Dark’s what I see a lot of, stood in a doorway five nights a week, watching people come in and helping others on their way out. I know every shop window next to this bar. There’s Woolies, Old Jacob’s the pawnbroker, and the Potato House; believe me that gets a bit lively when this place shuts.
Tonight, I’m going out myself and I’m in the cab, which smells of dodgy pine forest and bad hygiene, but I’m warm and my feet are off the floor. Doing this job, you have to get out every now and again or you’d never see the inside of anywhere. So, I booked my midnight finish and I’m on my way to pick up the girlfriend. I popped into the cab office earlier and got my order in so that I could get away bang on twelve. Twelve came and I ended up having a touch of trouble with a suit over this car. I could tell him and his mates were going to give me gip from the way they all waltzed down the street, towards the bar. It gets my goat up thinking about it, so I’ll leave telling you the rest until later.
I’ve been a bouncer for six years. ‘Course I’ve done other stuff. I did all right at school. I wasn’t a swot but I wasn’t thick either. I did O’levels in Maths and English and then CSEs in everything else. Mr Edwards was our English teacher. Weird fella, he had a lick of hair that stuck out the top of his head like a chicken’s comb, and he wore striped jumpers that were always a bit too tight, but he was a good sport. Me and my mate Jack locked him in a cupboard once. He was teaching us about this book, trying to get us to tell him how we thought this bloke, whose brother was a bit dim, felt. The girls were getting right into it. I remember one of them shoving her hand up in the air, balancing on the edge of her seat, almost exploding.
‘Yes Ruth,’ Mr Edwards said.
‘He feels protective,’ Ruth spat out.
Then Jack started laughing like a lunatic; he always did that.
‘Have you got something to add, Jack?’ Mr Edwards asked.
‘Yeah. I reckon he’s pissed off having a numbnuts for a brother.’
Well, we all cracked up and Mr Edwards told us that was it. He said we could all sit there whilst he read James Joyce. He walked into one of the store cupboards to get his book, and me and Jack were up like lightning, and we locked him in. The pips went ten minutes later, and I let him out because I kind of liked him. He came out, a bit red, but he didn’t go ape shit; he laughed, a real belly laugh. Of course we all got detention for a week, but the bloke laughed. So I kept on with English, and the funny thing is what he told me stuck. He said, everyone should love words. And I do. You see I developed this habit; I sort of collect them. I look them up in this big old dictionary I’ve got indoors. You can find all sorts in it. Did you know that there’s a single word that means throwing someone out of a window? ‘DEFENESTRATION’. How about that? Now that’s clever.
When I left school, my uncle got me a job in the Post Office. It was okay money, but boring. I stayed because a few lads off the estate worked there and we used to have a laugh. My heart was never in it, but I always got my work done, not like some of the lazy gits there. They probably did me a favour when they sacked me. I reckon you could get used to doing that job every day, and then one morning wake up fifty years old and realise you’ve spent your whole life putting other people’s mail into the right sack. Mind you, I wasn’t happy when they gave me the push, just for being a bit late.
After that I did bits and pieces for a while. I even worked in the warehouse at Marks and Spencer’s. Now my mum loved that one. There was a staff shop where everything was cheap and she used to give me a list as long as your arm. I used to look a right idiot walking through the estate of an evening with big bags of shopping. There was one Easter, when she told me to buy whatever poultry I could for twenty quid, so I bought the usual chicken and then I spotted this massive goose. I couldn’t resist it. I lugged that thing back on the bus; it got heavier and heavier as I made my way home. If I’d have swung it at anyone, I’d have killed them. By the time I’d walked from the bus stop and got to the estate, the handles of the plastic bag had almost snapped and I had deep red marks in my fingers. In the lift, I held that bag like a child to my chest, the rest of the shopping digging into my arms. Mum was chuffed when she saw it, although she had to phone my nan and ask how to cook it. It was gorgeous. I’ve never had it since, but I can still taste it. You know, thinking about it, I don’t think we ever ate so good as when I worked in that warehouse.
When Marks’s came to an end I thought about doing The Knowledge to get my cabbie’s badge. I know London like the back of my hand, I’ve got a half decent memory and setting my own hours would be right up my street. But to tell you the truth I didn’t think I’d be able to stomach it, all those people getting in my cab all day, not having a clue about where they’re going. It would have wound me right up.
I could never work in an office, not me. Not like the prats that come into Whispers on a Thursday and Friday night. Half the blokes look like their suits are trying to strangle them, all up tight and with a right smell under their noses. It’s like this group of suits that turned up earlier tonight; the ones I had the trouble with. Three blokes and a couple of girls. They weren’t regulars or anything but they walked in like they owned the place, smiling at me because they wanted to get in. It was early, no queue, or I would have had a bit of fun with them and made them hang about for a bit. One of them tapped me on the arm and said, ‘Evening my friend’, as he walked past. Patronizing git! They think I’m low life just because I’m a bouncer. It does my head in. They don’t know anything about me and I’m not their friend. I know loads of stuff they don’t. It’s like my words; I don’t remember all the ones I look up, but I still make an effort and I’ll never stop learning.
You can’t get too bothered by the suits doing this job. My approach is to just watch them; they’re entertainment most of the time, like watching a television show. Every time we open the door to let people in, you can see right into the bar; loads of little stories going on among the chrome and black leather. Some of them never move from the place they buy their first pint. They start off civilised, drinking nicely, loads of chat. Couple of hours later they’re all over the place. Their smart suits and their wedding rings forgotten. Into oblivion, and out of marriage. It’s just like the group I was telling you about. They’d hardly noticed I was breathing the same air as them once they’d walked through the door, but a couple of hours later they want my help. The biggest bloke, a right ugly fella with a nose Barry Manilow would be proud of, comes up to me, slurring.
