Paying for Sex

A Hollywood actress who’d come to stay
with a born-again film extra in Richmond
asked where she could pay for sex in London.
On being told that there was no such place,
she asked: ‘How do you manage then?’

The answer is – we manage badly.
Free sex is something like the NHS –
months to get down to it with some coy types.
And all the details that you have to tell!
The form my mother filled for glasses was
no worse.

First, there’s the questionnaire to place your class –
on education, work and cash. (They’re pleased
if you earn slightly less than them – enough
to dress well, pay your way, but not enough
to make them feel inferior.) Next comes
the one on sex – how many men you’ve had,
what did you do with or to whom. And all
to see if you are worthy of a fuck.

Men who’d buy endless rounds when with the boys
mentally price us up as two lagers
or six gins – turn surly if they’ve got it wrong.
(A whole distillery would be too low
a price for some of them, and yet if we
are simply generous we’re labelled ‘cheap’.)
I think we’re less inclined to price, although I’ve heard
some careful girls get night-attire from Marks
then take it back if the seduction fails,
ensuring they don’t waste more than they paid
for Durex planted in their flatmate’s drawers
to be discovered in all innocence.

And there are men who dub you ‘beautiful’,
who also need ‘I love you’s’ said before.
Romantic shits – they’re first to knock you off
the pedestal they put you on. Goddess
becomes Aunt Sally, crown – a dunce’s cap,
when all is done.

That actress wished to pay a straighter price –
to keep control and honestly enjoy
it like an evening at the theatre,
where players who are good and love their job
stand up to do their bit. I see her point.
Yet, all that is conventional in me
shrank back appalled when a man (pretty
and young as I was) hinted that he’d like
a fiver as ‘a souvenir’.

Taking off

Sometimes, spontaneously, a group of girls
gathered in the playground. Half a dozen
or more pairs stood, grasping each other’s wrists.
No one ever really suggested it
and we never knew the name of the game.

When your turn came round you’d take off and dive,
landing on a mattress of arms to be
tossed several times before their holds slackened
and you slid down twisting on to the grass.

With your eyes shut you felt you were flying.
I could never understand why Tom Brown
didn’t enjoy being tossed in a blanket –
except – tastes differ.

That game was considered too physical.
Like leapfrog and friendships with older girls
the teachers always put a stop to it.

The Staff Room had a squarish bay-window
which looked out on the grass where we played.
Daily one hot summer, two girls lay there
in each other’s arms, kissing, mouths open,
a button or two of their turquoise blouses
left casually undone, their hands straying
occasionally inside – blatant – you’d think
they’d have saved it for some empty classroom
separating quickly if a prefect
came through the door.

The grass they always lay on parched yellow.
Daily we waited for the skies to fall.
The Head would delegate the job, we thought,
and send a minion to prise them apart.
There were various legends extant about
people who’d been expelled for cannabis,
abortions and calling the English teacher
a cow (brave on a quart of Woodpecker).
That pair obviously just had it coming.

One day, after Prayers, as we sat cross-legged
on the parquet listening to notices,
in a roundabout sort of way the Head
gave out she’d seen something that might upset
the people in a block of flats nearby
and give a wrong impression of the school.
We pricked up our ears. ‘Some of you,’ she said,
‘have been taking off your white ankle socks
in public, on the grass.’

A Sunday Afternoon

Seeking adventures one church-free Sunday,
I crossed the Dives-Lazarus divide
from Ealing into Acton on the bike
I had for winning a free place at ten,
and chained it up to Springfield Gardens’ gate.
It was your average London park, complete
with flasher, park-keeper, geraniums,
a bum-splintering seesaw and baby swings.
I soon got talking, and a girl of seven
was pointed out, who always dressed in pink
and used to suck men’s willies in the Gents.
I thought it seemed a funny thing to do.

The boys didn’t use the swings or seesaw,
but stood a little way off, watching us,
hands in pockets. An Indian twelve-year-old
crossed the gulf, sniggering, and asked if he
could ‘plant his carrot in my turnip field’.

Soon, we were rescued from moral danger;
the ‘Firebrands’ evangelists descended
asking the question ‘Are you saved?’ We weren’t
too sure, and so they kidnapped and bussed us
to Acton’s Co-op hall for Sunday School.
A gaggle of children, matted or plaited,
our hands reeking of the metal swingchains,
we were ready to try anything once
and sang ‘I will make you fishers of men,’
even the little cocksucker in pink.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences