Sunday, March 4, 2012

Its Not Like The Sweeney...

I want to broaden the scope of the blog. A key theme at the moment must be the presentation of counter arguments to the prohibitionist who are so determined to see everything destroyed. That said there must be space for other stuff and I am hoping that other industry participants will be kind enough to send me in their stories about the scene and what it means to them.

As I have asked other people, it only seems fair that I should go first.

So where did it all start?

For me it was 1990 and I had to do some work in a customers premises in Shoreditch High Street and it meant me working for two days in the heart of the Hackney strip scene, I just didn’t know it at the time. The area was new to me and I admit I was a little nervy about it. I knew the Fenchurch StreetLiverpool Street corridor well enough, but this was my first time north of Spitalfields and as far as I was concerned the entire borough was Dodge City.

While out for lunch with one of the customers staff, I noticed and asked about The White Horse.

“Its strippers”, he said. “Why, do fancy it?”.

I thought about for a second or two…

Up until that point I had never been near a strip pub, in fact my sole source of knowledge about strippers was what I had seen on television, usually on an episode of The Sweeney. Of course if you base your perspective on what you have seen on TV, your view is going to be somewhat skewed.

The impression I had, (from watching The Sweeney and I admit, reading the News of the World) was that the places were mad, bad and dangerous to go to. I believed that strip pubs were frequented by criminals armed with sawn offs on hair trigger, who were only waiting for the slightest excuse to kick off with someone and that all the girls hated everyone, apart from the criminals, who they went out with.

“No thanks, lets give it a miss”. I said and we found a sandwich shop round the corner. I didn’t go back for three years.

But things change and it is important to change with them...

Time passed and I started to get increasingly bored with my home town social life. Being single and surrounded by a social group that was growing with the addition of wives, husbands and children, I found that evenings out with my friends were becoming monotonous and if they were exciting it was for the wrong reasons. Local pubs were becoming dicey and fights were happening, not every week, but enough times to be noticed.

There was one other single guy in the group, Des and one night at the pub, while the married people sat around a table, Des and I were at the bar. Our friends were discussing families, children and everything family orientated which was fine, but there was nothing really there for us...

He turned to me and said…

“This is a waste of life”.

He was right. We both needed to change our viewpoints and widen our activities and I remembered The White Horse…

Soon after I was in London again and my day had finished early at about 1.00pm. I decided to venture back to Shoreditch and see for myself what these places were like. Naturally I bought with me my mental baggage so I got extra cash from the bank (of course I had heard rumours that drinks were like £10 a pint), I was wearing running shoes (in case fighting broke out, I figured I could escape and leg it down the road). The only thing I hadn’t prepared for was being shot at, but I figured that couldn’t be a regular occurrence.

I still needed to buy a pint someone else, just to calm my nerves. So at about 1.15 on a sunny Thursday afternoon I walked into The White Horse and found…….

A pub. About twenty customers. Pints no more expensive than where I lived. Two strippers, both of whom were ok, just did their job and that was that. 3.00pm arrived in a flash and the place closed for the afternoon.

No one tried to beat me up and I was not shot at.

It was a revelation, because I had a nice time. It was a place that it was possible to be alone in without attracting the ‘man alone at the bar’ stares that you got in pubs where I lived.

Later that week, I met up with my social group and told them where I had been. The reaction was one of universal shock and horror.

“…..You’ll get the living shit kicked out you in those places….”
“…..Are you mental….?”
“…..Why ever would you go there, its just full of wankers and slags….”
“…..What happens? I bet its all hand jobs and expensive pints….”

I told everyone what I saw and how their views were wrong, however there was still much disbelief around the table.

"Yeah, but you would say that". They chorused.

“It’s not like The Sweeney”. I said.

One of the girls in the group chipped in and said….

“Yeah well there’s this place called Browns and some of the guys from work went there for lunch and didn’t come back”.

She didn’t qualify her comment and I didn’t ask her what she meant. I started to wonder what this Browns place was like and why these guys never returned. Maybe they were still there…

The only person not to comment was Des, later as we left he came up to me and said…

“Where’s this place again…what’s it called?”

“I went to The White Horse, the other place is called Browns, both up in Shoreditch, about 15 minutes walk from the station”.

“We should go”. He said.

“But if we go to Browns, we might not come back”.

We both looked around our old local and saw the same faces that we had been seeing for years and I think both of us had a vision of waking up in our forties and realising that nothing had changed.

“Is that a promise?” He said.

So I realise that there is a lot more to the story, so I suppose I will have to do the next episode at some point in the future, but I do want to say this….

In nineteen years of visiting strip pubs in Shoreditch and other places….

I have only been threatened once (in The Norfolk Village), nothing happened to me,

I have only seen two fights, both swiftly dealt with by the bouncers,

The only offer I have ever had from a dancer was when one of them offered me three quid to get her and myself a soya latte and giant jammy dodger biscuit from the deli round the corner. I skipped the biscuit.

Of the people that I call my closest male friends, 4 out of 5 of them I met in strip pubs in the East End.

I can honestly say that I have met more decent people in these places than I ever would have had I stayed drinking locally and most of all, I have not a single cause for regret.

So people, please understand that when a cynical bunch of social engineers try to advance their lives and bank balances at our expense, things get a little tense. We will fight the bigots, the liars and the ignorant and will do so until the very end. I currently spend more time on this blog than I do with strippers. Once again, I find that I have not a single cause for regret.

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