01 July, 2006

Dead-end world

"Yoo hoo!" a woman called out to me from the other side of the street. "Do you want to have a good time?"

It happens all the time. Every day, in fact. Yes, I have to confess to regularly finding myself in the situation of being hailed by, for want of a better word (or for a more offensive one), showgirls.

Before I let this go on any further, I should say this happens by accident rather than by design. I have to walk to work through a particularly seedy part of the West End, which involves running the gauntlet of a string of poky bordellos - burlesque houses, as they'd say in The Simpsons - each of which sports what looks to all intents and purposes like a common or garden wooden front door, but out of which looms a scantily-dressed woman whose business is to shout at every single passer by.

They're not there in the morning, of course, but come the evening when I'm rushing to get back to the station every lady is at her post, leaning against the doorway, smoking, half-heartedly jigging to a piece of ultra-loud R'n'B and yelling at any males within a 100 yard radius.

I've never actually seen anyone take these near-naked foghorns up on their offer and step inside, though on a couple of occasions I've witnessed exchanges of conversation, and possibly money, happening on the doorstep. For the most part, everyone completely ignores the invitation and just passes on down the road. Yet nobody is exempt from an ear-bashing: old, young, rich, poor, every nationality under the sun.

The desperation and relentless pursuit of potential customers no longer surprises or alarms me as much as it used to; what continues to boggle, though, is the fact that the street upon which most of these establishments exist also sports several perfectly ordinary and dignified pubs, restaurants, bookshops, hairdressers and - most bizarre of all - a primary school.

Yes, every morning dozens of parents and children have to pick their way through the detritus (literally) of the previous night's debauchery to make it into the playground for morning bell, in the process passing under the awning of the Windmill Club (sporting its giant drawing of a scantily-dressed waitress along with the amusingly hesistant slogan 'Probably The Best Gentleman's Club In The World') and in the full glare of 24-hour-flashing neon signs pronouncing 'Strip Club' and 'Live Girl Action'.

Fuck knows how the mums and dads explain away all these sights and sounds. Maybe the kids know perfectly well what's going on and have just assimilated it all without question. Whatever, it's a strangely unsettling juxtaposition which I still can't get my head round. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it before in my life.

And it's a hell of a far cry from my primary school, buried unassumingly at the end of a terraced street with only some outside toilets for controversy.


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