After finishing a whirlwind first year at Sussex University I found myself facing a difficult decision over my summer activities.
Do I return home and regress to an apathy-filled, nocturnal hermit? Or do I remain in Brighton, attempt to find work and actually meet people and do… things.
Whilst I shuddered at the thought of being forced into situations where one would be required to actually interact with other humans, it seemed clear to me that this was the mature and sensible route.
A few weeks and several uncomfortable interviews later and thus began my turbulent tenure in a busy nightclub.
Now, an important caveat; for several reasons I have to refrain from providing either my own identity, or my place of work. Primarily as name-dropping could be construed as promotion or, on the other hand, I don’t really want to get myself into trouble with the powers-that-be for the candid manner in which I will talk about the environment in which I work.
My first few weeks primarily consisted of what was comically referred to as “Customer Service Training”. Being of a certain cynical and jaded disposition, I took it all with a pinch of salt.
All the common-sense stuff aside, I learned more about the kind of company I was working for, than about customer service. I suppose it would be worth noting here that I had, much to my chagrin, extensive experience in the customer service industry. Those of you who share a similarly tragic vocational history would understand what drives me to lament the daily trials and tribulations of dealing with the general public.
Anyway, I digress from my original point: the training – reading between the lines I was beginning to understand that I was being conditioned for one thing, and one thing only: to make money.
This might seem completely obvious; after all we live in a capitalist society, companies are all about maximising profit, reducing expenditure, and so on, and so forth. I was (and remain to this day) actively encouraged to sell as much alcohol as humanly possible, with little, or indeed no regard for the duty of care over the individuals I would sell to. Hammering this into me from my first day was altogether unsettling.
Fast forward a few weeks: the Brightonian summer was in full swing. Hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the globe flock to Brighton over the summer, looking to enjoy the city’s vibrant and unique atmosphere. Invariably they also like to get a taste for the nightlife.
The streets of Brighton would be heaving with revellers every weekend, most notably the stag and hen parties looking to smash their livers into an unrecognisable mush in a blur of tequila and “light hearted japery”.
Over the summer, a regular working week would consist of the following: 3-4 night shifts (till closing time) and 1, perhaps 2 day shifts, if I was lucky. Shifts usually varied between 6-12 hours, but were prone to going over – the longest shift I worked was 20 hours. It’s worth noting (as I like to gripe) that after this 20 hour behemoth, I was completely devoid of all rational thought and rendered unable to form coherent sentences. I led a nocturnal lifestyle, rarely having time to see my friends and family who did not work in “the industry”.
It also aggravated my own drinking habits, as after finishing a gruelling shift it became routine to stay behind for one or two pints, or, on occasion, get wholly incapacitated.
As term loomed ever nearer I found myself wistfully yearning for the quiet solitude of study and the reassuring comfort of my books. I would reduce my hours to part-time in all but a few weeks. All I had to do was get through 3 night shifts in freshers week…
Day 1: I have never before seen, nor will I ever see again, such all-consuming drunkenness. Such mindless and wanton disregard for personal limits, safety and dignity. Students merrily hitting the figurative bottle with impressive ferocity.
I tried to consider my own first week at University; free from the oppressive shackles of living with parents … “the world is my oyster!” I gleefully cried. I had been so completely determined to thoroughly inebriate myself beyond any level of sanity.
So, I guess what I’m saying is “I understand”. I get it.
Coming to University is tough. Arbitrarily meeting new people and immediately being forced to live with these people is a tough situation. And as the Greek philosopher Aristotle once commented, before sinking a rhyta full of wine, “alcohol is a great social lubricant!”.
Day 2: I traipse to work, battered and bruised from the previous evening’s chaos. I pitifully reassure myself that “they can’t do it again tonight”, “it’s not possible…” I considered no human capable of such a feat.
I was wrong. I was thoroughly wrong.
My fears of a second evening of abject terror were immediately realised the second I came into work. “Pub crawl tonight guys, we’re expecting a capacity crowd”. I fell to my knees, threw my hands into the air (a la Willem Dafoe in Platoon) and screamed profanities into the wind.
It became entirely worse with the altogether hilarious news that I was lumped with “toilet duty”: this wonderful task involved all the joys that you could imagine, and more! I was no stranger to dealing with a ‘sneaky-vom’, a ‘tactical-chunder’, a ‘huey-lewis’ and… well, you get the picture. That I was asked to do this grim task without being given any real cleaning apparatus speaks to the company values which I spoke about previously.
Day 3: Why do I do this to myself? Why don’t I just give up, hunker down and live off the meagre funds that remain from last terms student loan and wait until the next instalment comes through?
This might sound contradictory to everything I have said previously: I kind of enjoyed it.
On a personal level, in my colleagues I have made friends that I will never want to lose, we shared a love of hating the workplace, an unbreakable bond. There was also unfathomable comfort and joy to be found in the sights of the drunk masses swaying in the venue. The hilarity of the sloppily attempted robot (the robot is still a dance, right?). I saw budding relationships established between strangers in the smoking area, as they drunkenly bonded over their mutual hatred of “some creepy bloke in there who keeps trying to get with me”. The undeniable beauty of young love, forming in a romantic entanglement on the dancefloor to the beat of “House Every Weekend” (side note: for the love of all that is holy, please make that song cease to exist).
Really, all you have to do is take out the worrying levels of consumption, the inevitable tears, the odd fisticuffs, the loss of self respect and/or all personal belongings, the financial cost, the complete and utter disregard for cleanliness and hygiene, the awkward next mornings “I’ll… just see myself out?”, the inevitable existential crisis that comes with each and every hangover, the fear of knowing you texted that one person you weren’t supposed to text saying that thing you weren’t supposed to say.
Yes, if you take all of that out, it’s really great fun.
Ultimately, all I want you to know is this: we, the bar staff – we are watching you. Always. Silently judging you from afar. That thing you just did? The weird, embarrassing thing? I saw it. We see everything.
Enjoy your nights out! Responsibly.