It tells you something about the human condition that as the alleged festival of family unity and general goodwill lurches into view people feel compelled to stay out later, drink more, spend money they haven't got and form inadvisable relationships. Our strip club is in the eye of that storm, year in, year out. Good money, maybe, hard work, guaranteed. At Christmas, everything goes up a gear.
If it's a busy Friday say, then the atmosphere is what I'd call gladiatorial. You walk out into a crowd of over 100 men, maybe three or four times that, wearing just your lingerie and a smile.
The smile's optional and can vanish as quickly as the lingerie which you'll take off on stage every 40 minutes or so while trying rustle up as many private dances as you can in the back room in between your main shows.
The music's very loud, if you can hear cheering when you come out of the dressing room or you're on stage then you know they're a loud crowd - chaos and drama guaranteed. Also competing for the floor's attention are four big TVs showing various sports channels and, of course, the bar.
To walk into that, more or less naked when 40 minutes earlier you were sat at home is quite something. A wall of noise, that sense of people, smell, and pressure. It was worse back in the smoking days, like a real battlefield. I used to need a couple of drinks just to face it. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing it, hitting the floor when it's that busy is hardcore. Hearing Wham's Last Christmas when you walk out doesn't make it any less so.
People think getting naked is hard work - that's the least of it. After you've danced you have to work your way through three to four hundred drunk guys trying to get a pound off them. You have around 10 minutes to do this. There'll be another girl on stage by now so you have to draw the guys attention away from that, get them to focus on giving you your money.
You have to be like a schoolteacher with an unruly bunch of kids - being nice will get you nowhere and you must keep a momentum going. Tap one while you're talking to another. It being Christmas you can make good money, but the number who are too pissed to even pay goes up, and they start appearing earlier in the day, as does the abuse. I'll let Nina - my colleague in the clubs for more than a decade - continue...
"At Christmas time we call it care in the community because you've really got to have so much patience, by that last week everyone in the club's spent, exhausted by the influx of clientele, and the calibre of it. You get a lot of people who don't frequent those establishments often so on top of dancing and collecting money in the 10 minutes, you have to deal with a lot more abuse, mental and physical.
"You'll get some guys in December who are clearly disgusted by what we do, don't want to be there but have been forced to the name of the Christmas party, others with no self worth who feel free to belittle us to our faces in front of their friends to make themselves feel better.
"Christmas is a nightmare, the testosterone is immense, you can kind of taste it. There are more girls on each shift but from wall to wall you can feel it - the sheer weight of blokes in there, flatulence, lager, B.O, bodies out all day in the same cheap suit. The camaraderie amongst us girls is better as we're all in the same boat - festive hell for everyone. No personal space except in the bathroom where everyone will be getting through it in their own way. Some having panic attacks, thinking they won't last the night, others taking a minute just to get some space. It's even chaos in there, but it's a girl environment. A chaos of our own."
Like Nina says, the one thing you see more of at Christmas is the groups of guys coming from the office, and they might bring one woman with them, she's invariably really pissed, something clicks or fails to click in her head, triggered as much by the environment - the vibe she'll feel being the only woman their with her clothes on - as by the booze. They become sexualised and competitive. You'll see them do a bit of dance then snog their ugly colleague. Sometimes you'll see them try and climb on stage. Stuff that would get a man thrown out. The irony of course is that I'm there naked with my legs in the air, looking at them thinking, "you're gonna regret this tomorrow.'"
Like every other business, Christmas comes to the strip club a little earlier each year. In the week immediately before it goes into overdrive we wear Santa hats and throw in a few "Ho, ho, hos". The music goes totally festive, and not just the songs you'd expect. There was one girl who liked to dance to Christmas carols - Little Town Of Bethlehem being a particular favourite. That would make for quite a weird scene, couple of hundred blokes listening to a Christmas carol, watching a naked woman in a Santa hat doing a handstand, legs apart against the pole. Pretty surreal.
Obviously there's a lot of childhood stuff wrapped up in that scenario I suspect, but I try not to look to deeply into it. Do the rounds with my glass, get my money and walk on. Sometimes you'll see a conga break out, and it's much more likely that one of the girls will have one too many and dance off the edge of the stage in December.
At the time it feels grotesque, insane, although, as always, profitable. Which is not to say it can't be fun. It's just that Christmas, well we don't look forward to it. My objective - top of my Christmas list - is to get out of there with my mental health intact and my purse bulging.
Years ago, when the money was better you might have enough for a decent holiday to forget about it all.
What does Nina want? "A dickhead-free fortnight and lots of money." And of course, when it's over, the decorations have gone and it seems really empty, you wonder what you were complaining about. You get the back to school feeling, just like anybody else.
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