by Nick Gerrard
I have nothing against prostitutes. In fact I like them a lot. I don’t like prostitution, or guys that use them. And I really hate pimps. The lowest of the lowest. On the other hand though; when I lived in Balsall Heath, it was kind of the norm. Not for me, but many guys, friends of mine, to let their wives earn a bit of extra by turning a few tricks.
They were usually dealing a little bit, well a lot. And I visited them often enough. Would sit round their houses, having a spliff, and a beer, dinner even. And they had nice places. Steve, wife, kids, cat. A little flat, done out nicely, top of the range stereo. And Roger, been around since the 60’s.
Roger had a big house, mock something or other. Proper garden and patio windows. His house was the house of your Aunt. A normal, go get um, working class family house. And his wife would come in and share the usual niceties, and he would bid her farewell: ‘See ya Love, have a good day won’t ya?’
And off she’d go. Normal like. But when I left, stoned, there she would be, on the street. And she would wave and I’d wave back. That’s just the way things were. That’s how people survived. An economy within one.
I myself lived in two bedsits. Joined together by a a long corridor with alleys off, to kitchens and bathrooms; a cluttered conservatory at the end.
My girlfriend and I had lived in one, then moved on to two. But she left me for the guy upstairs and went away. Not sure how we came to get two, we must’ve come into a source of acquiring cash. Not pimping though. Never pimping.
One day the Asian landlord, who thought he could be on to a good thing, introduced me to the new tenant that I now needed to share the bottom floor with. Her name was Jan. About 30, muscular, short brown hair, quite pretty. But she also had the face of someone who had seen it all before. Knew a lot. Even when she smiled; she gave out a kindness, but also a cautionary tightening of the crow’s feet in the corners of those green eyes.
I soon learnt that Jan was on the game. The street I lived in was in a poor area. In fact, the crossroads was the meeting point for girls and punters.
And amongst the area of bedsits, pound shops, Asian goods stores, second hand furniture, was a Gentleman’s club. By the garage, near the Crown, wedged in amongst the house sharers, surrounded by a hedged fence, to block the view. There was always a steady flow of punters on that corner. Rich and not so rich. Dangerous and seedy both.
I started to get to know Jan. And found her to be pleasant, articulate and opinionated, and funny. And I started to cook dinner for her. And we became closer. I was able to ask her the questions. Things happened. Jobs and boyfriends were lost. Ends need to be met. One time lead to another.
She didn’t have a pimp. Was old enough and wise enough to get out of that trap. But a big problem for her and the other girls was that they didn’t live in the area. They had to take punters to their own places. In another poor area. This had its dangers. She had been knifed, abused and raped. A black eye was an easy gig. That’s why she had taken the place with me. To be near the other girls. To look out for each other.
It was difficult to get places in the area. Running a brothel carried a heavy fine. So we chatted and generally got on with our lives. And she told me me two things which stick in my mind. She told me that once you are in the life it’s difficult to break out. She would be lifted by the cops, charged, and once facing the judge, who she sometimes recognised, was ordered to pay a fine. A fine way above her legitimate means of getting money. So, she would hit the streets again to pay the fine for hitting the streets. And so it goes on.
I also asked her if she ever enjoyed the sex. And she said she did. The city had two universities and many young things would arrive, dispatched from greener, more innocent pastures. To the land of learning and opportunities and pleasure. And in need of breaking that embarrassing duck, would seek out the ladies of the night. And she liked that. She felt like a teacher. And she passed on secrets, secrets that she hoped, someday may help the loves to come.
One night she introduced me to her friend Sue. Same age, build, but blonde. And they asked me if I would lone Sue my room for the night, to work from.
I saw no harm in it and disappeared for a few hours to the Fighting cock. At the end of the night, they gave me a week’s worth of government checks.
This became a regular thing. Me and my pal, Richy, who was staying with me, would disappear for a few hours. To get stoned in The Bear, or sat with our pints in the Trafalgar, listening to the live blues. Later, most nights, we would get some food together and cook for Jan and Sue. Late into the morning, we would share wine and stories, singing and living the sweet life. For us. Sex never came up. Never.
