When you leave the bar industry, as I have in the relatively recent past, there are a few things you notice.
I'm not just talking about the strange, glowing orb in the sky that creates heat – I'd never seen it before, but I've been sacrificing a goat to it every morning in the hopes of pleasing it – but also odd preconceptions that 'normal' people hold about the hospitality industry, and things that you notice from the customer-only side of a pub that seem to have changed over the years without your observation.
1. Everyone thinks they've done your job.
'Oh, sure, I used to work in a bar,' people say when they find out that this was how you spent your time for the last few years. Or even that this is how you still spend your time.
When pressed for details, out of politeness or professional curiosity, it rapidly transpires that what they actually did was the occasional Tuesday night shift in their local, 15 years ago, for cash in hand.
This is not, and never has been, proper bar work. This is a world away from working full time in a bar, or running one. It's a little like saying to someone that your previous career was in the military, and being told: 'Oh, yeah, I used to be in the army, too. Well, I say that. I saw Commando once. Or it might have been one of the Rambo films. Still, good times!'
Most people have no idea how much training, dedication and stamina it takes to handle the rigours of the hospitality industry. They don't understand just how hard it can be, mentally or physically, and often seem to assume as a result that you spend your career idly discussing football results with the locals and occasionally serving a pint of tepid ale.
One also tends to run into people who consider themselves adventurous drinkers because they have tried as much as 70% of what's on offer in their local corner store, and as such will assume they can converse with you on a level footing about alcohol in general. These are the sort of people who will confidently assert that Smirnoff is 'the second best vodka in the world', before conspiratorially letting you know that the real number one is Grey Goose.
Very few people know how much effort goes into the industry, and on a related note...
2. It's not your imagination: nine-to-fivers really don't know they're born.
It's amazing how often you hear office types complain bitterly about having to work over their allotted hours. Never mind that office hours include a lunch break and seldom take place in the strange, vampiric netherworld that bar staff are forced to inhabit, devoid of sunlight and open businesses. The average office worker will still be incensed if they have to work as late as, say, 8pm.
Next time you're coming into the 16th hour of your working day, with another three to go before you can leave the bar, and you overhear someone in a suit complaining about being 'over-worked' for doing the same hours as you at five times your salary, don't ignore the feeling. You can take it as gospel from me that your desire to throw Wray & Nephew in their face as a sort of improvised pepper spray is entirely justified.
Go on, do it.
3. When did we forget how to make a burger?
The humble hamburger was invented by the Duke of Hamburger in 1879 when he decided he wanted a way to eat hot, ground beef without getting his fingers dirty and ruining his Game Boy. [Citation needed.]
Since its inception, it has been a fairly simple dish, and yet these days I can't seem to go into a bar or restaurant and order one that actually serves its purpose.
Somewhere, in the 10 years I was distracted working in bars and thus subsisting on a diet of beer and late night takeaways, the chefs in the very establishments I poured drinks for began suffering some sort of mass amnesia. They forgot that a burger was supposed to be eaten by hand, and as such that it should fit inside a human mouth.
Perhaps the knowledge is still out there, somewhere, buried under a vast sea of pulled pork (about which: enough, already) but every time I order a burger it's now far too large for even my vast and normally un-silenceable cakehole.
I'm all for large burgers, but is there a way we could maybe make them wider instead of taller? Whenever I'm served one I always get the urge to pound it flat until it's as wide as a manhole and thin enough that I can bite it like it's some sort of hot sandwich.
And pretty much every restaurant has asked me to stop doing that.
4. We've forgotten how to actually build a bar.
I'm not sure where the plans for building a bar were kept, but apparently society only had one set of them, never thought to make a copy, and some time in the last 15 years these plans have been lost.
Logically, and in a case of history repeating itself, it must be that the plans were stored in the Baghdad Central Library and lost to history during a botched invasion, but that's far too historical a reference for a blog in which I bitch about drinks and should probably be deleted by my editor...
Most bars, these days, seem to only be half-finished. A bizarre and universal fashion trend sees most watering holes sporting rough edges and exposed concrete, splintery wood and corrugated iron. If they were building sites, they'd be shut down, but instead we're meant to think that shoddy workmanship is somehow tantamount to blue-collar authenticity.
In actual fact, a quick check of the price list would establish that such venues have co-opted a 'cheap' aesthetic and sold it back to the public at a vastly inflated price; in the process putting off any real working people who might have been able to sand down the splinteriffic supporting beams in the middle of the room that, one suspects, don't actually support anything and are strictly there for show.
If this trend for half-finished decor continues, I give it a year until bars don't even require four walls and a ceiling anymore.
Perhaps all of these are signs that I'm getting old and that my bowing out of the bar industry was long overdue. Then again, maybe I've reached a point in my life where I'm no longer on the supply side of things and can finally start making some demands.
Shorter, wider burgers and fewer trendily exposed wires being first on the list.