used a huge glass punch-bowl previously on display above the optics – once we’d dusted it off. Everyone took it seriously, both out of respect for Greg and for me, and my very faithful but slightly adapted liturgy captured the mood of a man on the brink of a personal spiritual insight. Antonio even cracked a couple of bottles of bubbly.
“Donna and I are thinking of getting married as soon as she has the baby.”
“One thing at a time Greg. One thing at a time.”

"You're nice. I haven't seen you before" flirts a truly awful woman, over made up, under dressed, old enough to know better and with no self-respect. Pete makes faces behind her back. She’s just tried it on with him and got the brush off and he’s not generally too selective. Just Eddie's type, though - a Doorman groupie. Occupational hazard. Thanks......but no thanks. I smile and notice the wall behind her is smeared with dried blood. I must ask Greg about that. I catch two lads letting their mates in through the fire exit. They leave.
"We call you Cyrus the Virus," confides a bar man.
I look confused.
"It's O.K. He's cool. Get the video".
He disappears into the smoky gloom.
"You lads must do alright for yourselves," leers a punter.
It's three - thirty. Yes my thoughts have turned to bed but I couldn't even raise a smile. "Has anyone told you.. you look like Bruce Willis............?"

"Sean Willis" (AKA Jeff) is a Leeds City Council registered relief Doorman and has now trained for the priesthood. "If they think I'm a Priest, I might as well be one!"


  1. "Sir", I've already read this account of your other life, and I find it just as hilarious the second time around. You have a gift for writing dialogue. Thanks for the laughs.

  2. Yes, as Mimi says, you have a gift for the dialogue. Thanks again, "Sean!"

  3. I hadn't seen this before but it's wonderful. I love the balance of joking and real human insight and care about the people you meet. The story of the baptism is one of the most moving I've ever come across.

    And, I don't know what Mimi thinks, but I believe the old lady may have been right: t'was the man without clothes who must have started the fire.

  4. Erika, I think the old lady was on to a lot more than "Sir" or "Sean" gives her credit for.

  5. Mimi, it's a grave danger not to give old ladies enough credit.