A day in the life of a Canterbury barmaid

26th April 2018

Following the stream of sexual harassment accusations in the workplace, and movements such as #MeToo, Maddy Goacher looks into just one of Canterbury's bar member's world of harassment.

This is just one woman's account of working in various pubs in Canterbury. Her name has been changed for confidential reasons.

I meet student come 'barmaid' Bella at her place of work in Canterbury's busy town centre. She's wearing a pretty top, jeans and trainers. Her hair scraped back in a ponytail.

"It must get hot in here," I think to myself.

It's not quite hit the 5 o'clock booze rush, and we have time to chat whilst she 'bottles up'.

The multiple TV screens surrounding the pub's walls show an everlasting football match. The flicker bounces on and off the mirrored back wall where the alcohol is stacked neatly in a two tier system.

"Doesn't it get annoying having football and rugby showing all the time?" I ask.

Bella shrugs. I guess she's used to men gathered in packs chanting and cheering at the screens.

Week in, week out.

As Bella carries out her list of duties, she wipes down the sticky beer laden tables and recollects what had happened the previous night:

I had joined her at her workplace to find she was closing the pub by herself. I sat at one end of the bar while she cleaned the yeasty nozzles of the beer taps.

It was just me and two other customers in the pub, gents. One talking to me, trying to make me guess what he does for a living.

In return I try and make him guess my name... in the end I call myself Mabel. I don't want to give my identity away to some randomer.

The other gent teased Bella, on and off saying he was going to climb over the bar and pour his own drink.

She teased back, " Like you're able to jump over this bar and pull a pint. You wouldn't know how!"

The banter continued.

There was something uneasy about this situation and I wasn't sure what.

Bella exclaimed that she had to clean the toilets, and I stayed sat at the bar keeping an eye on the gents - unsure of what they had planned.

In all honesty, I was scared. I didn't know who these two drunk guys were, Bella was cleaning the toilets and her manager was not on the premises.

The guy who was teasing Bella earlier, persisted to carry on his torment: "Let me help you, I can do it better!" (mop the toilet floors).

"No, no it's fine I can manage. It's time you left anyway."

Bella tried to keep her cool and be authoritative, in the nicest, yet stern way possible.

For a god unknown reason the guy follows Bella into the men's toilets that she was cleaning and I was stuck with the other guy chatting to me.

I didn't want to leave the bar to this guy next to me in case it was a distraction for him to get money out of the till.. your mind plays tricks on you when you're in a difficult situation.

I suddenly heard screaming and shivers ran down my spine.

This is not good.

I'm in a predicament.

Do I get up and leave this guy sat at the bar with access to the till, or do I go and investigate as to why Bella is screaming in a toilet with a random guy in there with her?

The till can wait, Bella's more important.

With last night's scenes playing in our heads, Bella tells me that it's not an uncommon occurrence for men to push their luck.

Bella scoops up the streaky glasses from the top of the bar and begins to systematically stack them in the dishwasher.

The way she does it must be second nature to her by now.

" I've had one guy follow me from one pub job to another, and left his name and number on a piece of paper addressed to me both times. I still don't now who it is," Bella tells me.

"Is that not on the verge of stalking?" I question.

Again, Bella shrugs and says,

" I like my job, just not that side of it."

It's quiet in the pub.

The dishwasher now finished it's cycle, Bella opens the door and her face is met with steam.

She wipes her face in an act of exhaustion and frustration.

"Last night wasn't the only time I've been left to close by myself," she says so casually.

Bella explains to me what happened last summer.

It was an early evening, yet again her manager nor any other member of staff were on the premises.

The pub was empty, apart from seven older French men.

She tells me as she twiddles with her hair, that "these men kept coming behind the bar and dragging me out to where they were sitting."

"They were forcing me to sit on their laps, because they knew no one else was there to stop them."

A stream of harassment followed:

Grabbing her waist and not letting go.

Pinching and slapping her bum.

Putting her live on their Facebook accounts.

"They kept saying 'say hello, say hello beautiful lady' and pointing me to the camera."

"In the end I filmed them back. I thought 'fuck it', if they can do it to me, I can do it to them. In a way, it was a sort of safety net incase anything did happen to me I would have evidence of who they were."

Concerned, I asked, "Did you not have any CCTV in the pub?"

"You're having a laugh aren't you! CCTV in that pub, you'd be lucky," she laughed unapologetically.

At this point, I'm completely astonished.

How can these pubs get away with their staff not:

a) having another member of staff on the premises

b) failing that, have working CCTV.

Bella is so chilled about it all, how can this be?!

"I always make light of it. If you laugh with them, it's fine but if you ask them to stop it influences them to carry on. It's a weird reverse psychology."

She tells me, as we're walking to the beer cellar, " I act like I don't care and go along with it. They want the fuss and for you to be scared. It makes them feel powerful."

It's past 11:30.

The flickering LED screens have been turned off for the night.

Bella's jeans are covered in splash marks from cleaning and her hair is not so neatly scraped back now.

It seems like tiring work.

As my time with Bella draws to an end, the most baffling thing I have come to understand is that the incidents she faces have become the norm for Bella and are an accepted part of her job.

"If you can't deal with drunk people, men especially, and shake it off then you're in the wrong job. I wanted a job that's sociable and this is just a part of it."

Bella's story is just one representation of what get's said and done to bar staff in Canterbury.

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