‘I’ve had my laptop stolen,’ he says as though I’m Paul Daniels and can make it reappear.
‘So where did you last see it?’ I ask him.
He spins around, like a Jack Russell chasing its tail, and ends up facing me again. ‘Over there,’ he says pointing to the side of us.
‘What by the Ladies’ toilets?’ I ask patiently.
‘I didn’t go in the Ladies’ toilets.’
‘No, I know mate. Where did you leave your laptop?’
He stands and smiles at me. He’s getting a few laughs from his mates and so he plays the clown for a bit, and I just stare at him.
I’m not surprised when I finally manage to get him to tell me what happened. Him and his mates had taken the girls to the dance floor and left it under their coats by the bar. Now, I don’t care how many letters you’ve got after your name, but you have to be pretty damn stupid to leave something worth hundreds of pounds by a bar while you have a boogie. All you can do is take their names and addresses and tell them to report it to the police. They’re always convinced there’s something else you can do; like what, shut all the doors and strip search everyone?
Saturday nights are different. It’s mainly locals and that’s when I really enjoy this job. I know most people who come to Whispers at the weekend. Half my mates do. Alfie and Jack haven’t missed a Saturday night in about two years. Even if they go somewhere else first, they always end up propping up the bar at last orders. And you don’t have to look to find them. You can smell Alfie; he likes a cigar. We call him Mr De Niro, and if you tap him on the back at the right moment he chokes on the thing and ends up spluttering like an eighty year old. Even on the night of Jack’s wedding we ended up down there. We were all ushers and when the do in the Windmill finished at one, we put all the girls in cabs home and went down to Whispers. What a laugh. The whole lot of us all trussed up in these penguin suits, dancing our heads off.
Jack’s nickname is Pele, on account of the fact he could have been a professional footballer. We both could have been. They call me Dick. Yeah, not great, but it’s because I’m always going on about my dictionary. The boys don’t understand the whole word thing, but then that’s just incomprehension.
The three of us will always be best mates. I like the idea of us propping up a corner of the bar when we’re all in our seventies, telling everyone about everything we’ve seen going on around here. And all the girls get on well too, so they’ll be there somewhere, watching us.
‘Yeah Mate, right on to Jamaica Road.’
This cabbie’s new. The rest know where to take me. I’m usually asleep in the back, but then most times it’s about three in the morning. I’ll be with my other half, Sandra, in five minutes and she has promised me, on the budgie’s life, that she’s gonna be ready. That bird should be in heaven relaxing on a sun lounger the times she does that and then takes two hours to get ready. Tonight, we’re off to some new club and I’ve got a pass into the VIP area, so I’ll bet a week’s wages she’ll be ready as soon as I get this fella to honk his horn.
I met Sandra when I was fourteen, at a holiday camp in Little Hampton. Don’t worry; it wasn’t one of those childhood sweetheart things. You know the sort where they write into late night radio shows with a love letter, telling the world and his wife about how they overcame their parent’s disapproval to get married young, and how difficult it was with three kids by the time they were twenty-five. I hear it all the time on my headphones whilst I’m watching girls march out of Whispers, crying over some bloke, or telling their mates that so and so is a tosser. I don’t see how any fella can go his whole life and only ever have been with one bird. As the letter’s being read out and the DJ tells us how sweet it is that they’re celebrating fifteen years of happiness, I’m thinking, darling there’s no way some other woman hasn’t fallen out of a club cursing your old man for breaking her heart.
So, that summer I spent a couple of weeks with Sandra and her mates having a laugh and trying to keep out of trouble. I didn’t say much; I had a limited vocabulary in those days. Then, seven years later I bumped into her in a pub in the Old Kent Road and she’d moved to North London. I think she was impressed with how I’d developed; I told her she had exquisite skin. Of course, when it came to settling down she had to cross the river. You can’t expect a man with the south in his blood to go north. Jack and Alfie would have never let me live it down.
‘Mate. Take the second left after The Swan.’
Before we pull up, let me tell you about that bit of trouble with the suits earlier. I’m standing outside the bar; just a couple of minutes before Midnight and the cab pulls up. At the same time the suits decide it’s time to go home and they fall through the doors. The big bloke walks right past me, bold as you like and goes to get into my cab. Well, I weren’t gonna have that, after booking it, being prepared. I wasn’t up for a fight, I didn’t want any trouble. I’d finished work and anyway this bloke’s rotten; all I’d have had to do was breath on him and he’d have been on the deck.
So I told him, real nice, ‘Look mate, that’s my cab. There’s a cab office next door.’
He got brave and told me to get back to my ape job. He said that he would offer to share the cab with me but where he’s going you need to be able to spell your name to get in.
He swayed, dribbling as he held on to the door of my cab. His little red bloodshot eyes looked at me, like he was trying to take me on.
Like I said, I didn’t want any trouble; I’m not a violent person. I just figured it was time for one of my words. I walked up to him and shoved him, very gently, away from the car.
I said to him, ‘Look mate, don’t push it. I’m irrecusable.’
They said that word in a court programme on tele’ the other day and I looked it up. It means “Not be challenged or rejected”. Sorted!
If you are interested reading more of Gilbert’s work please get in touch at email@example.com
Sorted first appeared as a short story in the collection ‘Wednesday Night Tupperware’ published by Youwriteon.com in 2009 and is available to purchase in paperback here.