Jailhouse rock

Things being as uncertain as they are in the hostelry trade these days, I've taken drastic measures to steady the ship - I've got a job. Well, not a job exactly but I have started giving guitar and musical composition classes which is, as our American cousins are wont to say, a lot of fun. It has reminded me of a music course I gave in a high security gaol one long hot summer over twenty-five years ago.

In my innocence, I'd been led to believe I was being contracted by the local education authority to work in an open prison. However, on the first morning, as I was introduced to some heavy duty frisking and a triple door entry system with more lights, levers and buttons than the Starship Enterprise, I realised in an instant that lolling about on the prison lawn with a few jovial shoplifters wasn't to be my remit. No, sir - I was, in fact, about to be introduced to some of the most dangerous men in the country.

As a deliberate ploy to keep my sanity, I didn't ask what the music students were in prison for but I did overhear a conversation on my last day which involved the words 'acid', 'tabs' and 'axe'. I won't traumatise readers with further details.

We'd been told at our introductory staff briefing that, for security reasons, all equipment must be logged in and out before and after class and that it was especially important that no keyboard cables went missing. After the first session, a man approximately the size of Ben Nevis and with a spider tattooed on his cheek, stood up and headed for the door.

"I'll bring this back next week," he growled, waving a cable in the air.

"Ah, well I'm afraid we have to collect every..." He stepped forward. And leant in.

"I said that I'll bring it in next week."

Thankfully, I managed to engage him in a profound and meaningful conversation about moral responsibility which brought tears to our eyes and ended in an emotional embrace as he handed me back the cable. Only kidding; what really happened was that he took the cable back to his cell as I tried in vain to stop my bottom lip quivering uncontrollably. Luckily, a warden had seen the whole thing and sorted it all out.

Things did get better as the course wore on though and, in fact, on the last day of class this disparate group of hardy criminals stood around the room and sang a tune they'd composed together over the previous weeks. It sounded stunning.

As we said our goodbyes, the man with the spider tattoo handed me his keyboard cable, winked conspiratorially and growled something I quite didn't catch.

It may have been 'thank you', I'm not sure.