There was always a gang of us-sitting on those huge window ledges, speakers balanced, others on armchairs in the forecourts; sharing spliffs, and wine, chatting, dancing even. Soon the working girls came to use our spot. A relief point between jobs. They sat and chilled for a while, shooting the breeze. Our little hedged out corner became a security blanket too. Punters now had to park near us, walk on by, or, if a student, sneak on past, down the back alley to avoid their peer’s contempt.
Soon the girls let us in on the secrets of the trade. This inevitably lead us into crime. Jan and Sue, if they could, would relieve the half cut customers of their heavily laden wallets. Not all, just enough not to be noticed, most of the time. The gentlemen from the club, would forget to lock their Merc. Richy and I rescued their contents. The day’s takings were thrown in the middle and divvied up, each to their own needs. That pot grew bigger!
As I sat on that ledge I learnt and saw things. One day I was chilling and passing the time of day. A car pulled up on the road past the drive. A guy beckoned the group of girls towards him. The girls shouted with spite and two-fingered this guy, sending him on his way sharpish. I asked what was wrong with him? Violent?
No. He makes you take him to the countryside, somewhere secluded like. You have to tie him to a tree, with wire, and shove vegetables up his arse.
Good money, but…
I contemplated the whys: What kind of veg? Did some do it for him and others not? Did he shop local? Organic?
I chased him with my bag of sprouts and cabbages, but to no avail!
Another sunny day, and it was always sunny, at the beginning. Only later did it become damp and dark. I was sat, now in my usual armchair, just outside the ledge. Passing the spliff around, with a couple of girls. It was a quiet day. We stopped to look, across the road, to watch this truly beautiful woman, natural wavy blonde, dressed in a mink coat, stroll slowly down the pavement. Time stopped a little, we took time out from our day to just admire beauty. And a man strode forcefully into our side view, headed towards this beauty and without a blink his fist connected with her face. And the thud went through my jaw. And her blood ran down my lip. And as she tried to get up, he kicked her around that pavement. My body moved in instinct. I had to save her. But the girls’ arms held me, held back my need to help.
‘If you go, tonight you will die’.
I didn’t go. I watched. The pimp at work.
Jan left. She was moving to a new city. A new chance. To a friend. She had cash saved and the chance to start again. An inside job perhaps, was her hope. I was sad to see her go, but also happy, and threw her the best farewell do I could.
We started to get asked to lend rooms more and more, by more girls. Less older girls, less wiser girls, more desperate girls.
Rich and I smelt the money. We broke into the boarded up house next door. We furnished two rooms cheaply and sparsely. Black couch, one sheet beds, another sheet over the window. We swept the dust as best we could. It wasn’t much, but it did the job. And the punters came.
It was seedy but people seemed not to see. A couple came, well dressed, nice looking, undamaged car. Parked, went in together. After a while the working girl came out to me, gave me money and instructions. I was to purchase, wine and pate and cheeses, and get together everything needed for a little soiree. They were having a an evening out. Her sitting on the grotty sofa, eating pate, sipping wine. As her man pleasured another woman.
The situation got more seedy. The younger girls lacked the class of those who came before. They were short on the sharing. They didn’t stop for dinner. They started knocking desperately at our door, at all hours.
I went away for a week. Following a mate’s band. I returned to anarchy. Richy had basically rented the whole house out next door. Had furnished whole floors. We were the runners of a cat house. A busy unruly house. The cars lined the street. There were ques for the loo.
A few mornings after, I heard voices from out back, sneaked a peak through the curtain from my bed, and saw a group of people inspecting the old property next door from the overgrown garden. Vice squad.
We closed down. Went back to our simpler lives. We still took drinks and shared spliffs with the girls. Some of them…
But the corner was now a dangerous corner. Pimps had moved in. Along with violence and drugs, and darkness and rain.
I never saw Jan again. That I hope is a good thing. I hope she did alright for herself. Hope she never had to return to the life. I hope she was happier, somehow.
I never returned to working with the working girls.