Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Day 8: The job that changed my life

Strictly speaking, the first jobs I had were as a paper girl when I was 13, and a Christmas spent behind the tills at BHS when I was 16.  But those jobs didn't mean anything; they were just something I did to earn a bit of pocket money.  However some jobs change your life, and the one I had between the ages of 18 and 20 was just that. 

I still remember the first time that I walked into Alctraz.  I'd been in Leicester for a few weeks and realised pretty quickly that the usual fresher activities and uni nights out were not for me.  The mid-nineties were a time when alternative culture was still very much just that: alternative.  The vast majority of my fellow students were incredibly mainstream and they found me - with my dyed hair, nose piercing, jumble sale clothes from before vintage was cool, and esotoric music taste - baffling.  An old school friend who was studying at De Montfort University took pity on me and, one Saturday night, we walked through the doors of the place that was to define me for the remainder of the decade.

I was hit with a wall of music and smoke, the interior so dark that at first glance I could barely discern what was going on.  The dancefloor was packed with people who looked a bit like me but more so - more pierced, more funkily dressed - thrashing around to Rage Against The Machine.  The walls were covered with brightly coloured murals.  The bar staff all looked incredibly and intimidatingly cool.  That first night at Alcatraz I didn't dance, I barely drank.  I just sat and looked around with eyes wide, amazed that a place like this existed and that it could be mine to visit.

Me, circa 1998.  Annoyingly I can't find the photograph that I know exists somewhere, of me behind the bar at Alcatraz wearing my awesome Spiderman t-shirt (age 9-10)

I became a regular, often going out on my own for lack of fellow indie and rock fans to accompany me.  I would float between the dancefloor and the quieter back room, clutching my drink, trying not to look too awkward and alone.  It always felt like more than just a nightclub; there was something friendly and relaxed about the place even though it could also be cliquey.  And so when posters advertising part-time jobs appeared around the club, I jumped at the chance to apply, but assumed that nothing would come of it.  I didn't think I was hip enough to work there, and could hardly believe it when I got a call to go and try out for a coveted place behind the bar.

I did my first shifts in May 1997, had a month off for exams and to go to Glastonbury, then returned at the start of July for the best summer of my life.  Those intimidatingly cool staff turned out to be some of the nicest, funniest, most interesting people I'd met.  And best of all, they were willing to let me - me! - join their gang.  After being the swotty geek kid at school, then the weird indie kid at sixth form and university, Alctraz was the first time in my life that I had ever truly belonged anywhere.

At Alcatraz I found my place in the world.  That summer, and for many summers afterwards, it became a home-from-home where the music was always good, the beer always cheap, my friends always behind the bar or on the dancefloor.  We - Kirsty, Dave, Steve, Millar, Rebecca... too many others to name - would go to the pub before starting our shifts, hang out after work into the early hours, go to the park together during the day.  We lived and breathed Alcatraz.  There were so many of us having fun behind that bar, and we were all so young, and had so few responsibilities.  We were beautiful, in a very mid-90s, skater chic way, and we snogged and slept our way through our colleagues and the clientele of the club.  We drank, and drank, and drank, and slept very little.

In retrospect, working at Alcatraz indirectly led to all sorts of dumb life decisions; dropping out of university during my final semester being one of them (turns out that working until 3am four days a week, and going out every other night, isn't conducive to academic success!  Who knew?).  But it changed my life for the better, too, making me more self-assured and bolshy and happier than I had ever been before, and giving me the confidence to be myself.

Alcatraz is long gone now, a victim of too many rival clubs opening as alternative music and fashion started being cool in the early 00s.  Gone, maybe, but not forgotten by me and the legions of other people who loved it.  And I will always remember how good it felt to stand behind the bar on a Saturday night, listening as the DJ played music that could lurch from Britney Spears to Tool to Blur to Run DMC within the space of 20 minutes, drinking cheap cocktails, having water fights, laughing, dancing... being part of something awesome.


  1. Replies
    1. Haha! I chiefly remember you howling like a wolf on the way home!

  2. This is a great post, and I can relate to a job making you more confident. That's a wonderful thing.

  3. Fab post.I worked behind a bar for a while in the 90's too.It think it helped me with my confidence too......though think i spent most of my wages there after hours.Fun at the time though.:)

    1. Incredibly, we were allowed to drink (and smoke!) behind the bar. It wasn't unheard of for people to get an empty paypacket with a note of how much they owed at the end of the week. And that was WITH the copious amounts of topping up we used to do!