Dance in the Old Fashioned Way

London. A freezing winter’s afternoon. A back street in Soho. Below the bell push a small card said: ‘Young French Model’. The door was opened by an old lady who looked like everyone’s favourite granny. She wore an overcoat and a purple perm. Mark and I followed her up creaking wooden stairs. The room at the top was small and narrow. A sofa, a stool, an ancient television were the only furniture. A single bar electric fire glowed. A cheap plyboard wall partitioned the space. Behind the partition there was barely room for the bed.
Everyone’s favourite granny sat on the high stool.
“It’s ten pounds for a blow or a fuck and you must use a rubber.” Granny carried on with the knitting she’d been doing before being disturbed by the doorbell. “The girl won’t be a minute. She’s just tidying herself up.”
Right on cue the girl appeared from behind the partition. Small, dark-haired and a bit plump, the young French model’s name was Tina. She spoke with a Geordie accent. She wore a transparent negligee and not much else. I went first. I gave granny ten quid and followed Tina into the bedroom, closing the door behind us. Tina asked me what I wanted. Warmth. I kept as much of my clothing on as possible. I couldn’t get it up. It felt too chilly in that bedroom. I laid on top of Tina, gaining heat from her body, and we chatted. After ten minutes she patted me on the back: “Time’s up.”

I left the bedroom and sat down on the sofa. Mark and the old lady were grinning. Granny sympathised with my predicament and took ten quid off Mark as he went to the bedroom. Errol Flynn swashbuckled on the television. Robin Hood and his merry men. I chatted with granny to the sound of Tina and Mark going at it behind the partition. The doorbell rang. Granny put down her knitting and returned with a young American.
“Sit down dearie. She won’t be long.” The American joined me on the sofa. “It’s ten pounds for a blow or a fuck and you must use a rubber.”

The American seemed very nervous. He sat stiffly and twiddled his thumbs, his eyes fixed firmly on the television. Granny knitted and told me about her holiday in Spain. Errol Flynn slapped his thigh. The plyboard partition shook and wobbled. Then we heard the moment of release. A few minutes later, Mark came out of the bedroom, followed by Tina. She greeted the American.
“Hello love, won’t be long, just going to tidy-up.” The American gave her a quick glance and nervous smile before fixing his eyes back on the tv set.
Tina went into the bedroom. We heard sink taps running for a brief moment, then she returned.
“Go into the bedroom love.”
“Er, er, can you give me a blow?”
“Alright dear I’ll be with you soon.”
The American got up and without looking at any of us he went into the bedroom. The door closed. We heard a crash as something was knocked over. Tina gave me some coins. The electricity meter was located high up on the wall, too high for Tina and everybody’s favourite granny to be able to reach. Using the stool, I pumped the meter with coins. Then Mark and I went back down to the cold street.

Using the services of a prostitute is not only about paying for sex, it’s also about sex without any strings attached. Mark and I often used prostitutes on our travels. Our favourite haunt for the sex trade was West Berlin. During the Cold War years it was a wild place. Berlin sat at the sharp end of the Cold War and the large military presence – enemies standing nose to nose – was a constant reminder that World War Three could kick off at any moment. ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die’. We certainly did that, and one particular night found us in a sex club round the back of the Kurfurstendamm. The club consisted of a large, hall-like room with low lighting. There were long couches around the edge of a sunken floor, a stage and a bar. We went to the bar first and were immediately surrounded by girls. There had been few customers that night and the girls were hungry for money.

There were seven prositutes working there, and we worked our way through all of them. The only other punter in the club was a drunken German businessman. The girls left him alone. They’d obviously already relieved him of his money. The businessman sat and watched us in action. There were no separate rooms where you went and had sex. The business took place there on the couches. For those who were coy about performing in public there was a carpeted lobby by the basement toilets; better of on those couches.

Inbetween waiting for their turns with us, the girls would dance on the stage, or sit up at the bar talking. Due to the lack of customers some of the girls were doing it to each other. The drunken businessman kept clapping and cheering. In the end the doorman threw him out.

Working your way through seven prostitutes, and buying them all drinks at inflated prices, is a rather expensive hobby. Eventually we ran out of money. One of the girls, a beautiful young Hungarian, cuddled-up to me. She ran her hands up and down my half naked body, supposedly to arouse me, but actually she was conducting a search that would put a policeman to shame. No money, honey. But I had to have her one more time. I pulled off my sock and produced a small wad of Deutsche Marks. The girls all laughed. My emergency reserve kept the action going in that club for a few hours longer.

