Never go back. That’s what they say.
But I couldn’t resist a trip down memory lane courtesy of C4’s new fly-on-the-beer-stained-wall series Bouncers, which focuses on the doormen and women plying their trade in Newport – Gateway to Wales (sic) and scene of my misspent childhood, teenage years and 20s.
I used to walk the same streets that were shown on the programme and nothing much seems to have changed in the 20+ years since I was a regular Friday night, Saturday…Wednesday night, in fact any night we cared to choose, visitor to Newport’s bars.
The one big difference seemed to be that there are now more bars, more punters, more bouncers and a lot less shops.
It was an often hilarious, familiar and depressing journey through Newport nightlife.
Hilarious for some of the caricatures of Newport life that were portrayed and the questionable wit and wisdom of the main players in the series, the bouncers of Newport’s bars and clubs.
Familiar as I would have frequented a lot of those bars, albeit under different management and with different names, and 20 years ago the likes of Geraint, Joe and the rest of the bouncers were more likely to have been propping up the bar next to you rather than controlling the door.
Depressing because it is yet another sobering insight into modern drinking culture (Newport is not unique in that respect) and the town…sorry, it is a city these days…I grew up in looks to have stagnated.
Bouncer Joe epitomised all three of these features of the programme. Some of his cutting insights into Newport’s nightlife and citizens were spot on and delivered with perfect deadpan comic timing.
He represents the type of Newport lad who would regularly hold court in the bars I found myself in. Someone you didn’t mess with but you still enjoyed their company, knowing where the mark lay and never getting close to over-stepping it.
And yet my heart sank as he described his two jobs – pawnbroker by day and bouncer by night – which capture a snapshot of Newport life that so many would recognise. Joe sees the worst – and some of the best – of Newport life, is it any wonder he’s cynical?
The truth is I didn’t watch the programme and end up yearning for another night out in Newport. I gave up Newport nightlife several years before I finally left South Wales completely and moved to the Midlands a decade or so ago.
Newport was the Wild West reincarnated when I was a teenager and in my 20s. There were pubs you avoided, people you avoided and if you managed both a good night was had by all. As I moved into my 20s I tended to shift my patronage between a couple of pubs and clubs that specialised in live music and that kept me out of the main scrum of Newport’s nightlife. Then I shifted away from Newport completely and headed to Cardiff, where my family is from and where in truth I now feel more at home.
It all got a bit too much in Newport, as witnessed in Bouncers. And I can no longer remember when I last enjoyed a night out in Newport.
The show provided more than a trip down beer-soaked memory lanes though.
The day-time shots of empty shops was a bit of an eye-opener. Newport’s always had grand plans for redevelopment, so what has happened?
The Celtic Manor resort on the outskirts of the city hosted the 2010 Ryder Cup and was supposed to kick-start an economical revival of Newport’s fortunes, so what happened?
There was little evidence of any sort of revival on show last night in the images of the city and the words of some of its locals. Indeed, the last time Newport came across my news radar was in early January when it was announced the historic King’s Hotel was to close after 200 years.
The King’s was always a genuine landmark in the city centre and yet the owners cited access problems as one of the reasons for the hotel’s closure. There has to be something fundamentally wrong with your town planning if customers find it difficult to get to the sort of prime city centre location that the King’s enjoyed.
The hotel’s closure prompted some to claim the city was on the verge of becoming a ghost town. The evidence from Bouncers suggested the ghosts were already in residence.
I laughed out loud at a lot of the first episode of Bouncers, but in the cold light of day I have a few more sobering thoughts about my old home town and where it future lies.
Newport’s problems are not unique and are mirrored throughout the UK. But it always had potential to succeed, so what happened?
Never go back, it won’t be the same. Or, even worse, it will be exactly the same as it ever was.