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Why does my husband think he would be a brilliant bouncer? I blame Liam Neeson

·4-min read

What with the shortage of abattoir workers posing an existential threat to the pig industry, and the dearth of HGV drivers a threat to the supply of everything, the critical bouncer shortage seems less terrifying, as it won’t leave us hungry. One in five nightclubs can’t get the staff, and it got Mr Z thinking, with his characteristic foresight, about the ramifications. Maybe some stag-night parties would be able to get in en masse, still dressed as Vikings, for instance. And once you’re allowed into a club dressed as a Viking, what is to stop you leaping over the bar and downing vodka as if it’s mead? This was when he made the surprise announcement: he’d make a really good bouncer. It’s because he’s so polite, and, according to him, any situation can be defused with elaborate courtesy; manners are like a fire blanket. He’d be Raffles, the gentleman bouncer.

Then he said he would want to keep his regular job, so it would have to be a moonlighting gig, and by this time had got far enough into his flight of fancy that he was wondering how long he could work two jobs before he got tired. I said that wouldn’t be an issue because of all the adrenaline from being punched in the head, and then we had a conversation about burnout, which is the other thing middle-aged people talk about when they are not imagining how good they would be at all jobs.

It is a strange element of the creep of age, that you think you could turn your hand to anything. It doesn’t help having children because they’re so inconsistent. Most of the time they think you’re a total idiot, because you still use Facebook and you need reading glasses. Yet there remains a trace of the wonder of young childhood, when they think you have superpowers, and could probably do a triathlon if you weren’t busy watching CBeebies. When we went away over the summer, the combined unfamiliarity of travel and the discombobulation of a foreign tongue led me to misunderstand a taxi driver. He was quoting us 30 euros, and I thought he was asking if there were 30 of us. I was trying to explain in French how many of us there actually were, without using the word “five”, which I couldn’t remember. Instead of using my fingers, I landed on this incredibly courtly sentence, something like: “We are only this, as you see before your eyes.” The taxi driver laughed and so did all his friends, but he let us into his people carrier anyway, and my son, awed, said: “I never knew you could speak French.”

I also blame Liam Neeson. He did the world no favours when he invented the genre “middle-aged action hero” (not to be confused with Bill Murray’s “late middle-aged yet somehow at peak attractiveness” genre). Neeson’s embodied fantasy, in the kidnapping franchise Taken, was the guy who looks like a has-been, but in whom unbelievable resources of bravery and prowess lurk, waiting to be unleashed by necessity.

Everyone who has ever taken up krav maga late in life, or done themselves a mischief saying, “No, no, I can lift this by myself,” or allowed themselves to be filmed driving an HGV before they realised it was actually quite hard – can trace their impulses directly back to Neeson. In the interests of public safety I think he ought to release Taken 4, in which all the same stuff happens, but he is continually putting his back out and snarling up cat-and-mouse climaxes by being too slow to get out of a chair.

Life feels increasingly like a morality tale, an intricate and epic Dickensian lesson, in which an idiot society undervalues its people for years, until a series of acceleratingly unfortunate events forces a confrontation with reality. Suddenly the realisation dawns that all those low-skills jobs are high-skilled, actually. Those people who were described by the discourse as not aspirational enough were actually the ones keeping the show on the road. We will claw some collective wisdom out of this eventually; but, inevitably, there is a short phase of denial, in which a load of people pushing 50 are sitting here going: “I reckon I’d actually be quite good at picking tomatoes.”

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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