One Saturday night, my friends and I were leaving our local to go downtown for a drink. One lad said that he wasn’t going in, that he didn’t feel like it. None of us ever felt like it; however, the ritual and peer pressure locked us in. It was a few weeks later we found out that he had held back to chat with the ‘barmaid’, who he then began going out with, and now some twenty or more years later, is happily married with. I look back at that now and think of how we never really thought of the barkeep, whether man or woman, as anything more than the server of beer. You were polite to them because we were brought up properly, would have a bit of a chat or banter, but that was it. I can’t remember seeing them outside of the pub.
The stereotypical image of the barmaid, as opposed to the barman, is either one of the medieval wench bringing ‘more mead’, or the post WW2 busty sort the gaffer employed to make sure the punters drank more than they should (just Google barmaid images to see). And she is still identified as ‘barmaid’ today by many in the media, particularly in stories of their murder.
The history of the barmaid has been one of political controversy and social subjugation. In the early 20th century prominent politicians such as Ramsay MacDonald were part of the ‘abolish barmaids’ movement. This was not out of any concern for women’s rights rather a puritanical view that a bar was not the place for a woman and they were taking away the position for the male to fulfil his head-of-the-household role. They were defeated however in Parliament.
Daniel Sluman’s poem The Barmaid, tells of the way in which a woman is viewed by men across the bar and how the years have taken their toll through the perspective of the customer. Daniel’s poem at first appears as a casual encounter with the man admiring the way in which she gets his drink: “The Barmaid/pours a shot of vodka/to the bottom of an iced glass,/turns, silver nails coaxing/Sambuca & Jack from the air.” But things develop and her history is shown the next day: “Her face is a fracture of angles/under the morning’s thud of light;/her cheek pockmarked from three years/of bastards.” He is part of that history now but he leaves “to the first pigeons exhaling/into flight.” It is clear however, that she will be behind the bar again that evening. (more…)
I sometimes imagine Bouncers (aka doormen), your modern day St Peters, were born with their arms folded. Lifted, or forced out of the womb, with their body formed for action; it’s as though they are hiding their bulb-like knuckles under a bushel of bicep.
Having said that, I think Bouncers get a bad press which is borne out of misbehaviour but is rooted in a paradoxical image problem; on the one hand they need to project menace, or your average front loaded, done a few bench presses in my day, have-a-go-for-the-missus zero, is going to think above his station. But on the other, it all gets a bit tiring for them to do that all the time, and if you look close enough, they are often up for the laugh to brighten up what can be a really boring, low paid, unsociable hours, form of employment.
Jonathan Edwards sums up this image perfectly in his poem, Bouncers. You have their dark side, but they are out in the cold, “Undertakers’ coats buttoned to their throats,/they applaud their own performance to keep warm.” And they have to be all eyes, looking beyond what’s put in front of them in the queue, “They have the miraculous visions of a prophet/over the shoulder of whoever they’re talking to.” But then it’s the “drive home at three or four and wake at noon/with no hangover.” (more…)
I think we have all seen those World War Two prisoner of war movies, where the men connived their escape in secret, digging tunnels with makeshift, man-made tools, then releasing the soil from their trousers in the exercise yard. The men did however, receive assistance from their respective military services back home. One of the most ingenious of the strategies for escape came in the early 1940s from MI9, the British secret service unit responsible for escape and evasion; they hatched a plan with British Toy maker, John Waddington Ltd to develop the game of Monopoly for the imprisoned men. They set up bogus humanitarian organisations to get the games into the camps, but the aim was not to brighten the spirits of the men through this capitalist game, but to hide tools in small boxes within the package. The most important development however, and why Waddington were brought in, was their ability to produce silk maps; these were easy to hide (down boots) and quiet, unlike their paper counterpart. So the game was instrumental in the war effort.
Monopoly has been around for over a hundred years, although it was only licensed as such in 1935 and has been the joy, and frustration of many families across the world since then. It was originally intended to educate people in the iniquities of monopolistic capitalism; but as Catherine Smith’s poem beautifully shows, the competitive nature of capitalism, particularly between a parent and child can overcome any benevolent thoughts. “Almost bankrupt and only recently released from jail,/she owes her ten year old/four hundred quid in rent/….she pleads poverty.” But the boy is unrelenting, “He points out/she could give him Leicester Square,” showing no sign of compassion for his rival’s predicament. “She thinks how/this is what capitalism does to children,/-brutalises them.” So she fights back, “she’ll take her chances,/and hangs onto Leicester Square.” She does this not by rational economic thinking but through human experience; “She likes/the Japanese men with their cameras…/she likes the pigeon shit, the café/ with the gilt-framed photo of the Queen.” And I guess the moral of the story, whether it be to free prisoners or help educate our young, we need to be careful of the multi-headed hydra that capitalism can become, and how “no favours asked” is a rare and touching thing. (more…)