Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Our reporter makes his excuses

Paige seems a very nice girl. I'm a bit drunker than she is, but she doesn't seem to mind. Even though we've only just met, we're getting along famously, talking about this and that, including her home town of Fremantle, just outside Perth in Western Australia. I'm one of the few people she's met in London who has even heard of the place, and suddenly there's a real moment of human contact between us. She spots the danger quickly and offers to take her clothes off.

How did I get here? Well, we had been saying goodbye, adieu and dobradyn to two colleagues, drinking wine and watching the drizzly haze descend on London from the balcony of the almost secret Pan Peninsula cocktail bar, where you're eye to eye with the top of Canary Wharf and your fag butts have burned out before they reach the ground.

We leave while still sober enough to operate a lift and then perform the delicate "left-right-left-right" footwork required to get ourselves to the next destination. A colleague, who for the sake of modesty I shall call Rafael, fancies some 'afters', and knows "a place". "Oh, that place," I think as he leads the way up the steps.

Admittedly, six hours on red wine have blunted my acumen slightly, but I get the idea: several very attractive and very scantily clad young women, plus a small dancing area with a pole. The clientèle is exclusively male, most dressed in business suits and none under 30. If they are drunker than us, they don't show it. This is the moment of truth.

I have always said (when the subject comes up, which admittedly it doesn't very often) that I'm not interested in lap-dancing or strip clubs. I don't get it. But Raf has paid for the entrance and the drinks, so it would be churlish to walk out. This might be my only chance to find out what the fuss is about. So I stay.

I tried to find a pic that was antiseptic rather than sordid
The drinks arrive with two free (up to a point) girls. As our drinks land on the table, Andrea lands on my thigh, her left arm round my shoulder, the fingers of her right hand in my open collar and her smile all over me. And I don't care what you think about the situation; there is not a straight man alive who will not enjoy this. Probably a few gay ones too, but they can speak for themselves.

Andrea has curly, dark hair and dark brown eyes, and comes from a town in northern Mexico, near the US border. She works in what the Americans call "real estate" and is spending three months in the UK while business back home recovers. She enjoys what she does here (not that she'd say otherwise to a customer) but admits that she hasn't told her parents what she's up to and she's sure they wouldn't approve.

I'm enjoying this conversation, but fine words butter no parsnips and, what with a recession and a drugs war, Andrea's parsnips need buttering and quick. Raf already seems to have disappeared with his partner. "Would you like a …?" she asks. I'm not sure what a "…" is (either she said it quietly or left it to my imagination), but I'm here to learn, sooo…

She leads me along the bar to a partitioned area, which is not exactly sealed off but is safe from the gaze of those who haven't paid to see what goes on there. It's a bit like the family dining area of a small pub, only here you won't get fish fingers and there'll definitely be no mayonnaise.

And this is it. One of those life-defining moments: your first kiss, the first time you slept with someone you loved, the first time you slept with someone and hated yourself, the first time you got distracted by an irrelevant hyperlink, your first striptease.

I'm pushed gently into an armchair and Andrea steps backwards. She waves her finger at me. "No touch." Cheeky, for someone who was playing with my chest hair before she'd even told me her name. I wonder if she remembers mine. The she starts dancing. It's the sort of gyrating groove you'd expect, as her already meagre clothing is dispatched while she pushes the more interesting parts of her body as close to me as she can without contact. It takes about a minute for the Full Monty before she offers me a trip to the "consulting room". Here my spirit of adventure wilts (the only part of me that was in a position to do so). The music stops and she gathers up her clothes, pausing only to add my credit card to her bundle. Now she knows my name. The card is returned £20 lighter as part of a smooth and efficient operation. She's pleasant, professional and moves well, but this remains the most sexless public performance I've seen since I last sat through a junior nativity play.

We stay till they close at 3.30. By then I've declined Paige's offer but I still get dragged up at the end for another 'dance' by a Polish girl who won't give me her name but who I think says she comes from Szczecin. She succeeds largely because I have probably been asleep for an hour or more and am in the chair before I really know what's happening. It's the same deal, of course. And then we're out of the door, cards intact apart from the voluntary spending because this is a 'classy place', once you accept the dodgy premise of the whole business. And now, how to get home?

I've got a bit of time to think about this, since I'm not joining Raf's negotiations to get a cab for under £50. I walk to Island Gardens but the Thames Tunnel is shut, so I have to get a night bus back to Trafalgar Square and then another night bus out to Orpington. I get home at 6am, but it was all included in the £9 Travelcard I'd bought 22 hours before. Time to reflect.

It's not that Andrea does it badly; I find this entire operation fundamentally sexless. It seeks to flick as many random switches of male desire as it can without, of course, engaging any of the deeper feelings that make love and sex so wonderful. Effectively, it's live pornography while denying the observer the conclusion that is the only purpose of pornography.

I looked at another blog, The Male Brain at Work, and although I don't agree with it all I can't disagree with the assertion that this lowers a man's self-esteem. It's as if my emotions and urges are so shallow that my reactions can be controlled and manipulated in the most humiliatingly perfunctory ways. It reduces us all to the level of satyrs and whores, without teaching me anything. It will never turn me into the former, but nor will it make me any better at spotting the latter next time she shows up.

Will I go to another "gentleman's club", or whatever the euphemism is? Never. It's degrading to everyone involved and I want no part of it. But the business world being what it is, you sometimes have to entertain or be entertained by the MD of Iron Ore or the Senior Vice President of Coal or the Global Executive of Tiny Pellets Made From Ocelot Droppings. If I go again, it will be with gritted teeth under the most extreme duress. I'd rather take them to Love Never Dies*.

My 18-year-old, who stayed out till the trains started running, was back at seven in the morning, for which I duly chided her. As a single father of teenage girls, you've got to set an example, haven't you?

* You didn't seriously think I'd link to Andrew Lloyd Webber, did you?

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