The Evening Shift

Posted on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 00:00
I walk through the doorway from the office to the bar. The shutters are down, which surprises me. I had expected the shift to be fully under way by this point, with a large and noisy crowd shouting for service. I remember hearing earlier that business had been slow during the day. Perhaps they have decided to close early? Perhaps my evening shift is over even before it has begun?

There are five of my colleagues standing there ready; four regulars and a Supervisor. It quickly becomes apparent that we haven't yet opened for the shift and are about to find out how busy it is going to be.

'It all hangs on how many people are on the other side when I open the shutters? says The Supervisor. 'We may have to send some of you home early.?

The bar is quite long and consequently the shutters are divided into four sections, in order to make the job of raising and lowering them easier. The first section is duly raised and six of us stare out into the room. Six hundred faces stare back. Fortunately for us, after a moment or two they all turn away in unison and go back to watching England V Brazil on the big screen.

The remaining shutters are raised and the posts that separate them removed and we are ready to begin. It takes a few minutes for the crowd watching the football to realise that we are open, but soon they begin to arrive in droves, and the end of term Drink the Bar Dry event has begun. When I signed up to work DtBD the day before, I'd done so on the assumption that most students have usually left by the beginning of June, and that as a result, this would be a reasonably quite evening. My assumption was wrong.

I find myself being shouted at by a dozen people immediately in front of me, all vying for my attention whilst pushing each other to get prime position along the bar. The row of faces is at least three people deep along the whole of the length of the bar, and beyond them I can see a room packed more tightly than a Piccadilly tube train in rush hour.

Fortunately I have worked on this bar twice before and so know my way around the pumps and bottles fairly easily, but there are a fair few things I don't know, and to make matters worse, one of my colleagues has never worked on a bar before, and another has only limited English skills. When I get asked for a Snakebite with Black I'm a little confused to say the least and resolve to ask The Supervisor.

'Half of cider, half of lager with a shot of blackcurrant squash? she informs me. Useful knowledge to hold on to, since I find myself making at least a score of these before the night is out. 'Cider with Black? is also a common request, along with the usual voddie and cokes, voddie and lemonades, voddie lemonade and limes, doubles of everything, Archers and lemonades, Malibu and cokes and about a million pints of every draught we can offer them.

Unfortunately, the variable nature of our normal sales means that only one tap for each beer has been connected to a barrel and no one has bothered to find the missing nozzle for one of the lemonade pumps. So, when one customer asks for 10 pints of Blackthorn and another asks for two Snakebites, there tend to be queues for the one and only pump that will do the job. From time to time it becomes acceptable to steal any pints that have been pulled, regardless of whether they were intended for your customer or some else's.

A prudent person has taken the decision to use plastic glasses rather than glass ones, and we go through hundreds of them. Seemingly every five minutes I have to pop back into the office, where the boxes of cups are being kept, and bring out another stack of thirty. The drinks keep on flowing, the tills and drip trays keep on filling up and we continue to run around like maniacs trying to get through as many customers as possible.

At one point a bloke comes up to me with blood dripping from his knuckles and asks for some plasters. I give him three and he seems happy. I get back to serving, trying to choose between the bullish blokes who demand in a loud voice that I serve them next, and the pretty girls who flutter their eye lashes at me with the ease of many drunken nights of practice. A dodgy barrel of lager causes a ripple of anger across the bar, and we have to take it off sale until the barrel can be replaced again. The guy with the bleeding knuckles returns and I issue him with more plasters.

After three and a half hours, I am instructed to take a break by The Supervisor. It seems that having been in work for 13 and a half hours by this point, I've outworked everyone else and deserve the first break. I get a few envious looks from my fellows and I grab myself a lemonade and depart out back to take stock of myself.

My sleeves are sticky and smell of booze from the wide variety of drinks that have been slopped over them. My hands are stained from the different shades of beer and alcopops that cling to them. I sip my lemonade and wonder if my feet have ever ached so much. The lemonade doesn't appear to have any sugar in. I go back onto the bar to tell The Supervisor and get a barrage of abuse from disappointed customers who expect me to serve them. The Supervisor is nowhere to be seen, so I leave a message and retreat to the back office.

A TV is on and on it is Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. The guest is Gordon Ramsay and it seems that Ross feels he needs some cooking lessons. The Supervisor comes in and I check to see if she got my message. She didn't. By the time I go back to work Ross and Ramsay are both attempting to eat fried maggots.

Five minutes back behind the bar and I feel like I never sat down. My mouth is dry as a bone and my legs are threatening to drop off if I try to walk another step. I ignore them. It seems stupid to be thirsty when you are pouring scores of drinks an hour, but I guess that's a metaphor for the service industry.

Towards the end of the evening I start seeing people I actually know. Some I meet quite often but some I've not been in touch with for ages, and it is good to catch up briefly. They all ask me the same question: 'How come you are working when you could be on the other side of the bar with everyone else?? It seems like a good question, and one which I'm not altogether sure I can answer with absolute conviction. The point hits home when I've served them their drinks and they leave; off to have fun whilst I remain stuck behind the bar.

At 1:45am I notice that the queue is beginning to thin out slightly and by the time we call last orders a quarter of an hour later, there is no one left complaining that they are thirsty. The shutters come down and we breathe a collective sigh of relief. It is all over after 6 hours of solid customers. Almost all the drinks in the place have gone, and once we've finished clearing up the bar we will be able to leave as well.

Not so. Just as we are finishing the sweeping, wiping, emptying and restocking of the bar, The Supervisor appears hands us a bin liner each, and sends us out into the room to have a tidy up. What greets us is as scene of total devastation. Spread over the floor, the tables and chairs, the pool tables, the patio outside and the steps down towards the car park is a thick layer of hundreds, perhaps thousands of plastic cups, bottles, plates of food, cigarette butts and crisp packets.

By the time I sign out at the end of my shift, the clock in the office reads 03:15.

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