When I was a lad, bouncers were power-hungry bad boys who put the kibosh on our booze-fuelled Friday night hilarity. Now, at 32, I find myself manning the doors at two nightspots in Truro. In joining the heavies I knew I'd be crossing a divide, but this is like going through the looking-glass.
Steve Smith, head of Coast 2 Coast security, is my boss for the night. My Saturday starts with a sedate morning briefing at his house. He tells me he set up the company in 2004, and was shortlisted alongside giants such as G4S for this year's national security industry awards. He employs up to 240 people.
I make the mistake of calling them bouncers. 'We don't use that term any more,' he says, locking his huge tattooed guns behind his snooker-ball head. 'We're politically correct now.' The preferred term is 'doorman'. Later, I head down to Wetherspoons to meet two of his team, Jamie and Steve. 'We see ourselves as entrance negotiators and exit technicians,' Steve jokes.
The lads at Coast 2 Coast work hard to distance themselves from the old image of the hardened bruiser. Doormanship today is all about customer service. Yes, I'm dwarfed by two bald brick outhouses, but, says Steve, in 14 years on the job, he's never thrown a punch or taken one. He works in a bank by day.
As for the punters, they're good as gold. 'They're just trying to live the champagne lifestyle - on benefits,' Steve adds. I'm not sure about the champers, but at Wetherspoons you can get a burger and pint for under a fiver. I ask him about sketchier times. He describes seeing someone in Helston a few years ago smashing a glass jug and shoving it into an 18-year-old's face. The lad's eye was hanging out of its socket.
Jamie hands me the little clicker gizmo that counts people in and out. In four hours, we could have 2,500 people through. They're checking IDs, and I watch as a stream of Barbie girls and mock-WPCs flash their driving licences and passports, their legs and their cleavages. I feel dirty just being here.
One girl says I look like Frankie Boyle off TV's Mock the Week. The twisted comic would have a field day here. As Steve says: 'They walk in looking pretty, then after binge-drinking all night they're being carried out and peeing in doorways ...'
Indeed, by half-10 the vibe has changed: everyone's oiled up and the hormones are afire. Suddenly, there are two hardman-shaped holes where the doormen were. A girl inside has smashed a load of glasses. In the fracas, they search her mate and find some weed. He's out, but trying to talk his way back in. 'You're not advertising your night out well,' he slurs. Neither is he.
At 12, I follow the tribe's migration across town from watering hole to mating ground: the Office nightclub. It's like watching an episode of the BBC nature documentary Life in painfully high definition. David Attenborough is doing a running commentary in my head: 'This male has dressed as a female at the time of her marriage ritual. One of his peers has drawn a phallus on his back.'
The Office holds about 480 of these fascinating specimens. Door supervisor Gayle stamps them all in. Every five seconds or so, the door opens and there's a flash of breasts and legs, and a god-awful dirge and drunken shouts of 'Baarrry!' blast in my ear.
I ask Gayle about her job: I imagine it's tough dealing with drunken men. She tells me she prefers them to women. Jamie said something similar. He once saved a girl from being throttled by her boyfriend. She thanked him by leaping on his back and beating his head with her stiletto. One woman stubbed out a fag on his neck, and another embedded her false nail in his shoulder.
At 1am, I pop back to Wetherspoons. Things there are calmer. Steve and Jamie remove a drunken kid who's fallen asleep by the toilets. He curls up on a bench in the freezing night. Soon, there's an ambulance. A couple of girls are hugging their mate, Donna. She's weeping and berating the fact she's 'a dick'.
Back at the Office, the swinging door gives me more glimpses of the decline taking place within. A girl falls over and hits her head on a pool table. Forget customer service, this is nursery care.
A bloke sways about with a weird look in his eye. He jabs his glass at me. 'You look just like Frankie Boyle,' he says. Is he trying to pick me up? I can't take any more of this. I walk down the road, through the detritus of chips, burgers and kebabs. Two guys are laughing as they use an office wall as a urinal.
I reach my car, feeling like Alice emerging from a twisted Wonderland. How do doormen do it? Wasn't like this in my day ...