Yesterday, we met up with Author Mark Barry. In movie style drama he lavishes us with a production of his latest new release The Night Porter. Click here to read about Author Mark Barry and The Night Porter. In this blog post we get a sneak peak at the beginning of The Night Porter.
I am a night porter.
I am the night porter.
I have always been a night porter. I have had no other position, even as a young man. I will make a prediction and say I shall always be a night porter. I am a hard worker and thus, have no dreams of retirement: I like work. I am sure that many of you reading this picture a night porter as an elderly gentleman (perhaps a slightly raffish figure, or a greying chap with spectacles, squinting over his register; or an immaculately dressed ex-Batman from the war, or perhaps, a brilliantine-groomed ex-butler retiring from service in the Shires), and while you would be mistaken in my case, there is clearly nothing stopping a professional night porter from continuing to port well past retirement age.
I am a young man, not an old one. I am middle aged, actually, in terms I grew up with, but now, there is no such thing. Erikson is dead. You know, the fellow who talked about the Seven Stages of a Man’s Life (in those sexist days of the forties and fifties).
Nowadays, you are young, or you are old: There is no in-between. I consider myself young, though there are many people of my chronological age who have taken shelter in the other camp and are more than happy there.
Biography leaves me cold (and lucky for you, so does autobiography), but it is important to mention that I became an apprentice night porter as a student in a hotel in Plymouth called the Continental when I was nineteen.
That’s sixteen years ago, if you must know. I was a student in Devon and was working part time in the kitchens at night while I studied something dull and pointless in the day.
I would like to say I had a plan, a structured approach to eventual night porterdom, but I started out on my journey with a moment of fortune, even if it resulted from the misfortune of another.
Early one evening, the hotel’s incumbent night porter – an urbane fellow in his fifties called Neil – came to work as usual, offered his colleagues a pleasant greeting, changed into his uniform, let himself into one of the hotel’s three hundred rooms and blew the back of his head off.
To do this, he used his grandfather’s old service revolver (which had seen service at Tobruk), and because Neil made a terrible mess of the wallpaper, the room had to be taken out of commission for a good three months.
It was one of the best rooms in the hotel and had been freshly decorated. Management was furious (hotel management being a brutally unsentimental and occasionally, clinically psychopathic state of mind), and the Continental’s higher echelon believed that Neil did it on purpose. As a protest. As an industrial thing.
I will never forget Marie O’Gorman, the top woman there, a real shoulder pads and high heels type, lamenting his decision to come to work to shoot himself, as if it was the most selfish thing that a man could do. Not once did she offer condolences to his friends in the hotel. Not once did she express sympathy. She openly described Neil as a man whose selfishness had cost her around ten thousand pounds, which meant she would have to spend good management time creating an Emergency Financial Plan for presentation to the Directors in Chicago. I remember being shocked at how harsh she was, but nowadays, older, wiser, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I’ve met hotel managers who make Marie O’Gorman look like Mother Teresa. They all do it for effect, I’m sure. The higher you go, the harder these people perceive they need to be. I suspect (with the exception of the clinical psychopaths among them, who have no feelings one way or another) that they are much softer at home, and much of their callousness is an act.
Anyway, I digress. The unfortunate business of Neil’s suicide left the hotel without a night porter, and when Bill Dixon, the night manager, was beating himself around the head wondering what to do, as he was a busy man and couldn’t spend his entire night sitting behind the reception desk, I seized my chance. I happened to be in his office listening to his endless mutterings as he sorted out some wage underpayment issue or other. Seizing the moment, I volunteered for the post. It was one of those moments I instinctively knew I would regret forever if I missed it, and so I went in for the kill.
Dixon looked at me askance. With a patronising tone, he asked me whether I had experience. I said no. I didn’t have much experience in anything, I said. I was young, enthusiastic and full of potential and best of all, I liked working in the darkness, I liked being up late at night, and I liked listening to people’s stories. That doesn’t make you a night porter, Dixon said to me dismissively, and I replied firmly, yes, it does, that’s exactly what being a night porter is all about. That is the core of it. That is the essence of it. You can train me to do the rest, I concluded, which surprised me, as I was not – and am not – particularly strident or assertive.
I must have been convincing because without much fuss, he told me to take off my KP whites and get upstairs to the changing room. In there, was a spare uniform, which fitted. A pressed white shirt. The hotel livery on a pale lemon-striped vest waistcoat, grey trousers (slightly big for me, but I was wearing a belt on my jeans, and I got away with it), and incredibly shiny black shoes.
Dixon gave me an hour’s training, and then went off with Forensics, and to calm down the shaken elderly couple unfortunate enough to be next door to 247 when Neil’s gun went off. I would have been shaken, too, the sound of the gunshot. The metal crushing bone as it escaped the skull, the shriek of the dead. Not what you expect at an expensive, full service hotel – though now, after sixteen years, after all my experiences as a professional night porter, I can tell them that suicide and death are the twin subtexts of the narrative behind every hotel, though you never see that discussed in the brochures.
You would never see that as an agenda item at a Chicago Board meeting.