It wasn’t always like that night in Berlin. Mark and I were once in the red light district of Antwerp, Belgium. Late at night we ended-up in a small brothel called Cleopatra’s. Small indeed, just one room downstairs with sofas and a bar, and a curtained doorway that led to another room upstairs, where the vertical jogging took place. The person who decorated Cleopatra’s had attempted to give it an Egyptian vibe, botching the job badly, both inside and out. We rang a bell to gain entrance. The door was opened by an attractive middle-aged woman with blonde hair and a good figure. Her name was Lucy: the Madame.

Lucy invited us in and then went behind the bar to serve drinks. Sitting on a bar stool was another women of about the same age. She wasn’t as attractive as Lucy. The short skirt and black stockings made us believe she was a prostitute (of course). Mark and I took up position on stools on either side of her. Us four were the only people in the joint. It was a quiet night in Antwerp. The woman on the bar stool went by the name of Chris. A friend of Lucy, Chris wasn’t on the game. Three prostitutes worked for Lucy. The girl who was supposed to be on duty that night had rung in sick. It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t really in the mood. Mark, though, spent the next hour trying to persuade Lucy and Chris to have sex with him. Lucy refused point blank. Chris almost agreed to go upstairs when she was offered 2000 francs. In the end she changed her mind, saying her husband would not like it.
“Oh great, I’m in a whorehouse without any whores!” said Mark, tossing back another beer.

Chris headed for home. Lucy gave Mark directions to a nice prostitute she knew further down the street. She locked the door after him. It was now well into the early hours of the morning. Lucy and I were alone together in Cleopatra’s. We sat up at the bar and talked of this and that. Lucy told me her story: 42 years old and originally from the south of the country, she had two children from a husband who did a runner while the kids were still young. Lucy now lived on the outskirts of Antwerp. Five years earlier she had bought Cleopatra’s with some savings. After a lot of hard work she now made a successful living out of it. The décor had been inherited from the club’s previous owner. At first, Lucy hated it but over time she came to like the, er, quirky nature of the Egyptian theme. We looked at each other and fell about laughing. The next instant we were in a passionate embrace, tongues down each other’s throat. We kissed for about ten minutes, then Lucy wanted to take me upstairs. But it didn’t seem right, because we were in a brothel, if that makes sense.

We danced. Lucy put an old, scratchy Charles Aznavour album on the turntable. We moved slowly around the room, our bodies pressed together in fluid warmth. A young Englishman and an older Belgian woman sharing a moment of intimacy.

Dance in the Old Fashioned Way.
Won’t you stay in my arms?
Just melt against my skin
And let me feel your heart,
Don’t let the music win
By dancing far apart.
Come close where you belong.
Let’s hear our secret song.

We were in a warm bubble as we danced around the darkened room, a place where there was no time, where only we two existed. Lucy and I felt like we were in that other place for hours and hours. We paused our dancing only to restart the record. We listened to the same side of that album over and over and over again. It was as though we didn’t want to let the moment go. We wanted it to last forever. We weren’t strangers who’d just met. We were lovers for all eternity.

Dance in the old fashioned way
Won’t you stay in my arms
And we’ll discover heights
We never knew before
If we just close our eyes
And dance around the floor
That gay old fashioned way
That makes me love you more

Our bubble shattered when the doorbell rang loudly. Lucy admitted a group of quite respectable looking people, men and women. She pulled open the curtains and bright daylight streamed into the room, completely destroying our cosy little world. The group of people ordered coffee. Charles Aznavour got the push and a radio station played through the speakers; the morning show. I sat at the bar and Lucy explained things to me: the people were market traders who always came in at this time of the morning. They were usually her last customers before she closed up.

I looked at my watch: almost 6am. Mark and I had a train to catch at 8am. But before that, Lucy presented me with a glass of beer on a silver tray. Our eyes met and lingered. We briefly clasped hands. A shared secret. A moment in time. We both knew we’d never see each other again.

I still get goose bumps when I hear that Charles Aznavour song.

From When I Went Out One Summer’s Morn, Rob Godfrey’s memoir of 20 years of travels, available as both an ebook and a paperback from Amazon or Smashwordsnote: Smashwords offers a wide range of ebook formats, including Kindle and PDF.

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