Saturday, September 5, 2009

Venues I Have Known: Foresters, Southend

I am almost embarrassed to admit having worked there; no wait, I am most definitely embarrassed. This place was a pit, it almost certainly remains so, located in the English seaside resort of Southend. Southend, like most English resorts, has declined considerably over the past few decades, it's a pretty miserable and neglected place, especially during the winter which was when I worked there. The Foresters bar was unchanged since it had opened in the late sixties, everything was a relic from that era; the decor, music, staff and customers. I had to drag myself onto the train every Friday night I went there and I cringed each time I walked down the promenade to the bar, past the games arcades and teenage drunks, but I never missed a booking because the money was unfathomably good, especially for a two and a half hour shift.
While living in London I worked solely through strip-pub agencies, staying away from the big London clubs because my Graduate studies would not allow for their scheduling demands. The agency with whom I got most of my work banned their dancers from working at Foresters which was booked through another agency due to some legal wrangling over who had the contract and why. In my defense I wasn't aware of the ban until after my first shift at the Foresters and then only from second hand knowledge, anyway I continued to take bookings there, keeping them very quiet. Most of the venues booked were outside of London yet still generally easy to get to and from by public transport. Southend, however, was a little further away and the last train back to London left 50 minutes before the bar closed meaning that I had no choice but to hire the services of a driver. Agency dancers are fiercely protective of their drivers and their drivers' numbers so I was left with Smelly Paul, the only available driver. Smelly Paul was always available, even at the last minute for reasons which his nickname explains. The journey home with him was a misery, the window had to be opened wide even in sub-zero temperatures and delusional stories of his affairs with previous strippers had to be tolerated. He even recounted the story, later verified by a friend, of his arrest on suspicion of the murder of a dancer. He was creepy, so much so that he was not allowed in the bars I worked having been banned for allegedly trying to photograph strippers. Worst of all though was the smell. Oh the smell, it was the kind of smell that got trapped in my nostrils and couldn't be shook for long after I slammed his car door shut and ran up to my flat. Kinder strippers had presented him with toiletry sets as gifts hoping he'd get the hint; less kind strippers had just let him know straight up: "You stink Paul!" Neither approach had made a dent in the stink, leaving me with a test of endurance in the hour long journey from a bar I despised.
My shifts at the Foresters came every second Friday which coincided with my MA Borges course, already a cause of anxiety for me, being taught entirely in Spanish, my level of which had deteriorated massively. Every second Friday was a difficult end to the week for me. At the end of the class I had to fly out of the UCL building to Euston underground station to Fenchurch railway station to Southend-on -Sea, skimming my class notes on the way. I walked down the promenade to the sound of the whirring video games and the din of pennies chugging out of the slot machines, past the shuttered ice cream and souvenir shops with the wind off the sea whipping at my face. I never drank when I worked in England so the memories of the bars are clear. Foresters, like all South East England strip pubs operated on a jug collection system; prior to performing a striptease the dancer would walk around the bar with a pint glass in the expectation that each customer would drop at least a
Pound coin in it. Sadly the Foresters did not have a minimum donation policy, it was the only pub I worked in that did not eject patrons who tipped below the Pound minimum or did not tip at all. Foresters did not have an entry fee either, nor functioning bouncers; three elements which combined to create a few exasperating nights; squabbles over the indignity of 'shrapnel' being put in my glass, young chavs insisting that they would not be tipping because they 'didn't have to'--the notion of paying for the entertainment being somewhat lost on them--I mean really, would you go to the cinema and expect to watch the movie for free? Anyway, as I said, the money was good, despite these setbacks.
The London area strip pubs are very different to the stripclubs with which you are likely familiar, they are generally dives--crappy decor, lapdances done on a bench in a corner somewhere, no stage (you dance around of the pub floor) and a lingering smell of stale ale. I don't know whether or not club dancers look down on pub dancers, or if the dancers from the higher tier pubs Browns and White Horse look down on agency dancers with their flighty nature and unwillingness to commit to a schedule, but I was happy working the pub circuit. I almost always preferred a neighbourhood dive bar to the upscale classy gentleman's club experience, that's just where I was comfortable.

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